Under John Huston's direction, Annie cannot be accused of manipulating your heartstrings. But when you consider the storyline, you feel like it should. Instead, it is a bit understated; some people are moved by it, and others (who perhaps don't like musicals in the first place) are left cold. My response was in the middle: Annie is entertaining, but not moving.
What's right: All of the acting is excellent, especially Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks, who accomplishes the difficult feat of recreating an ancient cartoon character. If judged by its retaining the character of the old Little Orphan Annie newspaper cartoon strip, the movie succeeds. It is generally difficult to bring a modern Broadway musical to the screen, but Vincent Canby, in his New York Times review, says he didn't much like the stage version, and the movie is better. The producer, Ray Stark, didn't like the Broadway version, either.
I think Aileen Quinn gets it right, not too polished to seem implausible, but delivers the lovable perkiness the role calls for. Carol Burnett rises above her television persona to do some real acting -- sort of. None of these roles calls for naturalistic acting, although Ann Reinking's performance comes the closest. These are roles that have their roots in a cartoon strip, not a great novel. As presented, this works fine in a musical, in part because Huston doesn't overdo it; With a less subtle director, this could have been a very expensive flop. And there are some genuinely funny scenes,particularly from Burnette, and the radio show.
The limiting factors are the story and the music, which are good but not great, a point made by Roger Ebert, with whom I often disagree, but this time his review gets it right: Despite these limitations, the movie is still pleasantly entertaining.
The movie Annie inevitably gets compared to is Oliver! In some ways Annie works better as a musical, precisely because it is so rooted in pure fantasy. You can't help feeling something is lost in Oliver! by moving the gritty realism of the original Charles Dickens into a cotton candy fantasy musical. If Annie is cotton candy, well, what else was the cartoon strip? But in both Oliver! and Annie, the depth of emotion the stories suggest is missing.
The message of Annie is surprisingly contemporary to America, 30 years later, of Annie opening the heart of Daddy Warbucks, of FDR drafting him to organize his New Deal jobs programs.
As to the ending, I really wish the Carol Burnett character had been fired or led off in handcuffs. But I guess Annie, herself, was not mean- spirited, so forgiveness was more appropriate. We could learn a lot from Annie, which, I suppose, is the whole point of the story.
I recommend watching Annie, not only because it is enjoyable, but also for cultural literacy because there are so many references to it in other movies. And don't miss the legendary Ray Bolger as the radio sound effects man tap dancing with his hands!
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