On December 19, Annie will be hitting theaters and hoping to bring in big money from the holiday family crowd. Some critics have complained about modernization of the classic musical and how songs have been cut or remixed for a 2014 audience. Whether the changes pay off at the box office has yet to be seen, but pop song remixes and Cameron Diaz are not the craziest things to happen to Annie. Read on for a rundown of all the Annie films, sequels, and spin-offs in order from cute and cuddly to absolutely batsh*t crazy.
Annie, the Broadway Musical – The Broadway musical is by far the best version of the character of Annie. There is a reason why theaters across the country are still staging it, even as young audiences are less and less familiar with the original comic strip or radio dramas. The show is full of classic crowd-pleaser songs like “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” “Tomorrow,” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.” If that wasn’t enough, there is a scrappy adorable mutt and big Christmas finale. It is practically impossible to hate Annie.
What gives Annie longevity, though, is the show’s title character. Annie is the every-girl. She is savvy but kind-hearted, sweet but able to take care of herself. She has no home or parents, and yet she remains optimistic about her future. Jokes about Herbert Hoover set the musical firmly in the Great Depression, but the message of Annie is timeless.
Annie Warbucks – Annie Warbucks was the second attempt at a stage musical sequel to Annie. The first attempt, Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge, is coming up on the list. Unlike the first attempt, the show was mildly successful and is still staged fairly often by regional theaters. It never reached the prominence of the original stage musical, but Annie Warbucks is fairly innocuous.
The storyline is the craziest part of Annie Warbucks. In the show, Daddy Warbucks is ordered by Child Welfare Commissioner Harriet Doyle to get married in 60 days or Annie will be sent back to the orphanage. Grace Farrell, Warbucks’ personal assistant, is the obvious choice, but a new character, Sheila Kelly, also vies for his affection. Sheila isn’t all that she seems, though, and she has less than honorable reasons for marrying Warbucks. Her mother is Harriet Doyle, the commissioner who is making Warbucks get married in the first place, and they hope to cash in on Warbucks’ fortune after the wedding. The scheme is preposterous, but it is less preposterous than other villainous scheming in the Little Orphan Annie canon.
Annie, the 1982 Film – Structurally and story-wise, the 1982 and 1999 Annie film adaptations are very similar, but the 1982 film manages to edge out as the less crazy of the two films. Next to the original musical, this film is the most widely known and recognized. Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan is inspired casting, and her villainous co-stars are none other than Tim Curry as Rooster Hannigan and Bernadette Peters as Lily St. Regis.
The more nutty elements of the 1982 Annie involve Punjab and his magic powers. Punjab was a character carried over from the comic book and did not appear in the Broadway musical or 1999 film adaptation. In the 1982 film, Punjab serves as Daddy Warbucks’ bodyguard and saves Annie at a critical moment in the climax of the film. Looking back, it is hard to ignore the mystical foreigner character tropes that Punjab embodies. Considering that Hollywood still has such a problem with diversity in its heroes, however, it is visually striking to see Punjab, an Indian man with a turban, as a hero on-screen. This doesn’t excuse the stereotyping by any means, but it does bear mentioning.
Annie, the 1999 TV Movie Musical – The Wonderful World of Disney’s 1999 TV movie adaptation of Annie does not have Punjab, and in many ways, it is more faithful to the original Broadway musical than the 1982 movie. The songs “N.Y.C.” and “Something Was Missing” were both restored, and while it is difficult to match the cast from the 1982 film, the 1999 cast includes Victor Garber, Audra McDonald, Kathy Bates, Alan Cumming, and Kristin Chenoweth. All of them are Tony nominees, and nearly all of them are Tony winners. Audra McDonald actually holds the record for the most number of Tony Awards won by a performer, period. Having her in the cast automatically elevates the entire movie.
With all that glowing praise, what could possibly be so crazy to put it ahead of Punjab’s magic tricks? In the 1982 film, Rooster and Lily pose as Annie’s parents so they can collect the reward and run off filthy rich with Miss Hannigan. In the 1999 film, Miss Hannigan doesn’t trust Lily with the scheme, so she disguises herself poorly and poses as Annie’s mother with Rooster as Annie’s father. This plan makes no sense. Annie lived in the orphanage with Miss Hannigan lording over her for her entire life. A bad wig and a change of costume should not fool anyone, especially Annie. It is such a strange scripting decision and would have been an easy fix by just having Lily pose as Annie’s mother. For that random leap in logic, the 1999 Annie edges out the 1982 Annie in the ranking.
