By Ken Clark.
The feverish activity that went into the making of Britain’s first entertainment cartoon feature ANIMAL FARM ended, leaving in its wake the pertinent question: What now?
Cinema audiences were on the decline. Home television, in the shape of ‘Aunty Beeb’ (BBC—TV), offered a cosy alternative to turning out on a wet night to queue for a seat in the stalls, and it was the latest status symbol. Cinema managers were forced by the changing circumstances to reduce the length of their programmes from feature, second feature, short, cartoon, news and advertisements to feature, short, news and adverts. Features became 2-part productions; ‘X’-rated films proliferated; liberated sexual comedies and dramas were exploited and eventually abused; even 3D made a brief reappearance, all without any notable degree of success.
Television was here to stay, and its impact changed the face of High Streets all over the country. Odeons, Gaumonts, Ritzs, Regals and Picture Palaces – once surrounded by an aura of excitement and ablaze with light —closed their doors, became Bingo halls or, worse, were raised to the ground to make way for the new supermarkets. Many of the survivors were revamped to become a complex of 3 cinemas-in-one. Elsewhere there were experiments with closed circuit large screen TV screenings of films. But hold! We advance too quickly and too far.
When Commercial television arrived in 1955 to challenge the cinema and the Beeb, animated filmmakers were already aware of the new market for their productions. Although it took some ten years for television to reach its potential mass market, in that time animation really flourished. Not all of it was memorable. Halas & Batchelor’ s famous Murray mint commercial was the exception rather than the rule when we speak of quality work. That is not to say other studios were not capable of keeping up a high standard. The problem lay with the demands of the new medium.