Animal Farm is a British-American television film directed by John Stephenson and released in 1999. It is an adaptation of the 1945 George Orwell novel of the same name and tells the story of anthropomorphic animals successfully revolting against their own human owner, only to slide into a more brutal tyranny among themselves. The film received mixed reviews when it was broadcast, with much criticism directed at its ending.
As a bleak scene unfolds, animals are seen struggling through the mud as Jessie (Julia Ormond), an old border collie (and the narrator of the story) reflects on the events that led them to their current situation. The film flashes back years earlier.
As the abusive and rarely sober farmer, Mr. Jones (Pete Postlethwaite), struggles with debt to neighbor farmer Mr. Pilkington (Alan Stanford), Old Major (Peter Ustinov), the prize boar at Manor Farm, holds a meeting with all the animals in the barn. Major tells the animals that mankind is their enemy, for they serve and provide for mankind without reward. All the animals then start singing an anthem created by Major. The meeting is interrupted when Jones hears the singing (all he hears is just animal noises), stumbles outside the barn and accidentally fires his shotgun, killing Old Major. Jones later uses Old Major for meat. When Jones neglects to feed the animals, Boxer (Paul Scofield), the shire horse, leads the animals to the food shed, and the pigs lead a revolution against Mr. Jones.
Under the rule of animals, Manor Farm is renamed Animal Farm by Snowball (Kelsey Grammer). Snowball paints on the barn doors what he calls the Seven Commandments of "Animalism". Napoleon (Patrick Stewart) also takes Jessie's puppies from her, claiming that it is best for them to receive an education from him. Snowball, when questioned about the disappearance of the farm's milk and apples by the other animals, confesses that he and the other pigs have taken the milk and apples for themselves. Squealer (Ian Holm) explains that the pigs' well-being takes priority because they are the brains of the farm. Jessie is the only one who is unconvinced.
Having learned that Jones has lost control of his farm, Pilkington leads an invasion into Animal Farm with other local farm workers. Snowball has planned for such an invasion and leads the animals to victory, causing the humans to retreat. In his defeat, Pilkington considers working with the animals instead.
Snowball proposes that the animals build a windmill to improve their operations, but Napoleon opposes the plan. When the animals show support for Snowball, Napoleon calls Jessie's puppies, now grown dogs trained as his private army, to chase Snowball out of Animal Farm and leaving his fate unknown. Napoleon declares Snowball a "traitor and a criminal," and Squealer claims that the windmill was Napoleon's plan all along; leaving the animals unaware that Napoleon is evil and is, therefore, the real traitor, with Squealer secretly working as Napoleon's accomplice.
Napoleon declares that a "special committee of pigs will now decide all aspects of the farm" and the animals begin constructing the windmill with Boxer's help. When Pilkington begins to trade with the pigs, Boxer remembers Old Major mentioning that animals were not to engage in trade. Napoleon explains that "Animal Farm cannot exist in isolation". Napoleon has the skull of Old Major placed in front of the barn to oversee the Farm's progress and has a statue of himself erected nearby. Jessie confesses to the other animals that she witnessed the pigs living in the house and sleeping in the beds. Squealer explains that no commandment has been broken. He had, in fact, "altered" the commandment, "No animal shall sleep in a bed", to "No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets."
Jones and his wife sabotage Animal Farm by blowing up the almost-complete windmill with dynamite. Napoleon frames Snowball for the sabotage. The pigs consume more food, leaving the other animals with little to eat. Napoleon declares that Snowball is causing the food shortage and that the hens will have to surrender their eggs to the market. When the hens oppose, Napoleon declares that the hens are all criminals and that no food will be given to them (and that any animal caught giving food to a hen will be punished by death). The pigs produce propaganda films using Jones' filming equipment. While celebrating Napoleon as a leader, the films show the deaths of animals that have broken Napoleon's rules. It is revealed that the commandment, "No animal shall kill any other animal", has been changed to "No animal shall kill any other animal without cause." The commandment, "No animal shall drink alcohol", is also changed to, "No animal shall drink alcohol to excess" after the pigs begin to buy whiskey from Pilkington.
