Britain’s first animated feature film remains a powerful, cautionary tale 60 years on. What would happen if the animals took over the farm? With the farmer gone the pigs take control. All animals are equal, but are some more equal than others? George Orwell’s novella is famous as a political allegory, but it only works as such because it is also an engaging story. John Halas and Joy Batchelor's accessible animation style brings it to life beautifully.
In recent years the story of the film’s part funding by the CIA as part of an occasionally subtle anti-Soviet propaganda scheme has come to the surface, adding a certain notoriety to the film. The decision to replace Orwell’s original bleak ending with a more upbeat cycle of revolution is as controversial now as it was when the film was released.
What is less clear is John and Joy’s knowledge of the arrangement between their production associate, March of Time producer Louis de Rochement, and his ultimate employer, the American secret service. But as Halas & Batchelor had been producing propaganda shorts for the British government since 1942 it is likely that they would have not have found the situation as disquieting as it sounds today.