Much more faithful to the original Depression-era strip than I was expecting, the picture starts with Annie and her dog Sandy bidding farewell to Daddy Warbucks. Warbucks has had his fortune stolen from him and is hitching a freight South determined to get it back by Christmas, but reluctantly leaving his adopted daughter to fend for herself--not for the first time--on the streets of (presumably) New York City.
Annie and Sandy encounter the newly orphaned youngster Mickey and our plucky heroine gives him a pep talk before deciding to save him from the horrors of the orphanage as she remembers it. Her attempts at mothering him are sweet but awkward and when things go awry, she has no choice but to take him to the orphanage and its doctor. Only when Mickey lets slip that she, too, is an orphan, they decided to KEEP Annie!
Mizi Green had bee THE female child star in 1930-31 but puberty hit and here she looks almost but not quite too old for Annie. With her trademark short black hair replaced by lighter curly locks and a familiar outfit, her light Bronx accent adds what I consider to be just the right touch to Annie. Mitzi's schtick, though, always included her impressions as well. Here--not her best--she does the Marx Brothers, reenacting scenes from the then-recent HORSEFEATHERS! This is odd for various reasons, not the least of which is that this is an RKO production (from David Selznick, the man who would later bring you GONE WITH THE WIND!) while the Marx films of the period were from Paramount!
The RKO connection probably means that it was most likely the Van Buren Studio who did Mickey's creepy animated nightmare sequence! Van Buren distributed their theatrical cartoons through RKO between 1928 and 1936.
Another nice touch is that the popular theme from the LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE radio show pops up as an instrumental in the otherwise Max Steiner score.
Short, sweet and melodramatic, just like the strip itself., LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE builds nicely to a satisfying climax but that actually shows the film's biggest weakness. The great slow burn expert Edgar Kennedy is Warbucks in the opening and closing scenes. In between, he apparently did exactly what he had set out to do...only we saw not one second of it. In the strip, we would have had days of asides from the main plot where we followed Daddy routing out the wranglers and working his way back to his beloved Annie. In the film, that could easily have been a running subplot, adding no more than half an hour to the already programmer-length picture.
Ah well, as is, it's still immensely entertaining. Within 2 years, the then 14 year old Mitzi was being cast in adult roles so a sequel was probably never forthcoming once puberty hit her hard. A lifeless LOA film was made in 1938 with a different plot, different producers and a different cast. It would be nearly 4 decades before the Broadway musical made our little heroine a household word again. What can I say. It's a hard-knock life.