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Animal Farm

04 Mar

Animal Farm — directed by John Stephenson — Allegory. The animals on an English farm revolt against their revolting owners.  91 minutes Color 1999

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Expecting nothing, I was more bemused by the curious real-life animation of the animals than by the story told or the characters shown. I learned from the Extra Features that it was all done with animals made from robots, who moved, who spoke, and who even drooled. They looked so like real animals to me that I did not believe them for a minute. However, we have Pete Postlethwaite playing the main character, the drunken farmer (Nicholas II), an actor who always presents an ambiguity by his very presence and nature. He also plays one of the animals, and his fellow beasts are played by Peter Ustinov as Old Major, the mentor pig, Patrick Stewart as the loathed Napoleon, Ian Holm as Squealer, Julia Ormond as the little Collie Jesse, Paul Scofield as the dumb but noble Clydesdale, and Kelsey Grammer as the hero pig, Snowball. We are watching the Russian Revolution played out on a lower-mammalian level, just to illustrate to us that the actual personages, Trotsky (Snowball) Stalin (Napoleon) and Squealer (Beria, the head of the NKVD) are as we always knew them to be: dangerous weaklings. As an allegory we are also faced with the main allegorical pattern: revolutionaries become debauched, and the early ideals float away down the gutter. And there is something to be said for that view, as we watch, wonderfully, events in Egypt and Libya, Of course, the demagogues overthrown in those countries also were revolutionaries in their day. In this version, we have hope at the end, but the material is really probably better handled, although handled no differently by Marlon Brando, Mildred Dunnock, Jean Peters, Anthony Quinn, and Joseph Wiseman in Elia Kazan’s Viva Zapata.

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