Musicals rarely get the remake treatment in Hollywood and with the arrival of Annie, filmmaker Will Gluck has brought back to the big screen a beloved character popular culture first fell in love with in the comic strip Little Orphan Annie back in 1924.
There was the wildly successful early '80s big screen version, but it is definitely time to revisit and update (a bit) the story for a new generation.
The project was originally conceived as a hip hop update with Jay-Z and Will Smith producing that could perhaps serve as a vehicle for Willow Smith, Will’s daughter. But years went by and not taking anything away from what Willow might have done, but she got too old for the part and thank goodness. That is because we get an Oscar nominee in the form of Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) to portray the title character.
She is effervescent, a pure presence and all Annie, circa 2014.
But the star of this movie, truly, is Jamie Foxx. If there is an individual who is custom fit for a big screen musical it is the Oscar winner for Ray. We know his dramatic power. Everyone knows he can sing (he’s had several number one hits) and his comic timing is almost unmatched. Therefore, even though the film is called Annie, this particular project is all about the sensational showmanship of Foxx as Will Stacks.
As teased in the Annie trailer, Stacks is a tech billionaire and he’s running for mayor of New York City. He is way out of the running in the polls. One day he saves a little orphan (Annie) from being hit by a van and the video of it goes viral, shooting his popularity through the roof. His campaign staff (a brilliantly cast Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale) advises him to re-connect with Annie (with cameras present, of course) to check in on her. The little orphan with eternal optimism seizes on the opportunity and suggests Stacks takes her in.
Foxx and Wallis have fantastic chemistry and it is believable that his Stacks, a man who can barely handle an adoring public, would fawn and fall for a little girl such as the one Wallis plays. The two sing together, play together (there’s a fantastic scene where they go to a Hollywood movie premiere and after party) and bond as fathers and daughters do.
Gluck has chosen the right beats from the Broadway musical to bring to his production. There are slight pacing problems and it doesn’t flow as smoothly as the first film, or the live show. We think Cameron Diaz is a true talent, but she might have been miscast as Miss Hannigan, the overseer of the orphanage. We would have loved to have seen Jane Lynch cast as the evil, money-grubbing orphanage leader (she played the role on Broadway recently).
Wallis is terrific as Annie and she can sing like an angel (especially on the terrific sure-to-be-nominated for an Oscar new song, Opportunity), but her onscreen lip synching needs a bit of work.
The soundtrack is still largely faithful to the original. There are some hip hop beats, particularly on A Hard Knock Life, which is no surprise as Jay-Z once sampled that track. The entire song list gets a bit of an update, but it is not a full-on hip hop redo. It still works though -- my goodness, the music still works.
What saves this entire film is Foxx, our Annie review can report. He is electric and it is one of the greatest performances in a musical that we’ve seen in some time. We adore the actor in everything he does, but after witnessing him in Annie, we just want to know, what musical will he tackle next?