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For Updated 'Annie', The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow


"Annie" opened in theaters over the weekend. The film is the latest take on the "Little Orphan Annie" comic strip. The original story of the orphan with the big dreams, big voice and big hair was a fairytale for Americans during the Great Depression. Karen Grigsby Bates of NPR's Code Switch team reports on how it speaks audiences now.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: The newest iteration of "Annie" has a multicultural cast and a different beat from the original 1977 Broadway show, but several key ingredients remain. There's everybody's favorite ode to the random unfairness of fate set to a contemporary beat.


QUVENZHANE WALLIS: (As Annie) (Singing) It's the hard-knock life for us. It's the hard-knock life for us. Instead of treated, we get tricked. Instead of kisses, we get kicked. It's the hard-knock life.

BATES: And there's a spunky orphan - actually foster kid - played by Quvenzhane Wallis.


WALLIS: (As Annie) (Singing) The sun will come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there'll be sun.

SHAWNA KIDMAN: She was scrappy. She was plucky. She picked herself up by her own bootstraps, and she was a hard worker.

BATES: That's the essence of Annie, says Shawna Kidman, who's writing a book on how the entertainment industry has adapted comic books over the past 60 years. Annie, Kidman says, appealed to the American public who saw themselves in her.

KIDMAN: In that way, she was just like her benefactor, Daddy Warbucks. They had a can-do American spirit.

BATES: This updated Daddy Warbucks, played by Jamie Foxx, has been rechristened Will Stacks. And instead of being an arms merchant - war bucks, right? - Stacks is a cell phone mogul, a self-made billionaire who grew up poor in Queens. Thanks to his bootstrapping ingenuity, though, he's had now having a grand time being part of the 1 percent.


JAMIE FOXX: (As Will Stacks) I love this city. The harder I work, the more opportunities I get. No matter who you are or what you are, just got to want it bad enough.

BATES: Kidman says this message that you can work your way out of poverty and succeed is a cherished American myth, one that's as appealing now as it was when Annie was first introduced in a 1920s comic strip.

KIDMAN: I think it's a fantasy that a lot of Americans still hold onto. And I think there's a lot of people who live in poverty who don't feel that they can just work their way out.

BATES: Jeet Heer is a Toronto-based expert on cartoons, culture and politics. He says "Annie" resonated with Americans during the Great Depression and does now when the income disparity is so dramatic.

JEET HEER: Its coming from a world where there's very sharp class divisions, which is I think also our world.

BATES: Heer is the co-author of "The Complete Little Orphan Annie," an 11-volume history of the comic. He says the original "Annie" strip, inked by a conservative cartoonist named Harold Gray, didn't sugarcoat the country's dire economic straits.

HEER: There's a kind of harshness in the original strip, which I think comes from Gray's very unvarnished vision of the world. He really presents a kind of, like, stark, brutal vision of the world where force of character is what counts.

BATES: Character and, oh, yeah, money. Earlier versions of Daddy Warbucks lived in mansions with sweeping staircases, crystal chandeliers and gleaming wood floors. The mansion Annie comes to live in with Will Stacks is actually a vast apartment, high above Manhattan. Will has used his money to buy privacy and security. Will's assistant, Grace, makes sure his high-tech home will recognize Annie.


WALLIS: (As Annie) How does it do this?

ROSE BYRNE: (As Grace) It's a smart house, so it recognizes your voice and then adjusts itself accordingly. It's like a friend. I'm going to record your voice now, Annie, and you'll be in the system. So just say something into this.

WALLIS: (As Annie) What should I say?

BYRNE: (As Grace) Anything.

WALLIS: (As Annie) I think I'm going to like it here.

BATES: And, boy, does she. She really enjoys the home's gadgets. The luxuries in this "Annie" revolve around tech tools, like when Annie's friends check her out on social media.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Character) Someone just posted a picture of Annie on Twitter.

WALLIS: (As Annie): Woah. My hair is gigantic.

BATES: In case you missed the tsunami of publicity, this Annie is African-American with a big head full of curly, natural hair. Jeed Heer says making Annie black this time around is an acknowledgment that the country's racial and ethnic profile is changing.

HEER: If this is going to be a movie that's appealing to young girls, predominantly in America, that's going to be a multiracial audience.

BATES: As the country continues to evolve, the next generation's Annie probably will look different from this one, but the pluck will be same - bet your bottom dollar. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.