Leaping lizards, Annie is awful.
Directed by: Will Gluck
Screenplay by: Will Gluck, Aline Brosh McKenna, Emma Thompson
Based on: Annie, by Thomas Meehan and Little Orphan Annie, by Harold Gray
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhané Wallis, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, Cameron Diaz
Music by: Greg Kurstin
Songs: Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin
Original songs: Greg Kurstin, Sia, Will Gluck
Release dates: December 19, 2014
Running time: 118 minutes
Rated PG for some mild language and rude humor
Annie is a remake that should have been great. The foundations of the film are sound; all the filmmakers had to do was follow the map. Unfortunately, they made decisions to deviate from the path, and lost the soul of the story along the way. Historically filmmakers who take risks are rewarded if they fully commit to those risks. In this case, changing the ethnicity of the main characters of the film could be seen as a risk. I do not personally see it, changing the nature of the main characters is a risk, a big one. In this case, it failed because it appears that the characters were only half formed, and gentrified. While on the other side of this coin, the music was updated to sound more modern and urban. Many of the songs have a new dissonant hip-hip/rhythm and blues sound, most of the time I really liked this update, although at times it was as sonic mess that offended my ears for some numbers (namely “Little Girls”). Honestly, I am very disappointed in this production, and I feel the targeted audience will fail to relate to anything in this film.
Annie Bennett (Quvenzhané Wallis) is a ten-year-old foster kid living with four other foster kids taken in by Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) to receive money from the state. Annie, a perpetual optimist, believes she will find her parents again someday. Meanwhile, billionaire Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) is running for mayor of New York City, with the help of public relations manager (Bobby Cannavale), his assistant Grace Farrell (Rose Byrne). Will Stacks has a problem with his public image, until a video of him saving Annie from being hit by a truck goes viral online. Guy suggests that Stacks invite Annie to his home for lunch as a publicity stunt. The clever Annie offers to help Stacks if he becomes her temporary guardian, Stacks agrees, and Annie moves into his opulent penthouse.
Through the many public outings with Annie Will Stacks begins to see that Annie’s life reminds him of his own disadvantaged childhood. During a public event when Stacks asks Annie to read a speech, he learns that Annie is illiterate. This is when he realizes he cares for Annie and makes plans to adopt her. Meanwhile Guy plans to stage a publicity stunt in which Stacks will reunite Annie with her parents, to help Will Stacks be elected mayor, earning him a substantial bonus. He offers Hannigan part of his anticipated bonus if she will help him find a set of fake parents.
Annie is a classic story that has survived through generations of Americans. The story and characters are as close to a part of American culture as any can be. That makes updating this story a risky proposition. This update of Annie is failed remake, and an exercise in cowardly filmmaking. As a concept, updating Annie from 1933 to 2014 is a great idea. The problem is, understanding where the parallels between a neglected orphan in the great depression and a neglected foster kid in modern day Harlem. I don’t believe those parallels were understood, or if they were, they were toned down in an attempt to make the characters more relateable. Primarily, Annie lost a large amount of spunk and fire that the original character possessed. The Annie in this film would never be found boxing young boys for chasing a stray dog. Fortunately, we do not have to see what kind of sass this Annie would not give to the president of the United States. By far the most annoying character addition/revision, is Guy, who replaces Rooster. While serving little purpose as an independent character he only serves to undermine the tone of the film, and chew the scenery to a pulp.
This version of Annie is almost wall-to-wall disappointment, the very definition of taking a classic story, that could easily be modernized, and cutting it to pieces, leaving most of the good parts on the floor. I would hate to think a very talented writer like Emma Thompson had anything to do with these baffling decisions. I can only assume Will Gluck made these mistakes, or failed to recognize the nearly unforgivable failings in this adaptation. The absolute worst part is that this film is going to hurt the chances for future adaptations and updates of classic musicals.