Like anyone who grew up singing along with the original Annie, reenacting flips into laundry baskets, climbing up ladders to escape Miss Hannigan and Rooster, and trying to make things levitate like Punjab—you all did do that, right?, I eagerly anticipated the release of the remake of Annie. Actually,
scratch that, to be honest, I cringed when I first heard about the new version, because you sometimes just shouldn’t mess with a classic. (See: Karate Kid, Flubber, and Planet of the Apes. Lord bless.)
But when I first watched the preview a couple months back, saw the cast (hello, brown girl in the lead? yes, please), heard some of the music, and witnessed my own 10-year-old adopted daughter’s excitement over it all, I joined in the gleedom.
However, I held my anticipation with a bit of reserve, since (like most adoptive parents) we know that certain encounters and experiences can be painful triggers for our adopted kiddos. (Baby pictures school projects, anyone? Ugh.)
At the same time, though, these emotionally challenging experiences can sometimes serve as excellent springboards for much needed and meaningful conversations with those same kids if we frame them appropriately and prepare our children properly.
For those reasons, I decided that I would preview Annie before letting most of my adopted children see it. Last night, I took my 15-year-old daughter, Bethlehem, as well as my mom and 12-year-old biological daughter, Izzy, to a late showing. (We were the only people in the whole theater…holla!) I chose to bring Bethlehem because I knew that she would be able to offer a unique perspective from the angle of a well adjusted adoptee.
From a Well-Adjusted 15-year-old:
Bethlehem was only eight years old when she became our forever daughter, so she’s spent nearly half of her life as our daughter. In other words, she’s had a long time to grieve, process, adjust, and make sense of her life story. And in those areas, she’s done amazingly well. She’s a best case scenario for older child adoption. Besides that, though, Bethlehem is also extremely insightful and amazingly mature for her age. She understands the emotional depths of complex situations and circumstances. I asked her to sit down and offer her take on Annie as she experienced it. I’m including some of her review below:
The movie Annie was indeed an emotional yet uplifting movie. Yes, we all want to be loved by our parents, especially our birth parents, just like Annie did. But since I am an older adopted girl, I try to look at it (life) through another lens. To be honest, I did feel that emotion at the opening song at the beginning of the movie (during the song “Maybe”). I can completely understand the feeling of abandonment that your birth parents created. At the same time, the things that seem really bad at first turn out for good. Yet again, I believe I feel this way because I’m an older adopted child and well adjusted. I can’t imagine being young, just adopted, or not well adjusted yet with your new family and watching this movie. I would probably have a mixture of many negative feelings and fantasies to fill in what’s missing.
As Bethlehem shared, the movie is probably perfectly wonderful and uplifting for well adjusted adopted children. But for foster kids without permanent families, adopted children who have not adjusted well (or at all), those kids who have attachment issues, and anyone with very real painful memories of being in an orphanage, difficult foster home, or group home, the movie might include too many triggers that make it not worth it, despite the amazing soundtrack and likable cast. But keep reading…
From a Healing 10-year-old, our very own “Annie”
After having viewed the movie myself, I took my most recently adopted daughter, Simona, who joined our family in July 2012, to see Annie. (Yep, I’ve already seen it twice! Lucky me!) She’s been listening to the soundtrack for weeks, but had never seen the original (a movie only a couple of our adopted kids have been allowed to watch). She had no prior reference for the movie, but I knew that it included numerous possible triggers for her emotionally. You see, she is our Annie. So much of the storyline mimics her own rough road to get to our family, her own hard-knock life. I knew it could be painful for her (and me) to watch and remember.
Aside from a couple of tears during the first song (but who DIDN’T cry in that one?), she absolutely loved the entire movie. She was beaming. For kids who have been there done that, the movie is far more real but also far more meaningful. While another child might simply enjoy the singing and dancing and hilarious moments, an adopted child with her own history of pain and redemption will actually understand it. And because they can understand it, they might actually appreciate it all the more when Annie’s “tomorrow” finally comes true.
After the closing credits, I talked with Simona about the film and her feelings throughout it. I was surprised that nothing triggered painful memories in her. Rather, she described how she was sad for the kids in the foster home, since they didn’t have families, and not for herself anymore. She explained how it made her tear up when Miss Hannigan was so mean to the girls, because “kids in orphanages have already had enough sad in them.” Well said.
Simona continued on, “I think that people should take their kids to see this movie, because they can see how it was in the orphanage when they (their kids) were there” and also because “the kids can see how they are free now to do so much more stuff.” It’s interesting that Simona saw this movie much more as a learning lesson for adoptive parents, and not just for kids like herself. Adopted kids, like any kids, just want to be understood, to be heard. Simona feels that Annie can be a vehicle to help adoptive parents toward that end. And I would have to wholeheartedly agree. And I would add, for those kiddos who, like Simona, sometimes have a hard time trusting their adopted parents’ love, this movie can give them a visual to help them see that it’s real, it’s genuine, it’s tangible, and it’s not going anywhere. I am particularly thankful for that aspect of Annie.
