ANNABELLE'S WISH (fox, 1997)

Why was it such a misfit?

There was a cow who had a wish, and Annabelle was her name-o.

Hallmark hasn't always had its own channel, but its dual role as a greeting card company and a producer of treacly movies stretches all the way back to the dawn of television. They used to be a supplier of network TV movies through their long-running series "Hallmark Hall of Fame." Annabelle's Wish technically doesn't fall under that banner, being just an hour long and classified as a Christmas special, but it contains a lot of Hallmark's hallmarks: a small-town setting, the shadow of dead loved ones, canned pathos, and a super-happy ending that repairs everything.

Grampa Baker, resident of a rural community, spends his time giving the neighborhood children caroling rides in the back of his pickup. They ride through the town and sing to the villagers in a wholesome manner. As the special begins he's letting the kids off at their homes, until there are only two left, Billy (Baker's grandson) and Emily (his neighbor). Not every kid wanted to go caroling, however. As the truck stalls in front of a barn, a couple of mean kids, Bucky and Buster, emerge and start taunting Billy. "Hey, I wonder what carols he's been singing? Silent Night? HAHAHAHA!"

Indeed, Billy can't talk, but Emily is always willing to stand up for him and say the things he can't. "Why BULLIES!" she yells. Stating what they are doesn't wound them much. Baker has a better idea...he gets out of the truck and invites the two boys to go caroling later. But at that moment their father, Gus, comes out and declares HIS children will be going nowhere with BAKER. The man is old enough to have taken Gus caroling when he was a kid, and he points this out. "You were just FULL of Christmas spirit then."

"THAT WAS THEN AND THIS IS NOW," Gus growls. Every time he tries to intimidate them, he lifts up his lantern lit by a candle, It's unclear when this is supposed to take place but if there are cars, there have to be light bulbs. However, Gus does look the type to not be into "those newfangled stuffs."

Baker arrives on his farm. It's Christmas Eve. He and his grandson should get to sleep if they want Santa to leave them something good, but Baker has to check the stable first. His suspicions were correct: the mama cow gave birth. To make sure Annabelle stays nice and warm on the first night of her life, Baker hammers some boards over the cracks in the walls and drags a heavy blanket over the two cows. "That should fix things," Baker says. "...But I wish I could fix Billy."

This is all very sweet and cuddly, but then suddenly -- JUMP CUT TO DRUNK RICH WOMAN!

This is Aunt Agnes, and she introduces herself by singing "Deck The Halls" off-key while haphazardly decorating her big city penthouse with garland and ivy. She is, in fact, Billy's biological aunt -- she has a framed picthre of him to prove it. So why is Billy living with his grandpa instead of his more financially stable relative? Because as her lawyer explains to her (and the audience), "when your brother died, you gave up all legal rights to your nephew." She now regrets that decision and wants him back...whether he wants to come with her or not!

There is more expostion as, back in the country, Grampa Baker stares at his own photo of Billy while remembering the incident in which the child lost his voice. He's shown carrying Billy out of a barn on fire, then being told by a doctor that "Billy has recovered, but he may never talk again." Not sure how, exactly, a fire could do this to a kid who otherwise looks fine, unless Billy inhaled a TON of smoke in there, but he isn't coughing either.

As Billy and Grampa turn in for the night, their basset hound Ears sneaks out of the house and into the stable, because as the narrator explains, he has a "secret mission" that has to do with "the secret legend of Santa Claus." Turns out as Santa is visiting homes around the world, he also gives any animals living there the power to speak for just one night. "Let the talking begin," Santa says as he blows pixie dust in front of the eager livestock.

"Merry Christmas," he says.
"MERRY CHRISTMAS, SANTA," the farm animals yell back.

Once they can talk, we get an overview of all their personalities. Ears is like some kind of gruff government spy, Oliver the Owl can't seem to fly right, and Annabelle is the naive little squirt who asks a lot of curious questions in Kath Soucie's squeaky voice. She runs around Santa, begging to know who those "weird cows" are. Santa informs her they're his magic flying reindeer, and they're how he got to the farm. After watching the reindeer take off, Annabelle chirps that she wants to fly too. After a few nose-dives into the snow, she can't understand why it's not working.

