Huh. Well, I really don’t know what to think of Annie. On the one hand, it’s really long, and as some reviewers point out, it doesn’t really go anywhere or mean anything, but on the other hand, I’m super nostalgic about the songs! I had fun watching it, but I have no idea whether a child or adult who has never seen it before would enjoy it.
Keep reading for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.
Also below: Some things about the movie that surprised me, and the history of the character as she has appeared in a wide range of media from 1885 to 2014.
My Beat Sheet for Annie
Annie is sitting in the orphanage window singing (“Maybe”) about what she imagines her parents are doing and wondering when they will come back.
Annie is really mischievous and fierce but she’s lovable because she protects those weaker than herself. She sneaks out of the orphanage because the lady in charge makes the kids do a lot of chores (“It’s the Hard-Knock Life”). She rescues a mutt from some mean boys and a city dog-catcher, then when it follows her (“Dumb Dog”), she gets caught and sent back to the orphanage, where she introduces him to the other girls (“Sandy”).
Catalyst/Debate/Break into Two
A pretty, well-dressed lady wants to borrow an orphan girl for a week to improve her rich boss’s image. She chooses Annie, who insists on bringing the dog. Miss Hannigan doesn’t want to let Annie go but agrees when her job is threatened. After Annie leaves, she sings about how she hates her job at the orphanage (“Little Girls”).
Annie meets the staff at the mansion; there’s a funny moment when she thinks she has to help clean it, but then they do a song and dance (“I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here”) and say they will do everything for her. When the boss returns, he expresses surprise that the orphan that has been borrowed is not a boy, and orders Annie sent back. Annie isn’t hurt by this; she says she’s already had enough fun for a lifetime. Ultimately the boss just shrugs and says whatever.
The Promise of the Premise
Annie tells the boss that the secretary likes him, and that he never notices anything. Annie witnesses an attempt on the boss’s life. She and the secretary convince him to go downtown with them to a show (“Let’s Go to the Movies”). He realizes his secretary is pretty and nice, and, more importantly, that he cares for Annie. The secretary convinces him to adopt her (“We Got Annie”). He goes to the orphanage and manages to get Miss Hannigan to sign the papers (“Sign”), and orders a new locket for Annie.
The boss explains that he came to America poor and made all his money by being ruthless, but lately has noticed something missing in his life, and wants Annie to be his little girl and wear the new locket he bought. Annie refuses, saying she expects her real parents to collect her someday. The boss offers to help them find her. While his secretary interviews a ton of dishonest people at the mansion, the boss takes Annie to Washington to meet FDR, who he doesn’t like, but she cheerfully sings the song that the show is known for.
Bad Guys Close In
The boss does a hilarious advertisement on a radio show, offering a reward for Annie’s parents to come collect her. At the orphanage, the girls perform the toothpaste advertisement from the show (“You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile”), and Miss Hannigan and her brother Rooster and his girlfriend find Annie’s parents’ half of Annie’s locket and make a plan to claim the reward for themselves (“Easy Street”). (It’s not clear why Miss Hannigan would have kept Annie’s parents’ deaths secret all along, and I don’t think anybody ever actually tells her that her real parents are dead.)
All is Lost/Dark Night of the Soul
Rooster and his girlfriend show up at the mansion just as Annie returns from Washington. They have the locket, so they claim the reward. Annie goes to pack, taking only a few of her rich-girl things and setting the rest aside for her friends at the orphanage, who have been locked in a closet for overhearing the plan to kidnap Annie, but who have escaped. Just after Annie leaves the mansion with her “parents”, she discovers that they are scammers working with Miss Hannigan and only wanted the money.
Break into Three
Sandy the dog escapes the fake parents and joins up with the orphans, who enlist the support of the boss and his secretary. The boss calls the New York cops and sends his bodyguard in a helicopter to chase down the car. Meanwhile, Annie has requested a pit stop and yet again stomped with admirable accuracy on Miss Hannigan’s foot.
Annie runs from Rooster and climbs up the railroad tracks on a vertical train bridge. Miss Hannigan tries to stop Rooster when she realizes he will kill Annie, but he knocks her out. Everyone converges on the bridge, and the bodyguard in the helicopter rescues Annie before Rooster can drop her off the top end.
The boss throws a big circus party in his backyard for the Fourth of July (“I Don’t Need Anything But You”).
What surprised me about Annie
My jaw dropped when I realized that the iconic song of hope, “Tomorrow”, is sung by Orphan Annie with Eleanor and Teddy Roosevelt in front of a portrait of George Washington in the White House in a scene where Annie, over the objection of billionaire Republican Oliver Warbucks, expresses support for the New Deal. I had no idea the movie was even vaguely political, though I admit the billionaire’s ridiculous allegorical name should have been a clue.
There’s a bodyguard character named Punjab (who I presume is supposed to be Indian but who looks African) who can do magic—he takes away pain in his boss’s leg, makes a dog and a child faint by hypnosis, and performs telekinesis on a toy airplane and a basket of flowers. Annie is the kind movie where random stuff like this kinda seems to fit in. The whole thing is so obviously a fantasy that there’s no reason to exclude actual magic.
I felt some sympathy for Miss Hannigan, the lonely drunk lady in charge of the orphanage, who is mean but not homicidal. The primary antagonist is actually her brother Rooster, who (unlike the billionaire) really and truly only cares about money, and will do anything to get it, even if it means killing a child.
The History of Annie
Although I’ve only ever seen the 1982 movie, the character has existed in a multitude of forms.
1885 Poem: “Little Orphant Annie”
Annie’s story begins with a famous 1885 poem written by James Whitcomb Riley. In the poem, an orphan named Annie who does chores around the house tells about a naughty boy and girl who got snatched by goblins, and warns other children to be good so they won’t get snatched away, too.
1924 Newspaper Comic: Little Orphan Annie
Harold Gray took the character Annie from the poem, added some characters and some politics, and created a daily comic strip. He drew the comics until his death in 1968, when others took over. The strip continued until 2010.
1930s–40s Radio Show: Little Orphan Annie
The comic strip was adapted into a 15-minute radio drama series. It ran from 1930 until 1942 and promoted the product Ovaltine in exchange for sponsorship.
1930s Films: Little Orphan Annie
The famous character appeared in movies in 1932 and 1938, but reviewers were not impressed.
1977 Broadway Musical: Annie
The award-winning show ran for six years and spawned international versions.
1982 Film: Annie
This movie was adapted from the 1977 musical. Some songs appear in the musical but not the movie, and some appear in the movie but not the musical.
1993 Bollywood Film: King Uncle
Thanks, Wikipedia. Now I’m curious to see this Hindi movie based on the 1982 American one.
1996 Sequel Film: Annie: A Royal Adventure!
Nope. I just don’t even want to know.
1999 Television Film: Annie
Yeah, okay, maybe. This movie sounds like a tighter version of the same plot.
2014 Remake: Annie
This movie puts the story in a contemporary setting. It won a golden raspberry for “worst prequel, remake, rip-off, or sequel”. I think I’ll pass.