Purists and hardcore fans will always lament the arrival of a “new” rendition of a classic, and that does make a certain amount of sense. A property like Annie (which has lived as a comic book, a stage play, a 1982 movie, and a staple of drama class performances for decades) will undoubtedly generate some pretty loyal fans, but of course any remake, reboot, or “re-imagining” (whatever that means) deserves to be judged on its own merits. Unfortunately the new movie version of Annie doesn’t boast all that many merits.
The oft-told tale of an adorable orphan who manages to melt the heart of an intimidating billionaire, Annie (2014) has a copious amount of problems, so let’s start there and save the praise for the ending. Feels a bit nicer that way.
First off, the musical numbers are, for the most part, inert, clunky and over-edited to the point of frustration. When an ostensibly energetic musical number is deflated by an editorial style that makes The Bourne Identity look like Rope, you’ve got major problems. The beauty of a musical number is in watching talented human beings sing, dance, and make music. By having its editors chop its musical numbers into paper-thin slices, the movie sucks the talent out of the equation. Instead of watching eight kids dance for one minute, we see one kid dancing for five seconds before we cut to another kid dancing for five seconds.
Suffice to say I expect better than Glee-style editing and auto-tuned vocal silliness from an adaptation of a celebrated stage musical.
Regarding the actual songs, the news isn’t much better. For some reason (probably because the producers wanted a soundtrack album/Best Song bait of their very own) a half-dozen older songs were dropped and a bunch of new ones were stuffed in — and even the classic tracks you know have been re-written to make the lyrics more contemporary. Yikes.
So between the frequently tiresome musical numbers and the rather mercenary alterations made to the soundtrack itself, one would expect Annie to be a complete loss — and yet, nope.
One huge saving grace is the presence and performance of Quvenzhané Wallis. Even during the film’s clunkiest musical numbers, the 11-year-old Oscar nominee (Beasts of the Southern Wild) exudes a confidence and sweetness that make the film almost impossible to dislike. She’s even better when the Disney Channel-esque music dies down and is allowed to simply riff with amusing actors like Jamie Foxx, Bobby Cannavale, Rose Byrne, David Zayas, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Cameron Diaz. Director Will Gluck (Easy A, Friends with Benefits) is clearly more in tune with straight comedy than he is with staging dance numbers.
And therein lies the saving grace in the new Annie, at least for me: as a musical, it’s not all that impressive, but when it sticks to light comedy, quick banter, and (gasp) a few moments of sweetness near the end, it’s actually… kinda fun! The target audience (basically kids under 12) will no doubt dig the music more than their parents will, but to its credit, Annie does generate a consistent flow of small-but-solid laughs in between the over-diced and oddly lethargic song & dance numbers.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 burritos