ANNIE. Starring: Quvenzhane Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Rose Byrne, and Bobby Cannavale. Directed by Will Gluck. Rated PG (Mild themes). 118 min.
This is an American musical-comedy film of the stage musical of the same name, which, in turn, is based on the 1924 comic strip, "Little Orphan Annie", by Harold Gray. The original movie version of "Annie", directed by John Huston, came out in 1982.
The film is a contemporary version of the comic strip and is set in modern-day New York.
The soundtrack of the film features songs from the original Broadway production, and includes new songs that were composed for the film. Most of the songs are sung and danced in modern style, but original classics, like "It's the Hard Knock Life" remain intact.
Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis), the African-American child star, who charmed so many as Hushpuppy in "Beasts of the Southern Wild" (2012), takes the lead role of a happy "foster kid from Harlem" who lives and survives on the streets of New York. Annie is fostered to a cruel, hard-hearted, neurotic woman, Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), who dreams unrealistically of pop stardom, and who treats her unfeelingly to give her "a hard enough life". Annie has been promised that her parents, who left her, would come back some day, and she earnestly wants that to happen. Every week, she sits on a particular curb-side in New York waiting for them to return, but they never do.
A wealthy mayoral candidate for New York, Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), appears on the scene, and he is the modern equivalent of the original Daddy Warbucks. Stacks is a billionaire business tycoon, who has made his money by selling mobile cell phones. His company, "Stacks Mobile Co.", has developed to the point that it has the capacity to eavesdrop on what anyone else is saying or doing in New York, and this makes him a mistrusted political candidate. In the film, he saves Annie on the streets of New York from being hit by a passing car, and he is advised by his loyal assistant, Grace (Rose Byrne), and his nervous campaign manager, Guy (Bobby Cannavale), that Annie could be good for his fading political campaign. Saving a child has very good political appeal, and they think that Stacks will benefit from taking ownership of her in some way.
Annie has an infectious smile that permanently projects optimism. Stacks falls for Annie's winning ways when she moves in, and eventually foils a plot from the inside of his own company to provide her with fake parents. No version of Annie is worth its salt unless it has a canine cuddly to help Annie through all her troubles, and dog lovers will be pleased to know that there is an animal in this movie that does that.
This is generally a family-friendly film that provides cheerful entertainment over the Christmas holiday season. Good and bad things happen to Annie in manageable doses. Nasty Miss Hannigan behaves virtuously in the end, and Annie gets the next best thing to a real set of parents. Quvenzhane Wallis is the undoubted star of the film; Jamie Foxx runs a well-considered second to her; and Cameron Diaz overacts. The pace of Will Gluck's direction is energetic; the musical numbers are catchy; scenes of New York City shine with the help of excellent photography; and the songs are accompanied by well-coordinated ensemble choreography.
The musical lacks the depth, bite, and social clout of message-intensive films like "West Side Story" (1961), but it brings a popular stage musical to the cinema screen in a modern, light way. Whereas the original "Annie" was intended as an antidote to the American Depression, this version gently tackles the causes of disquiet in a surveillance-conscious modern age.
The film projects the message, with song and dance, that there is always hope for a brighter tomorrow, despite modern-day pressures to conform to the digital age, and to pursue its possible advantages for financial gain.
This is not a movie that will reverse the tide of profit in Will Stacks' kind of business, but it provides spirited, escapist fare that serves to distract one musically for a moment while the tide flows on.
Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Village Roadshow Pictures
Released December 18th., 2014