Sunday, October 7, 2018

Annie are you OK?

As a parent in 2018, I have to teach my children that the world can be a soulless, spirit-crushing experience, particularly for women, people of color and those in the LGBTQIA community.  But for one afternoon, I chose to avoid all of that by tuning out for a while and watching a movie together, a classic from my childhood. A movie about hope and love and the dawning of a new day because, the sun will come out tomorrow… or so I thought.

This is the story about the afternoon I watched Annie with my daughter and realized that Annie, the original movie of my childhood, did not age well.

Open on Annie singing about parents she doesn’t have: 
“Mom, where are her parents?”
“She doesn’t have any.” 
“Why doesn’t she have parents?” 
“Cause she’s an orphan.” 
“What’s an orphan?”
Any fellow parent will tell you, when we put on the TV or a movie, we do so because we don’t want to “work.” We aren’t looking for teachable moments or engaging in character forming conversations. We want 90 minutes to zone out and possibly doze off. Not even five minutes in and I know I’m in trouble here.

Back to the filthy children living together in an orphanage, being beaten and doing manual labor. Ok, this actually could work in my favor. Maybe the next time I ask her to make her bed, she’ll be more grateful that’s all I’m requesting.

Enter Miss Hannigan and having to explain the antics and behaviors of a functioning alcoholic. This is truly going to be a fun afternoon together.

Miss Hannigan propositioning Mister Bundles wasn’t something I vividly recalled from my childhood viewings, but my daughter doesn’t look like she will forget it as she shrinks a little into the couch next to me.

Enough of the child abuse, for now… how about a little animal abuse for the folks at home. Enter Sandy being abused by some neighborhood scamps. And then a song about Sandy being dumb, cause hey, we called people dumb back then and it was fine. To my daughter, it was the equivalent of Annie calling Sandy a mother f#cker. We don’t throw dumb around in the same way in our house and she seems shook. Note to self: definitely not ready for Old Yeller.

Back to the orphanage. I’m concerned that Miss Grace Farrell doesn’t seem at all concerned by Annie being locked in a closet. A quick tug-of-war with Annie as the rope ends with them headed to the Warbucks mansion, so I guess that bit of physicality is OK?

Enter Punjab and the Asp, the bodyguards of Oliver Warbucks, and two distinct, offensive cultural stereotypes personified. First, Punjab is an offensive name. Second, he’s played by a Trinidadian man. Third, he seems to possess magical powers that I can’t put my finger on, but seem problematic on their own. But he tamed Sandy, so everyone seems cool with it.

Oh, Annie thinks she’s being brought in as free labor (read: a slave) ha ha ha! That’s funny to everyone. Slavery: making people laugh since the Depression. 

Oliver Warbucks returns home with some gems I look forward to explaining later: “everything’s urgent to a Democrat” “orphans are boys” and his rage-throwing of the photographer’s camera. I think my petty slamming of cabinet doors when I’m angry is looking good in comparison. 

Annie manages to charm the old man and gets to stay. I’ve always been impressed by her street smarts and still am. Not every part of this aged poorly. The teachable moment could be: men can usually be manipulated; but really it is: take that rage-throwing of a camera as a red flag and GTFO.

Back to the orphanage where we get a few more talking points for later during the song ‘Little Girls.’ “If I wring little necks, surely I would get an acquittal” is not only an incredible rhyme for the word little, but also a sentence rich with disturbing concepts for a 7-year-old. 

Back to the mansion where a bomb comes crashing through the window. A chance to explain: amateur explosives, the Bolsheviks, and the Asp doing some heavily choreographed, and potentially insensitive faux martial arts. It’s not my culture, I can’t speak to it, but it feels bad.

Ok, here we go. Let’s go to the movies! I loved this part. The singing, the dancing, the part where Annie sits on the top of the convertible on their journey from 987 Fifth Avenue to Radio City… not exactly around the corner. I know they didn’t have booster seats back then, but a seat belt, or even just within the interior of the car? It makes my insistence on her booster seat seem ridiculous and I see her making a mental note. 

Going to the movies back then was quite the night out. Not necessarily a night filled with diversity, as the Rockettes lineup illustrates, but still quite spectacular. 

As if one movie with physical and emotional abuse wasn’t enough, they’ve managed to insert a second movie rife with issues for me to deal with. Bonus! The movie within the movie is too much, but thankfully the black and white format has disengaged her.

Back to the real movie and the mansion and some new topics to explore, like misogyny and power dynamics. Oliver Warbucks to Miss (lest we forget she’s a bachelorette) Grace Farrell: “You’re awfully pretty when you argue with me.” Followed quickly by this gem of an exchange:
OW: “Your teeth are crooked”
Grace Farrell: “I’ll have them fixed.”
OW: “I like them.”
GF: “I’ll leave them.”

But I have no time to explain why our looks should neither define us nor be changed in an attempt to gain the approval of others because we’re on to our next musical number: ‘We Got Annie.’ And we got an awkward musical dance solo for both Punjab and The Asp. Not just an exaggeration of their racial and cultural stereotypes, the music played over each is offensive in its own right.

Annie and Mr. Warbucks have a “man to man talk” where Warbucks shares his life story… spoiler alert: it’s dark AF.

Non sequitor, as this isn’t really problematic in our current landscape, but I can’t help thinking that a ventriloquist on a radio show is a strange talent choice. She doesn’t need to keep her mouth still for radio, does she? Plus, 30 years later and I still don’t know what Annie is doing when she goes for Burt Heeley’s shoes. But I digress.

Ok, back to the oversized themes for us to discuss: Republicans, The New Deal, helping people work for themselves… Actually, the FDR bit is still pretty relevant, just not necessary for a 7-year-old to sink her teeth into.

I had trouble with Tim Curry for a while and I realize this role was why. He messed me up early and it took me until Clue to get over it. By the time I realized he was Dr. Frank N Furter all was forgiven. But Rooster was scarring. 

Lily smoking in the orphanage, stealing from Miss Hannigan and lying to Mr. Warbucks… I remember all these “bad things” from my youthful viewings. Rooster knocking Miss Hannigan out, screaming “come back here you g-ddamn kid,” and then legit throwing Annie off the bridge were “bad things” I remembered, but saw, as if for the first time, through my daughter’s (horrified) eyes.

Punjab popping off his turban seems wrong, but I don’t think I’m qualified to write that think piece. I did chuckle at the irony of him quoting Buddha right before he kicks Rooster in the face, knocking him down the ladder. You’re dark Annie, but I love ya!

So, in summary, Miss Hannigan gets knocked out and gets to ride in on an elephant for the finale, with some visible sexual tension with Punjab I never noticed before. Is it getting hot in here or is it just this newly sympathetic alcoholic on an elephant?

Even the line: “I love you Daddy Warbucks” gave me the creeps this time. But that’s just me applying more modern connotations. This movie cannot handle that on top of everything else and it is the least of my concerns after watching the whole thing through.

My original memories from watching Annie as a child: great songs, fun, kid-friendly, classic all around.
My current thoughts from watching Annie as an adult with my own child: great songs but problematic all around.
I had never understood remaking a great movie, a la Footloose or Overboard, but maybe the occasional re-make is a good thing. I’m obviously not talking about Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka. That will never be OK.