Annie’s not an orphan!
All right, all right, she is a foster kid who’s forced to live in a group home in Harlem with the cranky and, well, kinda witchy Miss Hannigan. But she’s definitely got parents. And they’re gonna come get her someday. They’re most likely young. And attractive. And, surely, kind and loving. Annie will see them again soon and prove that everything she feels down deep is absolutely true!
That’s why she waits outside a little Italian restaurant down the block every Friday night. Her mom and dad left her there when she was little. And they left a note, too, that said they’d be back.
Of course, right now there’s something else going on that’s demanding Annie’s attention. There’s this rich politician guy named Mr. Stacks who wants her to spend some time around him. He was down in the polls by 20% until Annie happened along. He pulled her out of the way of oncoming traffic—which he didn’t have to do, she coulda handled it—and when he did, somebody shot some video. Suddenly it all went viral online.
Just like that, Annie’s face is everywhere and everybody loves her. (Oh, and that Mr. Stacks guy too.) So Stacks and his campaign managers think it would be cool for Annie to hang around for a while. She understands the hustle: young unfortunate kid, pictures for the press, that sorta thing.
Yeah, sure, she’ll stay in his super swank apartment. Get to go places and see stuff. And keep an eye out. ‘Cause you never know when you might spot your family. They could be right there in front of you.
Mr. Stacks says pretty much that exact same thing while he sings a song about working hard and reaching out for the important things right there in front of you. With time, what both Stacks and Annie come to realize, though, is that the important parent-child relationship that they have been separately longing for is indeed right there in front of them, in each other.
Annie’s influence also helps the business-focused Stacks see that he and his associate, Grace, would make a pretty good couple. And when questions are raised that Stacks’ loving turns may be just more political ploys to help win him an election, he quits his campaign to prove his sincerity.
Annie’s dream of finding a loving family is shared by the other girls living with Miss Hannigan. They all wistfully sing of their hope that a family will someday welcome them in with loving arms. At a low point Annie sings the perennially optimistic “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” while envisioning parents and kids having fun together. Similarly, in the finale, most of the main characters sing that their yesterdays (and their former selves) are all “dead and gone” and that the new day gives them hope for a brand-new beginning.
Even the ever-frowning Miss Hannigan appears to turn a corner at one point. After Annie speaks kind and loving words in her direction, Hannigan decides to finally lay bare the truth about a hurtful lie she had told about the girl’s parents.
While trying to fool a foster care worker, Miss Hannigan demands that one of the girls start praying. The girl retorts, “I tried, but nothing yet.” A male admirer of Miss Hannigan’s notes that her singing voice reminds him of a church bell. She thinks he’s saying she looks like a church bell, after which he tells her that if that were true, “I’d go to church every day.”
When Miss Hannigan approaches Mr. Stacks’ limo he mistakes her for a street walker and shoos her away with, “God has a path for us all. Your path should be away from this car.”
Beyond being mistaken for a prostitute, Hannigan regularly and drunkenly flirts with any man she thinks she might sway. When Mr. Stacks’ campaign manager starts cooking up a devious plot with her, she takes his moves as a romantic advance and leans in to kiss him (only to be rebuked). She wears some far-less-than-tasteful, bosom-boosting dresses. And Grace wears a dress that sports some cleavage as well. Grace and Stacks kiss.
When Annie trips and falls on the street, she’s almost run over. She yells at boys who are throwing cans and rocks at a stray dog. Grace punches a guy in the face.
One use each of “d–n” and “a–.” Two uses of “h—.” We hear “oh my god” exclaimed a half-dozen times and “sweet lord” once. Someone spits “son of a …” without finishing the phrase.
Miss Hannigan is a lush who’s disappointed with how the misfortunes of life have kept her from becoming famous. And although she’s definitely held up as a bad example, her booziness is played for laughs, and she’s never taken to task for her poor treatment of the girls. She regularly staggers around, drunk on some combination of booze and drugs. We see her drink alcohol a few times and see empty bottle nearby; the girls joke about and are repeatedly told to stay away from her bathroom “medicine cabinet.”
Numerous club patrons have glasses of beer, wine and alcohol on their tables. When asked how he sleeps at night, Stacks’ campaign manager replies, “Silk sheets and Ambien.”
Miss Hannigan calls her charges “rats.” And she sings disparagingly of all the little girls around her, crying out, “Please, kill me!” A corner market owner hires Annie to change the expiration dates on his milk and juice. Stacks rejects the idea of surrounding oneself with loved ones. “You can count all the people you really love on one hand,” he proclaims. “You know you’re making a fist, right?” Annie asks him in reply.
Annie is one of those enjoyable shows that gets remade and remade and remade in movie form even as it’s acted out on stages in cities and towns all over the country by drama troupes ranging from Broadway-ready die-hards to giggling kindergarten classes. So we all know the turn-of-the-century dance-and-sing-your-blues-away musical pretty well. The curly haired and spunky little orphan at its core has been embedding herself into the American consciousness for nearly 100 years now, since she first popped up in the comics way back in the 1920s.
It’s only natural, then, that some fans of the classic Annie (like, ahem, myself) might be a little, shall we say, cautious when Hollywood decides to give the tale a modern Harlem-meets-social-media vibe. And here that caution is well-directed as the storyline comes off as a little shaky at times—especially when it focuses on the drunken Miss Hannigan and her slum apartment packed with borderline abused foster kids. Many of the traditionally charming song-and-dance numbers are set to simmer (instead of boil) on a nonessential back burner, too. And the producers should have worried far less about casting adult “movie stars” and gotten some people who could add a bit more than a pretty face to the musical production numbers that remain.
Even I can admit, though, that this new Annie has its sunny high points, too, and that it still (mostly, but watch out for a few scattered profanities) works as the family fare fun it’s always been. Much of that is thanks to Annie herself—an orphan no more who is played by Beasts of the Southern Wild and 12 Years a Slave scene stealer Quvenzhané Wallis.
Little Miss Wallis helps us feel Annie’s deep longing for a loving family and the outsized joy of finally finding one. She wins us over with her smile and hopeful, believable earnestness. And even though she’s a bit more sassy and worldly wise than the Annie of yore, she leaves us rested and assured that, yep, that cheery ol’ Mr. Sun will still make his appearance on schedule, no matter what our problems may be. You can bet your bottom box office dollar on it.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.