Andy Serkis may have defined the artform of motion-capture performances with roles like Gollum, King Kong, and Caesar (from Planet of the Apes, not the one stabbed by Brutus), but as a director he hasn't yet truly left his mark. While he's directed acceptable films like 2017's Breathe, his next two efforts Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018) and Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2022) were only modestly received (though no one can argue Let There Be Carnage was an improvement over the first installment). However, his next project could be his best as it's been a passion project he's tried to develop for over a decade and that is none other than an animated adaptation of George Orwell's 1945 satirical allegorical novella Animal Farm. And it's now been confirmed today that he is finally moving forward with the project with animation and VFX studio Cinesite backing the project.
The basic story centers on a group of farm animals who rebel against their human farmer, hoping to create a society where the animals can be equal, free, and happy. Ultimately, the rebellion is betrayed, and the farm ends up in a state as bad as it was before, under the dictatorship of a pig named Napoleon. Part of why the novella has stuck with audiences is that it's become a premiere piece of fiction that discusses the dangers of propoganda and the rise of communism. Orwell acknowledged throughout his life that the fable reflects events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and then on into the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union with many of the animal characters in the story representing real-life historical figures that were in Russia as the Soviet Union rose. In his 1946 essay "Why I Write", Orwell wrote that Animal Farm was the first book in which he tried, with full consciousness of what he was doing, "to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole".
In an era of social media where misinformation and political divide is quintessiential to many of the problems the world deals with now, this could be Serkis's chance to shine, particularly noting that the previous adaptations of the book either skewered vital parts of the story. The 1954 animated version, which was made as anti-communism propoganda saw the animals rise against Napoleon in the end, a heavy contrast to the more bleak ending that saw the animals trapped in a dictatorship. The 1999 live-action TV version served as somewhat of a sequel and saw Napoleon fall (representing the then- collapse of the Soviet Union) with new human owners taking over. In other words, Serkis's passion for Orwell's novel could be the definitive version of the story that truly teaches (and cautions) the dangers behind simply following what one is told and not thinking for oneself. Upon the announcement of the film, Serkis released the following statement:
“The challenging journey to bring this extraordinary story to the screen has been finally rewarded by the opportunity to partner with the brilliant team at Aniventure and Cinesite. Together we hope to make our version of Orwell’s ever relevant masterpiece, emotionally powerful, humorous, and relatable for all ages. A tale not only for our times, but for generations to come.”
The script has been written by Nick Stoller (Storks, Captain Underpants) and will be produced by
Serkis, Connie Thompson, Dave Rosenbaum, Imaginarium’s Jonathan Cavendish (who previously produced Serkis's Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle), and Adam Nagle. Nagle added to the announcement his own thoughts on the new adaptation:
"Ever since 1945, when George Orwell first published ‘Animal Farm,’ the story has remained relevant and a key instrument in understanding how the world works. Andy has had a special talent for creating unique and memorable characters during his remarkable career and we’re thrilled to be working with him, Jonathan and Cinesite to adapt Animal Farm for modern audiences.”
Hopefully, Animal Farm will serve as a wake-up call to many who might not notice the wolfs in sheep's clothing...pun intended. Stay tuned!