The Shadows Move – the 1950s (page 4 of 4)

Character sketches for Boxer in ANIMAL FARM.

The same meticulous attention was paid to Matyas Seiber’s musical score. Seiber was neither a newcomer nor a slouch when it came to composing music for cartoon films. He had joined the studio during the war, scoring the M.O.I. film DIGGING FOR VICTORY (1942), JUNGLE WARFARE; (1943), the famous ‘Charley’ series, and many others including a daring abstract fantasy titled MAGIC CANVAS (1948).

The decision to use actual dialogue taken from the book had already been taken, Maurice Denham was engaged to provide voices for all of the animals, and the layout artists constructed a pencilled farm setting complete with ancillary buildings, interior and exterior views. Over 1½ thousand background paintings were required. The film script and final model sheets of principal players – Napoleon, Boxer, Squealer, Benjamin, etc., were approved and animation began.

Napoleon calling for his dogs. Synchronised to a high screeching grunt, the violent distortion of varmint and exaggerated facial expressions greatly help to create drama.

Two years in production, ANIMAL FARM was completed in April 1954 having taken 70 artists a total of 300,000 man-hours. This 75-minute film delighted the critics in Great Britain who voted it the best film of 1954. It received similar acclaim in the U.S.A. with the New York Times calling it ‘a masterpiece’. Praise indeed for such a disturbing fable. But not everyone agreed with the critics. Many cinemagoers were taken aback by the film’s unremitting hardship and cruelty. Even the studios contentious – though justified decision to soften the books ending by suggesting that in spite of their seemingly hopeless situation the animals were still prepared to fight back, failed to commend the film to them. Perhaps the film had been released ‘before its time’, or too close to the ravages of a war that had brought its own share of heartbreaks and bereavements. The public were tired after years of deprivation – they wanted escapism with a capital E. ANIMAL FARM was anything but that!
Nevertheless, the film justly deserved its plaudits and seen today on video-cassette the animation, construction and execution compare well with contemporary work.

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Originally printed in Animator’s newsletter Issue 8 (Spring 1984)