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The film's title cards read, "Louis de Rochemont presents A Halas and Batchelor Production based on George Orwell's Memorable Fable." Animal Farm, which took three years to complete, was the first feature-length animated film produced in England. In early November 1951, Variety reported that the joint American-English venture was being financed by "frozen pounds" earned by de Rochemont's 1949 production Lost Boundaries (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). The article also noted: "Work on [the] project was begun last March when Orwell's widow...gave an option to de Rochemont with proviso that she would have okay on script to assure preservation of spirit and intent of Orwell's social satire."
According to an October 1952 Los Angeles Daily News article, de Rochemont decided to work with the husband-and-wife team of John Halas and Joy Batchelor because he "was impressed by some of the [animated] documentary films" they had produced. A November 1952 New York Times article reported that the animation work was being completed in London, while the camera work was done in Gloucestershire, and that Halas and Batchelor's production team was supplemented with technicians laid off from the recently disbanded cartoon studio established by J. Arthur Rank. The article also noted that Halas was responsible for the character sketches, while Batchelor supplied the "screen adaptation of the characters to the situation." Animation director John F. Reed, the only American on the team, had previously worked for the Walt Disney Studios.
Although a April 21, 1954 Variety news item speculated that National Screen Service would be distributing the picture in the United States, as it had de Rochement's production Martin Luther (see below), when Animal Farm opened in New York on December 29, 1954, it did not yet have a distributor. On December 31, 1954, Hollywood Reporter announced that Distributors Corp. of America had acquired the United States and Canadian distribution rights to Animal Farm.
The film, which was oriented toward adult audiences rather than children, received generally good reviews in both the U.S. and England. The Motion Picture Herald Prod Digest reviewer stated that Animal Farm was "a daring innovation," and that it was "the first feature cartoon to utilize an adult theme and it does so with intelligence, wit and understanding." The review also reported that Halas and Batchelor "previously had made hundreds of cartoons for the British Government and as entertainment shorts." New York Times critic Bosley Crowther pronounced the film "technically first-rate" but warned: "Don't make the mistake of thinking it is for little children, just because it is a cartoon." Time, which called Animal Farm "an important film, and intensely interesting," reported that it was produced by a team of 100 artists and that the final print consisted of "more than 300,000 colored drawings."
According to a March 1985 Back Stage article, the picture "was made on a modest budget for a feature, and it has made of $4,000,000 in rentals since." In July 1998, a restored version of the picture, supervised by Vivienne Halas, the daughter of Halas and Batchelor, was released in England. According to a July 1998 The Times article, the frame-by-frame restoration cost 25,000. Nick Cohen, a columnist for the British paper The Observer, alleged in April 1998 that production of the picture "was controlled by the American CIA and its front organisations. They changed its ending to ensure that Cold War propaganda was given to viewers." To support his thesis, Cohen noted that the book ends with a party enjoyed by both farmers and pigs, with the other animals being unable to tell the difference between the humans (the capitalists) and the pigs (the Communists). Cohen also stated that Orwell's widow originally sold the rights to the famed book to two Americans who "worked for the Office of Policy Coordination, which was paid for and staffed by the CIA," and that a January 1952 script was examined by "the American secret services" for "its propaganda value." No other modern sources supporting Cohen's premises have been found, however.
In 1999, Turner Network Television broadcast another version of Orwell's novel, featuring live and computer-generated animals. The television movie was directed by John Stephenson II, with a teleplay by Alan Janes and Martyn Burke, and featured the voices of Kelsey Grammer, Ian Holm, Paul Scofield and Patrick Stewart.