After the technical achievement of Babe, it was inevitable that "talking animal" effects would be applied to the serious themes of George Orwell's Animal Farm. A bitterly satirical indictment of Stalinist Russia and the failure of Communism, Orwell's 1945 novel is a time-honored classic, so it's only fitting that this TNT production remains largely faithful to Orwell's potent narrative. A showcase for the impressive creations of Jim Henson's Creature Shop (where director John Stephenson was a veteran supervisor), the film employs animatronic critters and computer animation to tell the story of uprising, unity, and tragic rebellion among the animals of a British farm.
The politics of "Animalism" are initially effective, ousting enemy humans according to rules ordained by Old Major, the barnyard pig whose death sets the stage for the corruptive influence of the pig Napoleon, who cites superior intelligence as his right to superiority. This tyrannical reign destroys the farm's stability, and the film--decidedly not for young children--preserves Orwell's dark, cynical view of absolute power corrupting absolutely. Particularly effective is a propaganda film shown to the barnyard collective, and certain scenes--while not as impressive as the Babe films--powerfully convey the force of Orwell's story through animal "performance." Animal Farm occasionally falters in its emotional impact (the fate of the horse Boxer should be heart-rending, and it isn't), but it's certainly blessed with an elite voice cast, including Peter Ustinov, Patrick Stewart, Pete Postlethwaite, Julia Ormond, Kelsey Grammer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Paul Scofield, and Ian Holm. Not the masterpiece it might've been, this is nevertheless a worthy representation of Orwell's novel. (Ages 8 and older)