"Don't be silly, dear, cows can't fly. But maybe if you're real good, you can ask Santa in a year."
Annabelle seems okay with this, but it's only due to her naivete. The next morning, she wakes up and yells into her mom's face "HAS IT BEEN A YEAR YET?"

Aunt Agnes arrives in a taxi, carrying presents and complaining. "WHOSE idea was it to have Christmas during THIS time of year? They should have it when there's no snow!" She should think about moving to Brazil, then.

After dumping her heavy purse on Grampa's foot, Agnes rishes inside and embraces Billy to his discomfort, then sits him on the couch.
"So...tell me ALL about yourself."
When he doesn't respond, Agnes is like "Oh, right, duh. Well, how about this have you been doing in school?" She's having a hard time with this.

Agnes gave Billy a ton of presents, but he doesn't seem to care for any of them. What DOES perk him up is the small box Santa left, that contains just a note which says "Look outside." Billy runs out and there is Annabelle, wearing a ribbon. "SANTA LEFT ME A COW?? I must've been really good this year!" is his implied reaction.

Of course Grampa Baker knows the truth -- his heifer gave birth to that calf last night -- but he's willing to let it slide. "Yup, sure, that was Santa." Agnes immediately gets agitated for encouraging "that Santa fairy-tale stuff" in her nephew. Then she voices her disapproval of his even being here. "How could you let him live on a FARM after what he's been through? You're lucky he hasn't suffered a relapse."

While the audience clearly isn't meant to side with Agnes, her words prove true when Billy runs into the barn after Annabelle and gets immediate flashbacks to the fire he barely survived. He starts having a panic attack, and the animals try to comfort him.

Then Billy sneezes.
"Bless you!" says Annabelle.

WHAAAAAAAA??? Billy falls backwards, flat on his rear. That couldn't have just happened! The other animals are in equal shock. The talking was supposed to be a total secret -- Santa said so! Annabelle just ruined everything!
Or did she? They got lucky this time...they picked the one human who can't tell anyone what he just heard.

The grown-ups suddenly notice Billy is gone. "He's in that hideous BARN, isn't he?" gasps Agnes. That's where he is, all right, but Agnes' tolerance for the inside of the barn lasts about four seconds.
"Let's get out of here, I can't bear another second of the STENCH in this place." The pig sniffs his armpit and says quietly, "Nope, not me."

As Agnes is high-heeling it out of the barn, she steps directly in a dung heap.
"EEEEEEUGHHH!! CACA!!" she exclaims. I don't have any hard data that Annabelle's Wish was the first holiday special to say "caca," but I'm pretty sure it is.

Once both Aunt and Grampa leave Billy alone, Ears addresses the topic at hand. "Now, I know it's part of the agreement that we aren't supposed to talk to humans. But it should be all right as long as it doesn't go any further! I'm pretty sure this here youngun won't go blabbing about it to anyone." Annabelle's mother points out that Billy literally can't tell anyone, so that settles that.

Meanwhile in the kitchen, Agnes is trying to convince Baker to give Billy up. "
"I've taken him to the local doctor; he says there's nothing he can do."
"HAH! IN THE CITY I CAN GIVE BILLY THE BEST TREATMENT MONEY CAN BUY! Surely you can't say no to that, can you?"

This nearly convinces Baker, but then he thinks about what Billy would want. "Billy would much rather stay here. And you're NOT getting him so you should just GIVE UP."
"We'll see. I have lawyers, you know." She exits with a slam of the door.

Annabelle tells Billy she wants to be a flying reindeer, just like the ones that pull Santa's sleigh. Billy fashions some twigs into fake antlers and attaches them to Annabelle's head with rope. Annabelle looks at her reflection and is pleased.

