By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2 (Out of 4 Stars)
I was nine years-old when my mother and sister dragged me to go see John Huston’s adaptation of Annie in 1982. They dragged me because I had no interest in what I perceived to be a very “girlie” musical. Though I was partially correct in my prejudice, one cannot deny the lovely production design and the passion and wit of the performers. I would not realize this until later when I saw the film on TV when I was a little older and wiser. Several decades later producers Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jay-Z, and others have attempted to revive and revamp the musical by placing it in a modern setting (instead of the Depression era) and casting two African-American actors in the lead roles. Though the concept is inspired and ambitious, the resulting film comes across as uninspiring, over-produced, and lacking in passion.
Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) stars as Annie, an orphan forced to live in a foster home with other orphaned girls cared for by the drunken Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). Most of her childhood, Annie has searched for her parents who abandoned her when they couldn’t afford to care for her. Meanwhile, Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), a tech mogul and mayoral candidate is desperate to boost his public image as his election campaign has failed so far. After rescuing Annie from what could have been a tragic accident, Will’s personal assistant Grace (Rose Byrne), and his political adviser Guy (Bobby Cannavale) see this as a golden opportunity. Grace believes this as a chance for Will to work on his people skills, while Guy see this a media and public relations scheme. Will begins to spend time getting to know Annie, she manages to win his heart.
Directed by Will Gluck and written by Gluck, Aline Brosh, and McKenna, based on the stage play by Thomas Meehan and the comic strip by Harold Gray, this new version of Annie plays out rather stiffly. The vocals in the songs sound overproduced and not very natural, and the performances of the cast are rather flat with no passion or energy. The movie does have some cute and funny moments, but not enough to keep audiences well entertained in its near two hour run. The film has a running gag involving Miss Hannigan’s one-time career as a backup singer and dancer for some pop artists of the 1990s, but this joke wears out its welcome after a while.
This update features three new, not-so-memorable songs in addition to the songs from the original musical. These numbers lack as much fervor and enthusiasm as the others. The entire cast appears as if they don’t really want to be there. At least in the 1982 version, that cast appeared to be having fun. The smiles, joy and energy for this material feels forced and unnatural. The recordings of the songs are too obviously lip synched throughout the film.
Though this more modern and racially diverse version of Annie is not quite the mess that The Wiz was in 1978, it is rather dull. At least The Wiz has some energetic performances and exciting moments compared to this snoozer. Children may find some enjoyment in the cuteness and humor, but adults will probably zone out or doze off. I think parents are better off renting the 1982 original or waiting for a stage revival. Those option would be much more fun for the entire family.