So there are a lot of haters of the updated Annie. It’s not even just the purist who are upset; criticism comes from all corners. I guess I’m here to give the minority report: I had unmitigated, all-out, fun watching Annie. In fact, I laughed more during this Annie (and not at it) than any other Annie I’ve watched. But then again, I’ve always been in the minority because my all-time favorite Annie is the version with Alicia Morton, Victor Gerber, Audra McDonald et. al.
Almost everyone prefers the version with Aileen Quinn, Albert Finney, Ann Reinking et. al. I don’t even find it close. While it has an amazing cast, with the exception of Bernadette Peters, they shouldn’t be in a musical.
I digress; Annie – 2014, for me, was a fun, light and well done updating of the musical which kept the spirit of the piece. Before diving into the details, for the purists, I would like to remind you that Annie has undergone previous permutations, the Broadway musical only one of them. We need to remember that Annie wasn’t necessarily meant to be a nostalgia piece; the poem “Little Orphan Annie” that inspired the original comic was published in 1886. The comic strip itself started in 1924 (that’s right, prior to the Great Depression) and the musical arrived on the scene in 1977 (the same year Star Wars first appeared). So, while some want to treat this as sacred ground, it has come under a number of alterations already.
The opening of the movie gives us a taste of the contemporary feel for the musical. It’s a mashup of various songs from the musical but played out somewhat Stomp-style on the streets of New York with the melody drawn from cans, jack-hammer, car horns and New Yorkers singing. It’s a brilliant introduction making clear that this isn’t your Daddy’s Annie, while still being reminiscent of the original.
Lest you grow too concerned that this movie will go far afield, the inimitable Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and the other girls in foster care, all of whom have fabulous voices, calm the pace down to a more traditional versions of “Maybe” and “Tomorrow”. “Maybe” captures the sad longing of those who are without family whilst also holding onto hope that they aren’t fully abandoned. The pacing and harmony in the song is stunning considering the age of the girls involved. “The Hard-Knock Life” kicks it up a bit with a recognizable melody with a modern beat.
One nice bit about the movie is that everyone can sing, albeit Cameron Diaz is on the weak end of this. Her voice isn’t bad, it’s just not strong. Of course, Kathy Bates isn’t exactly a songstress and Carol Burnett, whom I love, well, pales in comparison.
The musical was at its best when it was humorous, especially when Jamie Foxx had screen time. When he began to sing, which he does well, it felt like a different movie, disjointed from the rest. All of the sudden, it became all about Jamie Foxx singing.
Rose Byrne was delightful as Grace, both in her relationship with Mr. Stacks (Foxx) and Annie. Her little asides about the fact that she had real friends were handled with just the right touch. That being said,”I think I’m going to like it here” seemed a bit forced by one and all.
Cameron Diaz, as Miss Hannigan, did not work well. She was a bit too intense with the girls. She seemed to push just a bit too hard, especially compared to Kathy Bates deft handling of the role.
There is some morphing of the storyline – Daddy Warbucks is replaced with Mr. Stacks who built a cell phone business to become a billionaire who is running for mayor. Rooster is replaced by Mr. Stacks’ campaign manager, Guy, who pushes Annie on Stacks as a way to get good press for his campaign. Annie, of course, with her pluck and positive personality wins the hearts of Stacks and Grace. We particularly see that in a turning point when Annie does some impromptu singing at a campaign event.
If you like upbeat, funny musicals, I think you’ll like the Annie. It’s funny, fresh and well executed. If you think it’s a bit much for people to break into song and dance whilst chatting, then you might want to give this a pass. It’s not perfect but no performance fully detracts from the joy of the overall movie. It also has a great soundtrack. When I started playing it this morning, both my wife and daughter gave out a spontaneous “Yay!.” That might not sound like much, but it really is saying something. Sia (and Beck) are great additions to the album. For more on the soundtrack, read here.
Overall movie 4/5 (the whole is greater than it’s parts)
Fun factor: 4.5/5