Annie (1982) / Musical-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG for a scene of child imperilment, some mild language, and strong alcohol use.
Running Time: 126 min.
Cast: Aileen Quinn, Carol Burnett, Albert Finney, Ann Reinking, Tim Curry, Bernadette Peters, Geoffrey Holder, Edward Herrmann
Small role: Peter Marshall, Janet Jones, John Huston (voice), Martika
Director: John Huston
Screenplay: Carol Sobieski (based on the stage musical by Thomas Meehan and the comic strip, "Little Orphan Annie" by Harold Gray)
Review published June 15, 2014
Annie is a musical that has become a fan favorite for those who grew up watching it, though film critics in general have remained rather tepid toward it, citing that it is overblown and clunky. I didn't find it to be so, although I also don't think that it is one of Hollywood's great musicals either. The performances, music, and interesting dance numbers sell it enough for me.
It is an adaptation of the long-running Broadway musical based on "Little Orphan Annie", the classic comic strip by Harold Gray. It's set in the 1930s, at the height of the Great Depression, where we find a 10-year-old, red-haired and rambunctious girl named Annie (Quinn, The Frog Prince) in a girls' home for orphans run by a tarty alcoholic named Miss Hannigan (Burnett, Horton Hears a Who). As dismal as things seem, Annie is under the belief that her parents will eventually come back for her, which is something that has kept her spirits up. Annie is eventually the orphan of choice selected by Grace Farrell (Reinking, Micki + Maude), assistant to billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Finney, Looker), for a week-long stay at his mansion in order to make him look like a swell guy. Her charm and spirit soon wins over all around her, eventually leading to a meeting with President Roosevelt (Herrmann, The Purple Rose of Cairo) himself. But things take a turn when Miss Hannigan and a couple of cohorts decide to try to fraudulently collect on the big reward offered for the parents of Annie to come claim her.
Aileen Quinn is appropriately adorable as Annie, even if she isn't the best on-screen actress (she's a bit stiff), as she is cute, likeable, and dances quite well. She does manage to get overshadowed by her more famous co-stars, particularly Carol Burnett as Miss Harrigan, who is nicely cast as the despicable-yet-affable opportunist, skirting the line between making us hate and love her at the same time. Albert Finney is an odd choice for Daddy Warbucks, but he works out, and even gives the character the sort of complex nuance that other actors would have likely glossed over. Ann Reinking is decent as Oliver's assistant, and though her singing voice isn't as strong as others, she kills it (in a good way) with her dancing. There's not a lot for Geoffrey Holder (Boomerang), in a mostly non-speaking part, to do as bodyguard Punjab, and he doesn't even look remotely Indian (well -- he is West Indian, I suppose **wink**). Of course, Sandy is in there, but there's not a lot for him to do except add to Annie's overall scenes of just being adorable.
The first thing you'll notice about Annie is its utter lavishness. This is a film that goes big, with gorgeous sets, costumes, vehicles, and locations, with no expense to spare. Some have scoffed that by showcasing so much extravagance that the small tale of an orphan trying to find parental love is dwarfed, and while I agree to a certain extent in terms of the film's lack of emotional impact, I do think that it is still successful in delivering the scope and grandness of a garish Broadway musical set to the screen. What I think distracts from the story isn't the scale, but rather the busy mise-en-scene. There are too many things going on in each shot that it's not always easy to concentrate on the important things going on in the forefront.
The storyline plays to its time, as it is inherently about retaining a positive attitude despite dismal circumstances, certainly something desired by many during the time of the Great Depression. It also had been a more innocent and trusting time, as a billionaire who snaps up a young orphan to spend a week with would be met with much more suspicion today, and might even kill a political career rather than be a publicity success. It also would seem a bit exploitative, as rich people shower people with obscene demonstrations of their wealth, particularly in a time when many are going hungry.
Annie will likely be enjoyed more for its musical numbers, which are relatively faithful to the Broadway presentation, though many songs were dropped for run time, and some songs were added specifically for the movie (then subsequently cut out). Though John Huston isn't someone known for directing lavish musicals (this is his first and only), he does make an interesting film, and, thankfully, utilizes long takes whenever possible that show just how talented this cast of dancers are in nailing some very elaborately choreographed pieces. Though Annie fans will likely know and love all of these ditties, "Tomorrow" and "It's a Hard Knock Life" have crossed over to become big standards outside of the play and movie.
While Annie doesn't have a great story to write home about, it does feature the aforementioned good performances, catchy songs, some nicely performed dance numbers, sumptuous (bordering on overwhelming) production design, and lots of interesting little moments, even if the big picture doesn't exactly grab a firm hold of you. I call movies like these a 'bells-and-whistles' experience, more fun and entertaining to soak in as a cinematic experience than to bother overanalyzing in its plot or character motivations. I think the vast majority of musicals, even the revered ones, fall under this category, so if you're a musical genre enthusiast, Annie will likely be right up your Tin Pan alley.
-- Followed by a 1995 TV movie: Annie: A Royal Adventure!. Prior releases titled Little Orphan Annie were released theatrically in 1932 and 1938. Remade on TV in 1999 and in theaters 2014.
©2014 Vince Leo