Jennifer Gives the 411 on "Annie"

After a month of depressing stories, courtesy of my testimony, I thought I'd lighten things up a bit and choose a theme of "Hope" for the month of December. The Film of the Month to accompany our theme is Annie. Now I know what some readers might be thinking, "Annie? That's for kids!" or, "Hrm, I think I'll skip this one this month." Stay with me on this. Annie is more than meets the eye.

Year: 1999 (Not Rated - Made for Television by Disney)
Directed by Rob Marshall, based on the stageplay by Thomas Meehan (book) Charles Strouse (music) & Martin Charnin (lyrics)
Starring Kathy Bates, Victor Garber, Audra MacDonald, Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth and a special appearance by Andrea McArdle
Setting: New York City, 1933.

Content warning: No objectionable content observed, however Annie does lie and steal during the "Tomorrow" scene with the police officer. The film takes the position that deceit and theft are wrong.

Please Note: I strongly recommend the 1999 Disney version with Alicia Morton as Annie. I do not recommend the 1982 version with Aileen Quinn. I present a summary of the difference between the two versions further below. In the meantime, here is the trailer for this film:

1. The special relationship between fathers and daughters.
2. The precious blessing of adoption.
3. The message of hope throughout the film.

Andrea McArdle, who played the title role in the original Broadway production, makes a cameo appearance as the aspiring starlet in the "NYC" number. What a treat! Click here to see rare footage of Andrea singing "Tomorrow."

The 1999 version we are recommending is in "moratorium" status, so it will soon be hard to come by. If you wish to buy a copy for your family, you can get it for a great price on Amazon.

Annie has long been dismissed as a movie for children lacking in any real substance. But do not be fooled. Annie has a rich heritage rooted in American history and politics. The title character has lived through the Great Depression. She speaks up for what's right. And she inspires hope for the underdog. Truly, she is a slice of American culture that still speaks truth to us today.

Annie first appeared on the scene in 1885 as the subject of a poem entitled, Little Orphant Annie. The poem later inspired the Little Orphan Annie comic strip in 1924. The comic strip was originally intended for children, but with the onset of the Great Depression, the storylines turned very dark. Harold Gray, the strip's creator, began to use the strip as a platform for his political views. By 1931, Little Orphan Annie was read by more adults than children.

Gray's political views, which were a cross between conservative and libertarian, drew ire from Democrats. Gray was a strong believer in an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. His themes focused on human depravity, especially greed. Many of his villians were corrupt businessmen. His strip was accused of being fascist by its critics, and The New Republic even referred to it as "Hooverism in the Funnies." This naturally was a reference to former President Herbert Hoover, a Republican who was blamed for much of the economic fallout that resulted in the Great Depression.

Meanwhile, Annie had moved from print to radio. During the 1930's, the story catered once again to a child audience. But the political and historical themes present during the Great Depression were revived again in 1977, when Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin produced the first musical version of Annie on Broadway. Interestingly, the show deviated from the comic strip's conservative roots and instead took a more left-wing view on the depression. This is evident in three of the show's musical numbers.

"Hooverville" presents a chorus of homeless people living under Manhattan's 59th Street Bridge. The homeless characters are openly angry with President Hoover and the lyrics make several references to Hoover being one of the reasons for the Great Depression. It is one of the most political numbers in the entire show. (Some productions have gotten downright vulgar in their portrayal of disgust over the Hoover administration.) The play also features a reprise of "Tomorrow" sung by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt character. Roosevelt, a Democrat, is portrayed as a hero in the Broadway version. The finale is called "A New Deal for Christmas," and the show ends with an implied promise that FDR's series of economic programs will usher in the relief the country so desperately needs. In the Broadway version, it is Little Orphan Annie herself who serves as the inspiration for the New Deal with her positive outlook on life. The irony here is that Gray, the strip's creator, despised FDR and his policies.

In 1982, a film version of the Broadway musical was made, featuring an impressive all-star cast including Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Tim Curry, Bernadette Peters, and Ann Reinking. In 1999, Walt Disney Pictures produced a made-for TV movie -- it is this version of the film we are recommending to our readers, not the 1982 version.