Last fun fact about this adaptation, Modern Family star Sarah Hyland makes an appearance as Annie’s orphan friend Molly.
Little Orphan Annie Radio Program – Back when the Little Orphan Annie comic was at the height of its popularity, there was a radio program adaptation of the comic. The show was cute and serviceable but not anything particularly new or different from other radio programs at the time. From the episodes that are still available, the most outrageous part are the accents. Wow, some of these accents are something else.
Annie: A Royal Adventure! – To be honest, Annie: A Royal Adventure! isn’t a whole lot more bonkers than Annie Warbucks. The premise is that Annie and Daddy Warbucks travel with some of their friends to England, where Daddy Warbucks will be knighted. Along the way, Annie foils a plot by Lady Edwina Hogbottom, played by Joan Collins, to blow up Buckingham Palace.
This plot already raises a few questions. Is Daddy Warbucks secretly a British citizen? If not, how can he be knighted? Why does the King of England see fit to knight a wealthy American businessman? More egregious than the lack of sense in the plot, however, are the lack of songs in the movie. There are no new songs in Annie: A Royal Adventure!, only a reprise of “Tomorrow.” An Annie sequel without music is just plain sacrilege.
Little Orphan Annie – Little Orphan Annie might have introduced the world to Annie, Sandy, and Daddy Warbucks, but there is some weird stuff going on in the original comic strip. President Franklin D. Roosevelt might have been a beloved character in the stage musical, but Little Orphan Annie cartoonist Harold Gray had very little love for FDR.
Annie’s hijinks included kidnapping, murder plots, and even a bit of blackface. Yes, America’s favorite orphan Annie did a little blackface.
Topping off the weirdness is the comic’s final storyline. In the final installments, Annie is kidnapped by gangsters who have been bashing in heads and dropping their victim’s bodies in the ocean. While she does eventually escape, Daddy Warbucks is left believing that Annie was executed and her body fed to sharks. That is some high quality bonkers insanity.
Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge – Little Orphan Annie has spawned some weird and crazy stuff, but nothing can possibly top the grade-A insanity of Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge. This is a treasure trove of nuttiness, a combination of so many bad ideas all thrown together into one messy Broadway stew. Was it the result of artistic ego and a disdain for the audience that made Annie a success in the first place, or was it a case of too many cooks in the kitchen?
Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge was scheduled to come to Broadway after a try-out at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., but after 36 performances, the show closed. The story, which changed considerably during its short run, revolves around Miss Hannigan breaking out of prison and plotting her revenge while Daddy Warbucks holds a contest to find a wife so that social services won’t take Annie away. Miss Hannigan plans to disguise herself and seduce Daddy Warbucks, but she knows her plan won’t work with Annie in the picture. She finds another orphan on the street who looks just like Annie (“You could be Annie 2!”), and she trains her to act like Annie. At an opportune moment, she kidnaps the real Annie and replaces her with the fake Annie, and fake Annie picks Miss Hannigan to be Daddy Warbucks’ wife at the contest. What could possibly go wrong?
Critics eviscerated the show, and audiences of all ages were confused by the tone of the entire production. Adults found the show outrageous and childish, and children were upset that Annie was absent for most of the show. The New York Times put it best in their profile of the failed production, “How ‘Annie 2’ Skidded Off a Bumpy Road To Broadway”:
After the reading, a few small doubts are expressed. One of the show’s producers says there is not enough Annie. Someone else wonders why there are no orphans. It’s not that kind of show, the members of the creative team say. It’s not a repeat of ”Annie.” The thought is that this show must be more sophisticated, must have more appeal for adults, in order to succeed. That, they will say later, was their first mistake.
Hilariously enough, though, Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge does have a notable minor cast member. Before he was J. Jonah Jameson or popping up in every Jason Reitman film, Whiplash star J.K. Simmons was in Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge, playing a WABC radio announcer.
More pictures from the show are available in the New York Public Library archives. There is no cast recording of the Washington D.C. production, though a few songs from the show were released as part of the two-disc special edition “Annie: The 30th Anniversary Cast Recording.” Other than that, Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge lives on through a few of the show’s songs which pop up occasionally at cabaret nights. One of the most popular songs is “You! You! You!” which features the line, “You could be Annie 2!”
Whatever happens with the 2014 Annie, rest assured that there is a high bar of crazy in the Annie canon. There is almost nothing that Quvenzhané Wallis, Jamie Foxx, and Cameron Diaz can do to match the insanity that came before it, or one can hope so at least.