And as for me…
From the getgo, I was struck by how emotionally heavy the movie was for me as the adoptive mom. Having adopted only older children (between the ages of 3 to 13 upon joining our family), I know all too well the very real pain my children experienced longing for a family to come for them (and believing, like the character Pepper does, that they probably never will—”I’m almost 13. No one wants to adopt a teenager.”) I have heard my oldest son recount how he prayed day and night for parents to come for him. I have listened as Bethlehem shares how she followed visitors around the orphanage, dreaming of them taking her home as their daughter. I have sat and wiped the tears of my kids as they have talked about how sad and lonely and scary it was to not know what your future would hold, if you would ever have a mom or dad again. I wept throughout the first full song (“Maybe”) as Annie and her foster sisters sang longingly about their wishes for parents:
So maybe now it’s time,
And maybe when I wake
They’ll be there calling me “Baby”
I met our first children (our first adopted sibling set of three) in an orphanage before we ever knew they would become ours. I witnessed for myself their very real desperation for a family, the very real “maybe” that they expressed with their eyes, wondering if just maybe you would say yes to them. Just maybe. So this opening song, while gorgeous, well arranged, and beautifully and creatively sung, invoked streams of tears that I could not stop. It was poignant. Kids without parents actually do dream of parents, actually do yearn for them, actually do imagine them coming for them one day. And that little bit of maybe is a whole lot of hope that gives them just enough breath to make it through another day. The tragedy is when those maybes turn into probably nevers. Because maybe no one really cares anyway. Maybe.
From the first scene, I felt very intensely that old, familiar tug on my heartstrings as I recalled with freshness what compelled us to adopt in the first place. I began to yearn to open my home to more kids, as I can’t ignore the real cries of kids who are singing their own silent Maybe. I was reminded how it’s so easy to simply feel pity for orphans and foster kids without actually realizing that you hold the hope to their despair. It’s too easy to just ignore the reality that millions of kids desperately crave families without opening your heart to the truth that you might be that family. Annie triggered fresh feelings in me about my family, the path we’ve walked, and why we initially set out to do what we do. And it compelled me to consider that maybe we’re just not done. Maybe.
So in that regard, I found Annie to be extremely pro-adoption, very motivating, and very inspiring as a real course of action for millions of parents who I hope will consider the call and say YES. Like Annie says, “I think when people say no, they’re really afraid of saying yes.” Perhaps this movie will discourage that fear and encourage that YES.
Annie reminds us that adoption isn’t just impacting to the child adopted; adoption changes US as the parents. It molds us into someone we never knew we could be. And it shows us what we never knew we were missing.
Besides the possible triggers from Miss Hannigan’s treatment of Annie, my greatest hesitation with letting my adopted children see Annie was that it would intensify and even encourage any birth parent fantasies to which they still hold. I have held a certain daughter during full-on rages while she screams from her depths from the primal wound of abandonment by her birth mother, believing that her birth mom made an enormous and fateful mistake by relinquishing her. (“Their one mistake was giving up me,” as Annie sings in “Maybe.”) I have read between the lines with another daughter to see that she still holds onto an impossible idea that her birth mom can just come and live with us. This birth parent fantasy doesn’t affect all adopted children, but for those it does, this movie might be a trigger. And this is a legitimate concern.
BUT Annie is such a pro-adoptive family movie, that I personally believe any birth parent fantasies will be diminished by seeing the love and completeness of family when William Stacks (the Daddy Warbucks figure) and Annie come together at last. Their portrayal of the love between the adoptive parents and child was spot on. Though I (of all people) realize that adoption isn’t so cleancut and simple, it is still beautiful, and the closing scene perfectly expressed that. “Together forever” is what parentless children long for.
I share sentiments with Bethlehem and Simona, who both said that even though the movie has sad parts, there is such a happy ending it makes the sad parts okay. Adoption, even despite its difficult moments, seasons, or years, is a happy ending (and beginning) for millions of children. I personally found this movie to be refreshing in its positive portrayal of older child adoption, a reality thousands joyfully experience every year.
I particularly appreciated that this movie normalizes our adopted kiddos instead of making them out to be some kind of freaks who will never fit in with friends and family. They just want what all kids want, and Annie very appropriately demonstrates that truth without an excess of exaggeration, sap, or sobbing. I felt proud to be an adoptive mom and very thankful that we chose this road, even with its difficulties and heartaches. Family is a beautiful thing, and I’m thankful for these kids that God chose to end up in mine.
Yada Yada Yada, Just shoot me straight.
All in all, it’s well worth the splurge to take your family, adoptive or not. It truly is a feel good movie and super fun to watch. The choreography is fantastic. You’ll want to get up and dance throughout. (Don’t worry; I saved that for the closing credits.) In addition, I personally think they did a splendid job blending together elements of the old with a touch of modernity to create something new without straying too far from the classic.
The majority of adopted kids will find it to be a positive experience, while some will simply need to briefly reconcile their thoughts afterward in a conversation with their parents. A very few should avoid it altogether, but I trust that adoptive parents know their own well enough to make that determination themselves.
A+, Annie, and to the writers, director, producers, songwriters, musicians, choreographers, and cast. Thanks for the reminder that the sun does indeed come out tomorrow, for us and our adopted kiddos. I will definitely be taking some of my other children to see it again, and I hope and pray it spurs others to consider saying YES to all of the precious “Annies” out there just waiting for tomorrow. Now what are you waiting for? Let’s go to the movies!