The youth-written stories in YCteen give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Movie Review: Annie
Out With the Old
Jazmine Gibbs
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The recent remake of Annie is a perfectly good modern take on the Broadway musical and 1982 movie. I thought the reviews were way too negative because I liked this version.

Annie (played by Quvenzhane Wallis) is a young African-American foster kid from Harlem who remains happy-hearted through rough times. In the opening of the movie a girl with red curly hair gives a history presentation that bores everyone in the class. Then Wallis as the new Annie gives a presentation on Franklin Delano Roosevelt and The New Deal with hand claps and foot stomps, and her classmates love her fun and energetic teaching style. Because of the red-headed boring girl, and the new African-American Annie, the opening scene says “Out with the old, in with the new.”

We learn that Annie is in foster care. Miss Hannigan (played by Cameron Diaz) is her drunken foster mother. Miss Hannigan, who was a pop star in the early 1990s, is bitter about not being famous anymore and obviously takes in kids only for the money. She has five girls in one room and complains about getting paid $167 a week for each of them.

An early scene I could relate to is when Miss Hannigan spritzes the girls with Windex one morning to make them clean up before the social worker comes to inspect the home. I have been in care in New York since I was 17, and in each foster home I lived in, the room where the foster child sleeps must be neat when the social worker comes for an inspection. If the worker finds the room unkempt, the foster parent gets in trouble. Even though I never had an alcoholic foster mother, I have been in unstable homes where the foster mother distances herself either in her room or outside the home, so the Miss Hannigan parts felt emotionally true.

But visually, it’s pretty false. The cleaning scene reminded me of an Old Navy commercial. It was not an impoverished setting, and Annie and the other four foster girls were dressed stylishly.

A Foster Dad for Annie

Mr. Stacks (played by Jamie Foxx) is the wealthy CEO of a cellphone company running for mayor of New York City. He has little chance of winning. He is clearly not so fond of those with a lower income, and they don’t like him either. He uses hand sanitizer every time he touches someone, calls homeless people “bums,” and a video of him spitting mashed potatoes on a food-bank recipient goes viral.

When it seems like his campaign has no chance, he saves Annie from being hit by a speeding truck. This scene and much of the rest of the movie is different from the 1982 movie because of present-day technology. Someone records Stacks saving Annie with their phone, and that video also goes viral. When his campaign workers Grace (played by Rose Byrne) and Guy (Bobby Canavale) see how this raises Stacks’s approval ratings they search for Annie, find out she’s in foster care, and convince Mr. Stacks to take her in – at least until the election.

Stacks seems cold at first. You can tell that he is a busy man who never had time for a personal life. He lives in a futuristic penthouse that obeys his commands for light and temperature, as if Apple designed homes for filthy rich people. When Annie enters the home with her foster care worker, it’s like an electronic fun house for her.

He ignores Annie at first because all he does is work. But you see him start to like her when she tries to make him a meal out of what’s in his bachelor refrigerator. He grows close to her, and eventually he takes Annie to the place where his father died while helping build the subway trains back in the day. An adult has to be comfortable with a child to share that.

Annie becomes an instant celebrity. When she is alongside Mr. Stacks for the publicity campaign she wins over hearts. In print articles and on social media, everyone has something positive to say about her.

At a big event, Mr. Stacks makes a speech, and Annie sings the song “Opportunity” to him. After her song, Guy, the campaign advisor, asks Annie to read off a screen, and she runs into the street. Nobody knows why, and she admits to Stacks that she can’t read. Shocked and touched by the confession, Stacks comes up with the idea to start a literacy program. You see a more genuine, fatherly side of this single CEO with no children.

image by TCA-CTMG

A Plot to Get Rid of Annie?!

The one person who does not change is Guy, the campaign advisor who came up with the idea to keep Annie to boost Stacks’s approval ratings. He doesn’t see Stacks becoming more of a father figure towards Annie, so he hatches a plan to get rid of her. We know Annie would give anything to be back with her birth parents, who she doesn’t remember, so Guy plots with Miss Hannigan to find people to pretend to be her parents.

Miss Hannigan auditions people to play Annie’s parents, and Guy pays two of them to claim her and then later to dump her on the city streets. Miss Hannigan teaches the fake parents the song that only Annie would know and gives them the missing half of her necklace.

When the fake parents show up, Annie seems sad to leave Mr. Stacks. You can tell that he isn’t so happy she’s leaving either. The three drive off together, pretending they’re headed to the airport, but they’re really going to dump Annie somewhere.

When someone tells Miss Hannigan that Annie said she was a good singer, Miss Hannigan starts to feel guilty. In a twist from the original movie and musical, she comes forward and tells Mr. Stacks that Annie’s parents were fakes.

The movie climaxes in a scene of Stacks and Rose chasing the fake parents and Annie through New York City. Kids take pictures of Annie, who’s famous now, in the car and post them to social media, and Annie’s foster sisters at Miss Hanningan’s help Stacks and Rose track her. When Stacks and Rose catch up to Annie, Annie is hurt because she thinks Mr. Stacks hired the fakes and never cared about her.

Mr. Stacks tells her it was not his idea and that he really cares for her, but she has been burned by adults before and she doesn’t believe him. To prove his love, Stacks says to the cameras that he’s dropping out of the race for mayor to “concentrate on things that really matter to me….this amazing little girl, Annie. That’s my real family.”

And then somehow Miss Hanningan is dancing and singing with everyone as the movie ends.

Remade With Love

What I like about the movie overall is that this big-time CEO becomes a father once Annie is in his care. I liked that he could see her as a child, not as the stereotype of a troubled foster child.

Whoever did the research on foster care in New York City did a good job. There are foster homes very similar to what is shown in the movie. Two bunk beds and a fold-out bed stuffed into one room is not uncommon, and I’ve certainly lived with rowdy adolescents who like to make fun of the foster mother and talk about teenage stuff, like Annie and her roommates do.

Most of the songs are basically modern remakes from classic Annie. There were some songs that were new but with a modernized twist. The dancing was well choreographed; you could tell they were having fun. Some of the lyrics in the songs were changed and new songs were added but they kept the iconic song “Tomorrow.” Miss Hannigan had the best drunk singing of the movie.

This is a good family movie for those who are in foster care and for those who fell in love with the 1982 version (like myself). At 21, I’m not a parent myself but if I could take a group of foster children ages 8 to 11, I would.

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(WEB-2015-03-05)

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