Rental Corner: “Annie is charming but overexagerated
No, this is not the recent 2014 adaption that got released. Believe me, we will get to that down the road soon. For now, the 1982 Annie is one that often gets mixed feelings. Even today some joyful appreciate it while others wish it never existed for its corniness and it infamous “Tomorrow” number. There seems to be a love/hate appreciation for this film that’s never been this big to my knowledge. Though I’m sure plenty of us had to grow up on this film and maybe that’s why there’s this clash over if it should be considered a good movie or a bad one. There are those who appreciate the nostalgia of how it light-hearted it gets at times and how chipper it can be. But then you have those who say its too happy and too optimistic to the point they will vomit into their popcorn bucket. With that disgusting image out of way, how do I think it holds up? Well, hard to say seeing I saw it on the ending cusp of childhood (be it age 7 or 8) and while I did like it, it wasn’t near anything like Pete’s Dragon or Doctor Dolittle where it was that close. But now that I’m older and have a stricter view, I will admit portions of it do hold up. Or perhaps about half of it does.
Based on the Little Orphan Annie comic strip of the 1920s and the Broadway smash hit, we see Aileen Quinn as the red-curly headed, dimple faced little girl Annie who spends time in an orphanage with the hopeful promise that her parents will one day return for her. Her personality is not too basic to the point where its generic and forgettable as she acts kind and nice but independent yet feisty when needed like rescuing a dog from street bullies. Its a shame because just when her character gets interesting, these elements start to melt away when she is taken into the Warbucks home for the Fourth of July weekend. You see, Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks (Albert Finney) wants to bring a good image to himself and thinks that having an orphan around the house will soften him up. And at his aid is a mind bending bodyguard/butler named Punjab and his kung fu master chaufer The Asp taken straight from the comics but strangely were not in the musical. I guess you can argue they were crossing the musical with the original comic but I think its cool to see them use two different medias. But as you can expect, enough time goes by to the point Warbucks feels he can’t live without her. Or in film time, small bits of scenes that try to show a relationship but don’t do much to convey an emotion.
So he gets Annie adopted instead from the floozy drunk owner of the orphanage Miss. Hannigan played by Carol Burnett. She binged on so many alcoholic drinks that between looking after little girls and dealing with her scheming brother Rooster (Tim Curry) that a hangover is probably better than nothing. But its revealed she might have some information on Annie’s parents as the red-headed optimist hopes to find them with Warbucks’ help. But then Hannigan’s brother gets the idea to pose as Annie’s parents because Warbucks sends out this $50,000 reward to anyone who can find them and plan to take the money and set Annie off. And at this point, you can see what the main problem is. The story (or stories) are really all over the map.
Its funny because Popeye came out two years before Annie (as producer Robert Altman made the Paramount/Disney flick to compete with “the Movie of Tomorrow”) and shares similar problems. But Popeye is an original production that has one too many stories yet it tries to have a focus. Annie oddly enough should be the better movie in the story department but it feels like its slowly making one. You could argue that the focus is on Annie hoping for a home with her family but that’s only mentioned once in the beginning and then comes back later as a plot point. If there was a driving focus throughout seeing she does escape at one point and maybe the reason is just to find her lost folks, it would make sense. But this is never really clear. And for something looks and acts like its a spectacle for a good two hours, you wish there was a stronger plot. Maybe the stage show did this better but this is one problem I had with it.
But maybe you don’t need a strong story to make a good movie. After all, this is a movie musical. Well, it does deliver but only for the first half. Songs like “It’s a Hard Knock Life” and “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here” work because the intense camera work and heavy choreography really convey the energy of transitioning a stage musical to film. You really get into the beat of these girls and their hard working time and really marvel at how expansive the Warbucks mansion is from the wide angles and solid footwork. But then you have songs that could have been easily cut like “Dumb Dog” or “Sign” where dialogue could have been a better substitute. From what I heard, at least five songs were written just for the movie and replaced a good handful from the show. And sadly, there are not memorable. Heck, about 50% of them are about the dog character or just there because its a musical and it thinks a truck load of songs are needed.
One painful example that I keep coming back to is “Let’s Go to the Movies” (replacing the show’s “N.Y.C”). It starts off big yet small as Annie and Warbuck’s secretary marvel about the idea of going to the movies but then it just keeps snowballing as ushers give this personal gala permier and then they have the Rockettes perform right before “Camile” begins on the screen. Why? Why is all of this needed? I get it. Its trying to be some kind of Busby Berkeley tribute but it doesn’t work here for this kind of movie. Maybe if the Rockettes bit was a vignette instead of a stage bit for Annie, I can see it working but there’s no transition for this dance break we get. They just go into the theater and get a dance sequence for no reason. You think that’s the first but they do it again. We get a radio show performance of “Your Never Fooly Dressed Without a Smile” but then we see the little girls at the orphanage perform their take of it in Hannigan’s office. What is the point? Yes, you can have big numbers like what you did earlier but you need to balance it out with something soft and quiet. And when they try to do that, it feels unneeded. Like did we need a number telling us that Warbucks is about to adopt Annie or again, two or three songs about Annie’s dog Sandy which to the dog’s credit is a talented pooch.
