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To fully appreciate the comparison between the book “Animal Farm”, written by George Orwell, and the animated film adaptation of the book, directed by Joy Bachelor and John Halas, I must understand what the book and the film offer to its audience. Films depend on action, dialogue, and obvious visualization to tell the story in images, as opposed to literary narrative terms. The timeline of a novel’s storyline can be much longer than in a film.
For example, in the book, time is often progressed by obvious written sentences, e.g., “Next Summer.” In the film, the time is progressed through scenes of a typical winter day moving onto a typical spring day. When a screenwriter translates the novel “Animal Farm” into a dramatic script, they must focus on writing a story that utilizes film techniques to their fullest, instead of relying on narrative novel methods. This may ultimately mean that the screenplay significantly differs from the novel in several respects, omitting large portions of the novel, deleting or combining characters, and inventing new scenes and characters in order to make the novel’s tale dramatic. The book, written by George Orwell and published in 1945, tells a simple tale of hypocrisy and deceit within a farm, which mirrors the Russian Revolution. Each of the animal characters plays one of the members involved within the revolution, so each of the characters’ opinions and actions throughout the novel is imperative when understanding it as an account of the revolution.
How it works
The book is often read as a children’s book, not usually interpreted as a version of the Russian Revolution. When understood just as a humble story, the animals have human qualities such as vanity and sincerity, and are thus perceived as humans. Despite the book’s simple vocabulary and syntax, it is read as rather mature in its meaning and interpretation. Novels generally use narrative to keep readers in touch with what is happening and where the book is heading (often the book is going nowhere; it may just be examining a moment, an object, an idea, a minor character, or the many possibilities of the written language). While novels can wander far away from the central dramatic theme, a film that does the same risks disorienting, confusing, or even possibly losing the audience. The celebrated animated feature film of George Orwell’s classic novel – “Animal Farm,” is targeted at children because of its animated and graphically designed video front cover. The question arises, given that the video is marketed for children, does the plot differ from the novel? The book, due to its descriptive language, sets the scene, “At the end of the big barn, on a sort of raised platform, Major was already ensconced on his bed of straw.” In the film, the animation of this image will appear on screen.
The film starts off with an idyllic countryside scene, bright colors, a typical spring morning with birds singing. As the scene transitions from this image to a dark and miserable farm with deep, dramatic music highlighting “Animal Farm,” the audience can clearly see the comparison between this utopian image and the desolate image of Animal Farm. In the film, Mr. Jones is emphasized as a neglectful, ignorant drunk and is meant to be hated by both the animals on the screen and the audience alike. In the book, Mr. Jones is portrayed as this as well, but there isn’t as much emphasis on his character, allowing the audience to form their own opinion.
Throughout the film, each of the characters is more dramatised than their written counterparts – e.g., more good, more subservient, or more evil. With this extra emphasis on the characters’ traits, the video version differs from the book. In the novel, characters seemingly have two sides to them, one good and one perhaps evil. The reader recognises this trait in humans as being two-faced and progresses with the character in the book. In the film, the characters are just labelled as being nice or nasty. They don’t have two sides to them; for example, Napoleon is spiteful throughout, whereas in the book, Napoleon starts off ambitious and civil. This general characterisation is probably for the target audience’s sake, so the plot and the characters are understood more easily. There are some characters present in the book that are absent in the film, for example, Clover. Clover was a stout, motherly mare who was approaching middle life. Her absence from the film suggests she wasn’t needed in the final plot. In the book, Clover is a kinswoman to Boxer, and the author uses her as the image of a middle-aged woman. Her presence was not needed in the film, so the director or the screenwriter decided it was best to leave her out. The film adaptation of Animal Farm introduces a ‘newbie’ to the cast, a little yellow chick. Its presence in the film doesn’t add much to the plot, it just enhances the comic value of the story. The chick probably also rated highly with the target audience because of its size and its rejection from the community spirit. In the adaptation of the novel to film, the main storyline needs to be grasped early in the film by the writer and the director.
Taking the theme and interpretation of the book into consideration, the elimination process of characters and scene selection becomes a much more manageable task. It is clear to both the audience and the purchaser of the video that the feature film’s audience is children, although there is no restriction for adults to watch. The perception that the target audience is children is evident from the front cover of the video – remember, this is the first thing that the consumer sees. The cover showcases an animated barn full of the animated characters in bright colors to attract attention. The synopsis of the plot at the back of the video has a more adult approach. Animal Farm is known as a classic political fable of the twentieth century. There are various different covers of the Animal Farm book, some aimed at adults labelling the video as a political satire, and others similar to the video. Novels and films are extremely different mediums, and it’s important to grasp these differences when adapting. Long passages of a novel can be rhetorical, intellectual, abstract, and even poetic in ways that images on the screen are not.
From my comparison, it is plain to see that both the film and book are successful in their own right. The film, although meant to be a children’s classic, still delivers the plot but with a censored death scene and the complete death of Snowball. This is probably done to limit confusion for the audience. The book does not censor the slaughter of the animals because this highlights the cruelty of this action. In my opinion, neither the film nor the book is better. They are just two mediums of getting the point and the plot across to the audience.
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