Emily stops by to show off the new sled she just got for Christmas. "Hey, neat cow! I bet if I tied her to the front of the sled, she could pull us just like Santa's sleigh." No objections from Annabelle. The trip goes smoothly at first, but eventually the sled goes downhill and picks up speed. Annabelle is knocked backwards onto the sled, which in turn knocks Emily completely off. The remaining passengers crash right into the fence dividing Baker's farm from Gus's.

They're immediately greeted by Bucky and Buster, who threatem to beat them up with plywood, until Gus arrives to stop the fight before it starts. Watching Annabelle leave, Gus thinks to himself "You know...if old man Baker has the money to buy a cow like that for Christmas, he probably has the money to fix my fence."

As Annabelle sleeps that night, she dreams of flying...of seeing the farm from the clouds, and sliding down the crescent moon like a slide. She's disappointed to wake up and find her body still earthbound, and not only that, Santa's magic wore off and she can't talk anymore (it's no longer Christmas Day). But her December 26 is about to get worse...

Gus and his boys show up on Baker's front lawn, along with the county sheriff. "These boys tell me their fence was your young boy over there."
"Oh, really? Sorry about that, kids can get rambunctious sometimes...."
"Gus has informed me the responsibility now falls on you to pay for damages. I'm afraid that's the law around here."

"But.....I'm afraid I don't have the cash on me to..."

"That's okay, Baker," Gus says, staring across the field with greedy eyes. "I believe something can be substituted of equal THAT NEW COW over there."
Oh no! Annabelle is dragged squealing from Billy by the two cruel Holder boys.

"IS THERE SOMETHING I CAN DO?" Baker begs the sheriff.
"I suppose if you could pay Gus the money within 24 hours, he would no longer have claim to the cow. But if you can't, she'll become theirs."

Baker only has one object he can pawn that would match Annabelle in value: the music box once owned by Billy's mother. "This was her most prized possession," he sighs, wiping away a tear. It's rough on the family, but Grampa does manage to get Annabelle back, and Billy is overjoyed to see her. This is followed by a montage that fast-forwards through the next eleven months. Gotta get to Christmas again...

Nearly a year later, the school bus drops Billy and Emily off near the barn. Bucky and Buster are waiting nearby to harrass them. "Hey, how come you only hang out with cows? What's wrong with you, huh? Oh right, you can't answer 'cause YOU CAN'T TALK! HA HA!"
"YOU'RE just jealous because you don't have any friends at all!" Emily retorts. Buster responds by shoving her into the snow.

And they've both made Annabelle so mad that she paws her hoof and charges straight into them! That makes Buster and Bucky run away, but they sprint straight to their dad, and concoct a whopper about how "we were just minding our own business when Billy's DANGEROUS COW rammed us into the dirt!"

This leads to another meeting with the sheriff. "Billy's cow? You mean Annabelle? Are you sure?"
"Sure I'm sure. My boys are good boys; they wouldn't lie to me."
"Well, I have news for you," the sheriff tells him. "The school bus driver already told me what happened; he witnessed the entire thing. And those boys were definitely NOT minding their own business."

Gus turns around and glares at the kids. They sweat a bit and shamble off sheepishly.

"What's gotten into you, Gus? You've turned into a miserable old Scrooge. Did you ever wonder how Baker got the money to pay for Annabelle? He had to sell his daughter's music box. Really sad. Lotsa memories were in that box."
Gus's expression changes. He never meant for such a thing to happen. The box is still at the antique shop....he knows what he has to do.
Sheriff sticks the knife in further: "You, of ALL people, should know what it's like to lose a loved one." Well, that explains the absence of Bucky and Buster's mom. The mortality rate is unusually high in that neighborhood.

But Billy's problems aren't over yet -- did you forget about Agnes? She arrives on Christmas Eve out of nowhere with a court order from a judge grating her custody of Billy. Seems the judge felt Baker's barn was "too dangerous" -- not sure how he arrived at that conclusion without any evidence, but the order says Billy is hers until such time as he can speak. And she knows he can't!

