Annie, Or: How To Do A Revamp Properly

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 4.824% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Hollywood does a lot of reboots and revamps, uprooting classic stories to either a) tell them the exact same way you told them before, or b) changing so much that they forget exactly what made the original great.
Annie, however, is the finest revamp I have ever seen.  It completely changes the classic Orphan Annie story – which is good, because that story’s almost a century old at this point, and encrusted with decades’ worth of predictable remakes.  It’s fearless in the way it throws out whole elements, whole characters, changing classic songs without batting an eye.
And what you get is modern, and refreshing, and just as relevant as when the old Annie came out.
Annie’s been getting some terrible reviews – partially, I suspect, because the producers were a tad heavy-handed on the autotune.  But I also think there’s a certain discomfort with how they’ve changed Annie – a soporific ode to yesterday’s greatness – into a fairly ugly reflection of today’s environment.
Thing is, for all the talk about The Black Annie being an outrage, Black is the new Irish.  Annie was a red-haired moppet not because the people of old loved Gingers, but because she was clearly the unwanted offspring of an immigrant class most people despised.  People back in the day would have properly read this encoding, but America’s largely forgotten the “NO IRISH” signs hung on places seeking employment. So having Annie be unwanted and black is proper.
And Annie is – well, not Annie.  Don’t get me wrong, I love old Annie (I can quote you large swathes of the 1982 version), but old Annie was – well, sweet.  She was supposed to be spunky, but after she rescued Sandy, she sort of lapsed into a cheerful passive aggression where she got what she wanted by sunnily guilt-tripping everyone.
This new Annie, however, celebrates the hustle.
This Annie schemes.  She’s got dreams, and she doesn’t just sing Tomorrow – she’s hunting for side jobs to get the $43.20 to pay for the bureaucratic fees to find out who her parents were.  She isn’t just thrilled to be with today’s equivalent of Daddy Warbucks – she’s actively using him, as she uses her.  As witness this scene where Stacks (the new Warbucks) realizes he needs to put Annie up at his house in order to get the photo ops he needs:
Stacks: “There’s got to be an easier way to get these photos.”
Annie: “Not if you want me in ’em.”
And I think that white America is generally uncomfortable looking at this.  Annie’s supposed to be escapist!  Annie’s supposed to be sweet, a passive thing carried off by well-meaning rich people!  But no; Annie explicitly rejects that paradigm, saying that the people who get rich work their ass off for it.  Annie works hard, Stacks works hard – it’s a sharp-eyed look at the American Dream, wherein you won’t get anywhere if you don’t scrape for every penny, but by God the system can still knock you on your ass.
Speaking of which, Annie carries on the great tradition of keeping its creator Harold Gray spinning in his grave by completely changing Daddy Warbucks.  The movie is firmly in the pro-FDR camp, but recognizes that things have changed since 1940.  Stacks is now a cell phone billionaire running for mayor, mainly because it’s the next achievement to rack up for his massive ego.  He has no particular plans for New York, no vision – it’s just the next step up in life for him.
And here’s the thing: the movie questions whether this is a good thing.
Whether Stacks is worthy of being mayor is a constant background issue.  This new Annie implies that if you’re going to rule, you should do so with compassion, and while you can get elected it’s not going to be good for people if you do.
The new Annie also has compassion for everyone, man.  The streets that Annie lives in?  Rough, but supportive overall.  They’ve got nobody but themselves.  In particular the movie transforms Mrs. Hannigan, throwing out the random “Her brother and his ditzy girlfriend show up” plotline to provide Ms. Hannigan with a real and awful choice in politics. Ms. Hannigan has actual dreams – and while she’s unabashedly a monster, she once was a singer.  She never made it.  And that failed ambition curdled something within her.
In this new world of Annie, everyone has something worthwhile about them, if you look hard enough.
I suspect this movie’s getting pummeled in the reviews because, well, for a kid’s film it’s explicitly political.  And as a remake, it is the precise opposite of what most people consider to be faithful – all the classic elements are erased.  So you’ll have people pounding on it for putting in new musical numbers, or transforming the classics, and that’s it.
And… Annie’s black.
There needs to be a better word for racism, something more fine-grained.  But in America, there’s this thread bubbling through our culture where white kids get to be adorable, but black kids are perceived as a threat more easily, seem more sinister.  White people aren’t even aware of it, but the fact is that black people are twenty times more likely to be shot by cops, and I don’t think that’s because the cops are KKK members – I think it’s because years of cultural mores have piled up to quietly teach us that pale skin is forgivable, and dark skin is a harbinger of ill intent.
What’s the word when someone’s quietly regurgitating negative attitudes they’ve absorbed without even being aware of it?  “Racism” sounds like an active choice to most white people.  But there’s no better word to indicate these subliminal winces, the kind of thing where people say I dunno, Annie’s good but there was just something about her I didn’t click with.
And the danger of this sort of thing is that you get to handwave all criticism by claiming racism, which I am explicitly not.  Like I said, this won’t be to everyone’s tastes.  But the problem with this unthinking downgrading of African-Americans is that some percentage of negative reviews is doubtlessly due to this insidious undertow, and maybe it wouldn’t have made Annie A+ reviews across the board, but maybe it’d be a 6.0 on IMDB instead of the 4.9 it is now.
Regardless, though, Annie is an amazing movie.  You’re going to get poppy auto-tune sprayed in your face, and if you don’t like that, then best stay away.  But the film’s battled through crippling reviews and an early Sony leak of the full film three weeks before release to earn more than its budget, which indicates strongly that someone’s liking it.  I suspect, in time, it may become a touchstone classic for someone in the next generation, much like Labyrinth was a box-office flop but inspired many young girls to be more than they were.
In any case, it’s not gonna be in theaters for much longer.  I’d go see it while you can.

2 Comments

  1. Yet Another Laura H
    Jan 13, 2015

    Not to be pedantic (okay, I love being pedantic), but as I suspect Mr. Steinmetz knows, “N.I.N.A.” is a fantastic song, as in literal fantasy:
    http://tigger.uic.edu/~rjensen/no-irish.htm
    But yeah. If you’re going to get fussy about Annie’s skin tone over the talent of the actor playing her, you’d better be insisting on her having sclera lenses and being haunted creepy, godlike Mr. Am or I am not taking your squeakings seriously.

    • Yet Another Laura H
      Jan 13, 2015

      Also, I don’t think you should call, “I didn’t click with” based on race anything but racism. It almost seems like the author of the post is saying, “It’s not racism because nobody means harm by it!”, and I rather thought that I’ve heard him reject that sinister “logic” before somewhere…

All Comments Will Be Moderated. Comments From Fake Or Throwaway Accounts Will Never Be approved.