After Boxer collapses from being overworked, Squealer informs Jessie that Napoleon will be sending Boxer to the hospital. Benjamin notices that the van that comes for Boxer is marked with the words "Horse Slaughterer", but Boxer is taken to his death before the other animals can intervene. As Jessie and Benjamin plan to flee from Animal Farm, Napoleon is paid for selling Boxer to the glue factory, and Squealer's latest propaganda film assures the animals that the van was from the hospital, but had previously been the property of a horse slaughterer. Pilkington and his wife dine with the pigs in the farmhouse, where Napoleon announces that the farm's name will revert to Manor Farm. Watching through a warped glass window, Jessie sees the faces of Pilkington and Napoleon distorted in such a way that she can't tell the difference between them, and Pilkington is overheard bragging to his wife that he made money selling second-rate farm equipment to Napoleon. Muriel and Benjamin notice that the final commandment, "All animals are equal", has been extended to include "but some animals are more equal than others." Jessie, Muriel, Benjamin and a few other animals escape the farm before things can get any worse. Later, Napoleon is seen before a crowd of cheering animals, wearing clothes and standing upright. He declares that the farm will devote itself to making weapons and building walls to protect themselves and their way of life. He shouts that the revolution is over and all animals are now free.
The film returns to the present, where Jessie and her companions return to find Manor Farm unattended and in ruins. Napoleon, Squealer, and all the other animals that remained in Manor Farm have died, but Jessie finds some dogs who had survived and realizes they are her own puppies. In response, the puppies recognize her as their mother. Jessie sees Napoleon's statue now collapsed, and remarks that she knew that one day, Napoleon's evil, cruelty, and greed would bring about his ruin. A motorcar arrives with a farmer, his wife and children - the new owners of Manor Farm (although the whereabouts of Jones and his wife are unknown). Jessie remarks she will not let this family "make the same mistakes" of the neglect of Jones or the abuse of Napoleon, and is aware the small remnant of animals will now have to work alongside their new masters to restore the Farm.
- Pete Postlethwaite – Farmer Jones, of Manor Farm
- Caroline Gray – Mrs. Jones, Jones' wife
- Alan Stanford – Farmer Pilkington, of Foxwood Farm
- Gail Fitzpatrick – Mrs. Pilkington, Pilkington's wife
- Gerard Walsh – Farmer Frederick, of Pinchfield Farm
- Julia Ormond – Jessie, a wise old border collie
- Patrick Stewart – Napoleon, the leader of the pigs
- Ian Holm – Squealer, the second-in-command pig
- Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Mollie, a mare
- Kelsey Grammer – Snowball, a pig driven into exile by Napoleon
- Pete Postlethwaite – Benjamin, an old donkey
- Paul Scofield – Boxer, a shire horse (and who is later made into glue)
- Peter Ustinov – Old Major, the former leader of the pigs
- Charles Dale – Moses, a raven
- Louise Gold – Mabel, a chicken
- Jean Beith – Muriel, a goat who hates Napoleon
- Jean Matt - Snowball's Wife, a pig
- Mathias Voliss as Clover, a horse
Filming began on 25 August 1998 and ended on 6 November. Because of the extensive CGI work and other post-production requirements, the film was not delivered to TNT and Hallmark Entertainment until June 1999.
Fourteen animals were built to represent the animals of Animal Farm at Jim Henson's Creature Shop in London: four pigs (Old Major, Snowball, Napoleon, and Squealer), two horses (Boxer and Mollie), a sheepdog (Jessie), a donkey (Benjamin), a raven (Moses), a goat (Muriel), a sheep, a rat, a chicken, a duck, a cat, and a dove.
Ten dogs were cast into the film from Fircroft Kennels. Their Border Collie, Spice, played the role of Jessie.
In early screenplays done by Martyn Burke for this film, Jessie was set to be a male character, rather than a female.
The film received mixed reviews. It holds a 40% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on five reviews. It was criticized for its loose adaptation of the book, its simplicity and lack of subtlety, and for being too dark and political for children while being too familiar and simplistic for adults.
The film won Best Special Effects and was nominated for best film in the 2000s Fantasporto International Fantasy Film Award.
The film's director John Stephenson was nominated for Starboy Award in the 2000s Oulu International Children's and Youth Film Festival.
Differences between the book and the film
- In the movie, there is an implication that Pilkington might have been the cause of everything, from refusing to help Jones with his money problems to persuading Napoleon to be more dictator-like. In the book, the cause of the Jones' downfall was his drinking and neglect. No mention in the book was made of financial problems aside from Jones "having becoming much disheartened after losing money in a lawsuit."
- In the movie, Jessie is set as the main character and the events are told from her point of view. There is no central character in the book. She could possibly be taking over the role of Clover the horse, who is not in the film, though a black horse seen several times is presumed by people to be her.
