Kids' Movies IV

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Film Review by Dean Duncan Mar 26, 2015

The general wisdom on this film is that it’s not only a flop, but a failure. Once again, it appears that we shouldn’t always believe what they tell us. Yes there’s a bit of awkward here and there. Kids are tough to wrangle, after all, and there are a ton of them. Also, the Curry/Peters sub-plot isn’t particularly interesting, and the peril at the end is pretty perfunctory. But what’s wrong with a bit of mis-calculation? This is still a great movie!  Specifics:

The musical numbers are energetically staged (which makes the contrastingly sparse inauguration of “Tomorrow” quite moving). Innocence encountering wealth has a bit or Richie Rich appeal, and those first we’re-in-the-money scenes (Ms. Reinking contributes a great deal) are charming.

But the film quickly opts for something more substantial than Richie Rich. Arabian Nights, yes, but also an important question: who needs all this? Annie’s willingness to go back when Warbucks discovers she’s not a boy is not only Shirley Temple sweet, but HC Andersen angry. That’s why the next plot point makes such good sense; the transition from billionaire to “daddy” is moving, convincing, and morally necessary.

There are two components to this. First: this is George Eliot’s Silas Marner! A terrific take on the morally archetypal tale of the child purifying the adult.

Second, Scrooge/Oliver Twist, and maybe even a little bit better than that. Do I recall complaints and incomprehensions about the New Deal stuff when the film came out? Fair; what exactly does that prove in 1982? But it’s sure clear why this registered so in the 1930’s, when Harold Gray’s original comic strip was at the height of its popularity. And it sure registers today. In fact, at this juncture Annie looks pretty righteous and timeless. (It doesn’t just relate to recessions and health care, but to that thin but so-piercing sliver or radicalized, omni-obstructionist conservatism.)

Remainders: Punjab and the Asp represent an impossible conflict between authenticity and good taste. Why is Punjab, here, played by a black man? Oh—Carol Burnett is a National Treasure.