In the original literary version of George Orwell's Animal Farm Major the pig died in his sleep three days after giving his speech on revolution.

Three nights later old Major died peacefully in his sleep. His body was buried at the foot of the orchard.

In the 1954 animated adaption he grimaces in pain, clutches his chest, and presumably dies instantly from a heart attack moments after giving the speech. His body is abandoned by the animals and his burial is not mentioned.

Has the reason for this been discussed by the creative team behind the adaptation (For example, when speaking to critics or reviewers, or in retrospective material made available after it's launch)?

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    Wikipedia might help here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animal_Farm_(1954_film) It says that was partly produced by CIA... As you may know the book is a satire of the Russian revolution and of the regime. Old Major represents Lenin, so depicting his death in that way might have been a way to make Stalin appear even more evil. So I would say it is essentially a case of propaganda.
    – mattiav27
    Aug 16, 2023 at 8:41

1 Answer 1


Why was Old Major's death scene changed in the 1954 animated adaption?

This, we don't know for sure. It's said that the movies has been financed "behind the curtain" by some conservatives and government related people/companies(1)(2)(3), so I doubt there are some "official" material available discussing and explaining their "artistic choices", such as this modification. There have been many discussions and essay about the interpretation of the book and its translation into a cartoon, but I couldn't find a independent medium analyzing this specific difference.

We can maybe guess why that part of the original version was modified (other changes are listed/explained here and here). Why would one change the death, some characters, and the ending? Propaganda. The US wanted the subliminal message to be "communism is terrible and it must be fought and erased because it threatens our security and way of life".

What follows is only my interpretation: as Old Major is based upon Marx and/or Lenin, he could have died like them (natural causes/deseases) and like in the book. Would it be good enough a message to let the "wise one" (theorist and rival too) quietly die? No. For propaganda, it had to be a kill. There have been theories (still lasting at the time of the cartoon and also decades later) that Stalin had poisoned Lenin. To me, the persons in charge of the making decided to show Old Major's death as a poisoning. Symptoms of a heart attack can be achieved with poison. Today, Russia is still accused of poisoning opponents.

But did you know that, before the film materialised, a cartoon strip version had been created? This was at the instigation of the Information Research Department (IRD), a department of the Foreign Office set up to counter Soviet propaganda. Animal Farm: the cartoon strip and the Cold War

I. The 1954 film version of Animal Farm was secretly funded by the American intelligence agency the CIA, who bought the rights from the writer’s widow, Sonia Orwell. The film was commissioned as part of their anti-Stalin and anti-Soviet Union propaganda strategy. Halas and Batchelor, who had previously worked on films for the American Marshall plan and the British Ministry of Information, were chosen for the project, although it is uncertain whether they knew who was funding the film.

II. While Halas and Batchelor’s film was generally faithful to the plot of the book, there were some substantial alterations. Some of the book’s characters were removed from the film version, including the mares Molly and Clover. However, the most significant change was its ending. British Library - 1954 film version of Animal Farm by Halas and Batchelor

All propaganda is dangerous, but some are more dangerous than others: George Orwell and the use of literature as propaganda. Samantha Senn

On a few occasions the CIA's failures have been disclosed to us by the news media, but their successes are almost never made public. No matter how you feel about their meddling with feature films, it appears their involvement in the making of Animal Farm was a successful covert operation and it was kept a secret from the public for almost 50 years. The cartoon that came in from the cold

1. British Library - An introduction to Animal Farm

2. Animal_Farm_(1954_film)

3. Orwell Subverted - The CIA and the Filming of Animal Farm by Daniel J. Leab

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