- Like the 1954 adaptation of the film, Jessie's mate, Bluebell, and Pincher were not seen nor mentioned.
- Jones's drinking is scaled down in the movie.
- In the movie, Jones cheats on his wife with Pilkington's wife. This never happens in the book.
- There are only four pigs in the movie (Old Major, Snowball, Napoleon, and Squealer). While in the book, there are several who begin to run the farm and to oversee the work done by the other animals.
- Old Major dies of old age three days after his speech in the book and is buried. In the movie, he dies after getting accidentally shot and falls; his body is then cut up into joints which were discovered by the other animals when they look around the house.
- The animals' rebellion takes place during midday in the book, while in the movie, it takes place during the night.
- In the movie, it was Boxer the horse who breaks open the door to the feed shed, while in the book, it was one of the cows.
- In the book, when Jones realizes that the animals had broken into the feed shed, he and his helpers march inside. And started cracking whips in order to drive the animals out. In the movie, they just go and see what is going on before the animals start attacking them. They also don't have whips, although Jones has a shotgun with him.
- In the book, the animals begin burning all the things owned by Jones, including whips, harnesses, butcher's knives, and chains, and start singing "Beasts of England" around it. While in the movie, the animals are seen singing around a large fire. This fire is started by a lantern that was kicked over.
- In the movie, there is an implication that Napoleon and Squealer were plotting to take over the farm even seconds after the revolution.
- The humans use a hidden microphone to eavesdrop on the animals in the movie. This never happens in the book.
- The humans try to retake the farm twice in the book, while they only try once in the movie.
- In the book, the puppies who would later become Napoleon's savage secret police and guards are the offspring of Jessie and Bluebell. In the movie, they are Jessie's own children, as Bluebell has been adapted out.
- Mr Frederick, the other named human farmer besides Pilkington, has a different role in the film than in the book: In the book, he is the one that begins trade with Animal Farm but pays them with counterfeit money, and leads the second attempt to retake the farm after the pigs discover the deceit and declare war on him. In the film, it is Mr Pilkington who trades with the animals with shady deals while Mr Frederick has a reduced role and even expresses sympathy for the animals at one point.
- Mollie the mare has a larger and different role in the film than in the book, and instead of leaving for another farm after the revolution in the book, in the film, she only leaves with the other animals after Boxer's death.
- The pigs use a television set and film to spread their propaganda in the movie, which doesn't happen in the book.
- In the book, the windmill gets destroyed twice: first by a storm (which Napoleon attributes falsely to the exiled Snowball), then by the second human attempt to retake the farm. In the movie, Mr Jones destroys the windmill with dynamite before fleeing with his wife, although their truck is also destroyed in the process, with its wreck later added to the rebuilt windmill.
- In the book, the events of the story take place over many years. In the movie, it's only a few days.
- In the book, Boxer gets shot in the leg after the second attempt by the humans to retake the farm; this, along with overworking to rebuilt the windmill, causes him to badly damage his leg and to retire from work. In the movie, he does not get shot in the leg and it is the overworking that causes him to have an accident. But in both the book and the film, the pigs deliberately send him off to the glue factory while lying that he is going to a hospital for animals.
- In the book, a new generation of pigs are born after Napoleon takes over as leader. This doesn't happen in the movie, seeing that Napoleon and Squealer are the only pigs present on the farm at that point.
- Moses the raven is a religious figure in the book and is often quoting about a place called Sugar Candy Mountain, where all animals go after they die. In the movie, even though he does appear, Moses is not religious, although he is heard saying his version of the last rites to Boxer when he collapses from overworking.
- In the book, the animals discover to their horror that they cannot tell the difference between the pigs and humans when they eavesdrop on a meeting between the pigs and the farmers. In the movie, it is Jessie who realizes it when she sees Napoleon and Squealer entertaining Pilkington and his wife, through a dirty window that warps their faces. In addition, only Pilkington and his wife attend as opposed to several humans in the book, and there is no brawl over an Ace of Spades in the film.
- In the book, all of the pigs begin to walk on their back legs and to wear human clothing. In the movie, only Napoleon is seen standing upright and wearing clothes. Squealer is also seen wearing a spectacle in the movie.
- In the movie, some of the animals (including Jessie) manage to escape into the nearby woods and only returned after Napoleon's dictatorship led the farm into self-destruction. In the book, they don't and there is no happy ending, with Muriel the goat having died prior to the book's ending.
- At the end of the movie, a new and kinder family moves into the farm. This never happens in the book.
Main Article: Animal Farm (1999)/Home media