The 1982 version deviated quite a bit from the Broadway script. As a Broadway purist, this film is difficult for me to watch as Columbia Pictures virtually slaughtered the original stageplay. Aside from many of Strouse and Charnin's wonderful songs being cut and replaced with new ones, most notable is the inclusion of Punjab. Punjab is one of the regular characters from Harold Gray's comic strip. In the 1982 film, Punjab is a swami who performs miracles through the use of Hindu mysticism. This character is not present in the 1999 version (as with the Broadway play).

The 1982 version of the film also makes some immodest choices. As much as I love Bernadette Peters and Carol Burnett, their portrayals of Lily St. Regis and Miss Hannigan are indecent compared to 1999 interpretations of the same characters played by Kristin Chenoweth and Kathy Bates. Other instances of immodest dress appear in some of Anne Reinking's dance numbers, as well as the "Let's Go To The Movies" sequence. The film makes no attempt to clean up the dozens of times Warbucks says "damn", nor does it filter out Miss Hannigan's constant use of the Lord's name in vain. There are also several references to drunkenness in this version.

Finally, the climax of the 1982 version involves a very dramatic, cat-and-mouse chase which ends in Annie dangling from a bridge. The entire scene is over-the-top but also very dark, complete with Rooster (Tim Curry) threatening to kill Annie. She is finally rescued via helicopter. It is a terrifying sequence (I saw the film in the movie theater when I was 8 years old). Throughout the film, child abuse and neglect is used as a vehicle for comedy. Needless to say, these are the reasons I do not recommend this version as it is inappropriate for children. If you wish to view this scene for yourself, you may do so by clicking here.

The 1999 version, on the other hand, has remained true to the original Broadway production in many respects. The Disney version has removed most of the political references from the story. It has also cleaned up much of the dialogue from the Broadway script to make it more family friendly. But aside from that, all of the music comes from the original Broadway score. The music is outstanding and you will enjoy the wonderful arrangements.

Whether she is being used to support Republican or Democratic political views, Annie has been a symbol of hope during tough times. Her message of optimism is a timeless one which we may need to revisit as we enter a new chapter of American history -- a chapter in our history that is strangely reminiscent of the America portrayed in Annie's time. As the book of Ecclesiastes tells us, "There is nothing new under the sun." In present times of economic crisis, our hope is not in Republicans, nor in Democrats. Our hope is not in money or stable employment. Our hope is in Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus, we can "hang on 'till tomorrow, come what may." He is coming soon.

And you thought Annie was just for kids!


Jennifer said…
A note to our international readers: "The 411" is American slang for "information." In the United States and Canada, you can dial 411 from any phone to get directory assistance. When we say we "need to get the 411" on something, we mean we need to get information on that topic. Apologies if anyone was puzzled by my choice of title!
How amazing. I've just been getting caught up on my listening to the Family Life Today radio show (available on line), who just completed quite a series or two on orphan care. If you (or your readers) haven't listened in, I highly recommend looking into the past shows (from last month) on Family Life Today with Dennis Rainey and Bob Levine. And more grace and power to you too, Jennifer! Keep up the good work. :)
Jennifer said…
Lisa, thanks for the heads up on that program, and for the encouragement! John MacArthur did a phenomenal series on how the church should be taking care of widows and orphans. It was about a year ago and I cannot locate it online. I have it downloaded to my iTunes but have yet to figure out a way to post the sermons for people. They are great and I recommend those messages as well if anyone can get their hands on them.
Anonymous said…
I appreciated reading your thoughtful review. I never cared much for the 1982 version. I just added the 1999 version to my Netflix queue and look forward to watching it with the family.

I've been popping in to read here for several weeks and have appreciated your testimony and posts. Thanks for your tranparancy and your obvious love and commitment to the Lord.
Paula B. said…
We watched this after Christmas - and enjoyed it so much more than the 1982 version. Alicia Morton presents a more endearing portrayal of 'Annie' vs. Aileen Quinn, and we enjoyed the 1999 characters and screen play and musicality much more than the '82 version.

Thanks for pointing out this gem!
you were to sensitive about your summary about the 1982 movie,that was only a movie,and i think it was PG rated,its not really that quite to copy most of the other annie broadway styles,the movie is scripted and its only for fun,1982 is the best!

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