Originally, this new adaptation of the 1977 musical ‘Annie’ by Thomas Meehan (which in turn was based on the comic strip ‘Little Orphan Annie’ by Harold Gray) was to star Will Smith’s daughter Willow in the title role of Annie (Smith himself serves a producer on this film alongside his wife Jada Pinkett Smith and Jay-Z). However, Willow ultimately dropped out of the role due to the fact that she was now too old for it. She ended up getting replaced by Quvenzhane Wallis, who was fresh off of becoming the youngest actress in history to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress for her work in 2012’s ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’. This film hasn’t been getting a lot of good press recently, though, mainly due to the fact that on November 27th the film ended up getting leaked online along with a few other unreleased Sony films and the already released ‘Fury’. Thankfully though, because this is a kids film (and with that said hopefully most kids don’t pirate movies off of the internet), it probably won’t impact the film’s performance at the box office too much, especially compared to what happened when ‘The Expendables 3’ got leaked earlier this year. But what of the film itself? Well, I’ve heard some people say that it’s one of the ‘worst of the year’ but after seeing it for myself, I’m not really one of those people. For the record, I’m not saying that this is ‘that good’ of a movie either but ultimately I think that for kids it’s pretty harmless.
Like in the previous adaptations of the story, this film centers on the titular Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis), a young orphan girl living in a foster home in Harlem with her fellow foster sisters under the care of the bitter and cruel alcoholic Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). While the other foster girls aren’t very optimistic about their chances of getting adopted, Annie is hopeful that one day her parents will return for her. While this is going on, cell phone mogul Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) is in the middle of trying to run for mayor. However, due to his generally dissenting attitude, he finds that he is unable to maintain a good public image amongst the people of New York. That changes, however, when one day he rescues Annie from getting hit by oncoming traffic. Not only does it go viral but it also boosts his ratings. With the encouragement of his campaign adviser Guy (Bobby Cannavale), Stacks invites Annie to lunch in order to capitalize on the whole situation. But then Annie suggests that Stacks become her temporary guardian as a way to boost his ratings even more. So Stacks agrees and Annie moves into his penthouse and as the two of them start to spend more time together, they start to bond and grow closer.
First, I want to note that at the time I’m writing this, I haven’t seen the original 1982 ‘Annie’ in quite some time (I think I saw the 1999 version as well, but I’m not as sure) so I won’t be comparing this film with its predecessors, which I wouldn’t have done anyway had I recently seen the other films. What I will say about this film is that if you’re not a fan of modern references and overly cheesy ‘family film’ moments, then you’re really going to like this movie as it is chock full of both of those. Still, despite the fact that the film does try a bit too hard in trying to be hip and appeal to newer audiences, there are some legitimately good things about this movie. For one thing, and you can call me sentimental all you want, I do feel that are some genuinely heartwarming moments in this film, primarily due to the relationship between Annie and Stacks which of course is the heart of the story. As for the songs, while I can’t say that all of the new renditions of the classic musical numbers are good, some of them are actually not that bad, namely ‘Maybe’, ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life’, and of course what is arguably the musical’s most iconic song, ‘Tomorrow’.
As far as the cast goes, the two biggest standouts are easily Wallis and Foxx. I haven’t seen ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ but it is very much clear that Wallis is definitely a genuine screen talent for her age, as she has great amounts of charisma and likability, proving that she really was a good choice for the role of Annie in this new adaptation of the story. Her chemistry with Foxx is really good and you really do see that they are bonding in a ‘father-daughter’ sort of way as Foxx also exhibits a lot of charisma in the ‘Daddy Warbucks’ role. The other main members of the cast, unfortunately, aren’t so lucky. I wouldn’t say it’s their faults as to why this is the way it is as it’s more a case where they didn’t really have much to work with, namely Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale. And then there’s Cameron Diaz and I’m just going to put it out there… I have no idea what is up with her performance in this movie. I mean, I know that the role of Miss Hannigan is supposed to be over-the-top but Diaz tries way too hard to reach those levels of camp, especially in the beginning of the film. Thankfully, this isn’t the case throughout the entire movie as she does dial back the camp factor in the latter half of the film but that doesn’t really excuse what we saw in the first half of the film. Thankfully in the scenes where she’s with Stacks, Jamie Foxx perfectly personifies our own thoughts on what is going on with her performance.
All in all, I’ll say this about this new version of ‘Annie’. I’m not saying that it’s technically a ‘good’ film as there are some noticeable big problems with it, namely that it does try too hard to appeal to modern audiences (that and Cameron Diaz’ questionable choices in her performance as Miss Hannigan). Still, despite all of that, I do feel that there are some truly good things about this movie. Some of the new renditions of the songs are pretty good, Quvenzhane Wallis and Jamie Foxx both do pretty good jobs and work off each other well, and there are some genuinely touching and emotionally poignant moments in regards to the relationship between Annie and Stacks. Ultimately, I’m not the target audience for this film as it is geared towards kids and as such, I don’t think that there’s really anything in this film that’s necessarily bad for kids. And really, considering that this year has been rather lacking in terms of ‘family films’, this is a nice little bit of fresh air after all of the much more mature films that we’ve seen this year. I have the feeling that kids will like this new take on this famous story okay. But as for the parents, there really isn’t much for you here. Still, as far as family films go, I’ve seen worse.