I also find it weird that many people say that the song “Tomorrow” is overplayed where else here, I think its underplayed. Sure there’s the main credits and the finale but its big moment is done as a quiet scene when Annie visits the President. Well, at first its a quiet scene but then Franklin D. Roosevelt commands Warbucks and his secretary to sing the song to show its lasting power to remind people how optimistic they need to be. Hold on a moment. This is Franklin D. Roosevelt! The man who told us “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” And what is he doing? Singing a show tune and later during the finale eating cotton candy at Warbuck’s Fourth of July party. There’s only so much corniness that can be done here.
So for all the negatives, is there some positives? Well, as said the technical work and choreography are great, some of songs are shot great and I do like the performances. I didn’t even mention how much I love Carol Burnett’s portrayal of Miss. Hannigan as an over exaggerated cartoon character or even Tim Curry’s slimy yet slick take on Hannigan’s brother Rooster. They have a big number “Easy Street” and surprisingly its perfect the way it is. They just dance about the orphanage while mucking up how much excitement they have in a plan they hope will succeed. You just can’t help but watch in delight how intimate yet fun the performance is.
Albert Finney is decent as Warbucks taking the Scrooge route of his character but there are times when I wish there was more sentimental value to his performance. When he goes mad and over the top, its funny to watch but when he needs to be caring towards Annie, it feels somewhat cold. Its not till she is close to finding her real parents that we get the feeling of Warbucks loosing someone so close to his heart. If Finney really played that out more, it would have been a perfect character.
For a while, I tried to put my finger on why this movie didn’t grasp me midway as much as the first half as I felt a lot of stuff in the first 45 minutes was good. But then it dawned on me when I thought about when Annie was released. The movie musical came out in the summer of 1982 in sea of anticipated sequels and a week after Steven Spielberg’s E.T. So for a movie to come out in a sea of blockbusters, it makes sense to have it be this big, grand event film when its source is from a Broadway show set at Christmas. And while Christmas movies do have big business, they can be quiet and soft seeing how cheerful the holiday season is. Maybe if they stuck to the roots of the musical’s setting, it would have benefited better in some way. I did read up on some production problems it had like a version of “Easy Street” that had to be reshot from this grand $1 million set piece to a more lesser grand piece and “Let’s Go to the Movies” originally had this dance break that pushed things further. I can see why they would want to push the story into a bigger film but some of that doesn’t work.
Without giving too much away, a good example is the climax that is meant to be intense and nail biting as it goes into this chase sequence where Annie is dangling on a bridge while trying to get away from the bad guys and Warbucks sends out his bodyguards to save her. First off, what happened to the independent Annie that was all tough but fun? Now she’s hanging off a bridge for dear life. I know she’s a kid and there’s this adult after her, but do you think she would know better? And on top of that, it should be Warbucks rescuing her and not his assistants if he really cares for her that much. In fact, it just makes the movie feel a bit cold and cheap seeing how it builds to a climax that is uneven and lacks suspense. Because we know our main character is going to be safe, we know there will be a happy ending and at this point, we don’t feel much for the characters in jeopardy despite what we get tossed at us.
I’m even surprised to see a lot of people complain how light and cheery “Annie” gets when I found some parts of it to be too dark. Hannigan is always threatening the girls, there’s an assassination attempt at Warbucks that happens once and goes nowhere, Hannigan is always sleazy around every guy she sees, kids are tossed into peril at times, and the already mentioned climax. Even for a PG this is borderline depressing. But maybe that’s part of the charm. For every negative, there is a positive but even that is just pushing. I’ve obviously ragged on for too much on this film and if I go further, this opinion would become a novel.
The short version is that I think Annie is decent on its own. Its not ground breaking or timeless even if it attempted to be but the effort does show. Its not a movie I would watch on a constant basis but its worth revisiting just for those reasons I listed; the choreography, the performances and some of the numbers. I can’t say its the best seeing there are better movie musicals but I can’t say its the worst seeing how much everyone is trying to deliver. Not a big fan but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it. Some of it was good but I just wish it was stronger in story and wasn’t too corny in places it didn’t need to be. A mixed bag but take it for what it is.
Posted on December 23, 2014, in Rental Corner and tagged 1982, Albert Finney, Annie, Carol Burnett, Daddy Warbucks, Easy Street, Its a hard knock life, movie musicals, orphans, rental corner, Sandy, sappy, Tim Currey, Tomorrow. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.