Orwell's message in a nutshell? Totalitarianism = Bad!
This reader feels it is with great accuracy that Orwell described this particular work as an adult fairytale. It is indeed a fairytale, in the most traditional sense. (Original brother's Grimm style, if you will.) As the forward reasonably warns, the good guys lose and bad guys win. Good overcoming evil is not the point. Rather, the intent is more a glaring illustration of the adage: “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The story is packed with symbolism revolving around the Russian revolution. The pigs, Napoleon and Snowball, represent Stalin and Trotsky, respectively. The pig, Squealer, represents the Russian media. Moses the Raven symbolizes the Russian Orthodox Church. All animals outside of the pigs and dogs seem to generally represent the naive working class—with Boxer the prime example of hard-working, unquestioning loyalty.
Orwell's utilitarian writing style serves this allegorical story well. Neither pretty nor overindulgent in prose, he conveys his political and philosophical points with a concise sense of purpose. Examples of manipulative propaganda and historical revisionism are presented in a manner so simplistic, a child (of the upper elementary range) could understand.
To be clear, I'd in no way recommend visiting this tale on a child under the age of 12. >.> While they may be able to grasp it, its hard to imagine how they wouldn't come away depressed and somewhat traumatized.
Although the tale is more basic than Orwell's 1984 (lacking in the mass-surveillance and torture-based thought control predictions), it still echos many of the same concepts. It also bears similarities in flat and generally unlikeable characters. While what happens on animal farm is clearly meant to rouse a reaction in readers, it's unlikely to happen due to attachment to any of its characters. Like 1984, I found it difficult to feel compassion for either main or peripheral players, as their own flaws (complacency, selfishness, gullibility, and often outright stupidity) either caused or passively enabled the unfortunate resolution.
*Iconic takeaway quote:
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”