"You'll love living with me, Billy....I'm rich! Now run along and get your things,"
"Agnes, Billy and me....." Baker starts choking up. "We're...we're all each other's got."
"Youhavethirtyminutestogethimready," Agnes states blankly.

The animals won't let it happen! Ears ties a rope around Agnes's Cadillac, the horse pulls it up to a big mud pit, and the pig pushes it in.
Agnes is expectedly furious, but states this is only a temporary setback because she can just get a tow truck.
"On Christmas Eve?" Baker points out while laughing, and clearly relieved. "They've all gone home around here! You can't get your car towed until at least tomorrow."

"THEN THAT'S WHAT I'LL DO," Agnes says icily. "Enjoy your reprieve, you old coot, because we're leaving first thing in the morning!"

While the humans are asleep, Santa arrives again and spreads his magic dust. The animals can talk for another day.
"Go ahead, Annabelle, ask him," her mother coaxes.
"Umm, uh, Santa? My mom told me if I was real good, I would get a wish...and I've been REEEEEAL good!"

"She was correct....and so you have. What is the wish?"
Annabelle takes a deep breath. "I wish....for THE WORLD'S MOST COMFORTABLE UNDERWEAR!!" A large pair of boxer shorts falls onto Annabelle's face and Santa takes off.

Actually Annabelle whispers the wish inaudibly, and Santa is like "Whoa, that's a big wish, are you sure?" Her mother says "She's thought of nothing else all year."
The fact that you can't hear what the wish is kind of gives away the "surprise" ending, but they're doing their best to imply it is still the flying dream.

Christmas Morning. A tow truck is outside raising the muddy Cadillac. While Agnes is packing Billy's things and gloating over her victory, Ears finds an extra present under the tree. He grabs it with his mouth and places it on Baker's crotch.
"Huh? What's this?" Baker gives it to Billy. "It's addressed to better open it!"

When Billy opens the box, there's nothing but a bunch of dust inside. But after the dust clears, Billy points out "There's nothing in this box."
"BILLY, YOU JUST SPOKE!!" gasps Baker. "That's the best Christmas present I ever heard."

If he can speak, that renders Agnes's court order null and void. And yes, this is Annabelle's Titular Wish. Even though she dreamed of flying, she watched Billy struggle with being unable to talk all year and had to think of him first.

But it was actually a greater sacrifice than that. When Billy rushes into the barn to talk to the animals, Annabelle just says "moo" at him. Billy doesn't understand.
Her mother explains that Annabelle actually sacrificed her voice to save his, and now she'll never talk again, not even on Christmas. Well, that's kind of a downer to end things on. But what a loyal cow!

Oh, right....I forgot about the super-happy Hallmark ending. All this time we've been hearing the voice of a narrator, who is credited as Randy Travis but unidentified in the story up to this point. He reveals himself to be Billy as a grown-up, who married Emily and inherited the farm. Annabelle is still alive in the present, but she's an old cow on her last legs. Santa still visits her every year, but he can tell it's going to be her last Christmas.

Good thing Santa can reverse aging, cancel death, restore voices and turn cows into reindeer! Also...believe it or not, Gus married Agnes.

Why didn't it fit in?
Whoever made Annabelle's Wish had high hopes for it. It aired with a lot of promotion in the fall of 1997 and there was a concurrent VHS release in prominent display at stores everywhere. But it just didn't catch on, and after a couple of repeats, Annabelle was never seen again. Did it deserve that fate? Hard to say. The animation is pretty flat, and the characters cliche, but it's more competently written than most Misfits we cover here. There are specials worse than this that have managed to hang on (Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer just passed its 20TH YEAR on broadcast). You won't hate yourself for watching Annabelle's Wish, but you may have a hard time remembering much of it afterward.

Does Far Side Cow like it?

For today's second opinion, we asked Gary Larson's famed bovine for his take on Annabelle's Wish. "That cow wasted her wish if you ask me," we were told. "Any cow can perform restorative surgery with one of these."