January 22, 2015
The original "Annie" was a character in a fictional cartoon strip called "Little Orphan Annie" by Harold Gray. This strip was very popular back then during the Great Depression not only because of its story of red-haired, blank eyed Annie, her dog Sandy and her benefactor Daddy Warbucks, but also because it would have commentary on various political topics.
In 1977, a musical entitled "Annie" based on characters of the cartoon strip debuted on Broadway. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical and ran for six years, giving us very popular songs like "Tomorrow" and "It's a Hard Knock Life."
In 1982, a film version of the musical "Annie" was released with Aileen Quinn as the redhead orphan girl. It also stars Albert Finney as (Daddy Warbucks) and Carol Burnett (as Miss Hannigan). This film had mixed reviews but was the 10th highest grossing film of 1982 nonetheless. An Emmy-award winning TV movie version of Annie was broadcast in 1999, with Alicia Morton (as Annie), Victor Garber (as Daddy Warbucks) and Kathy Bates (as Miss Hannigan).
This recent incarnation of Annie updates the story of the 1977 musical from the Depression to modern times. It was also surprised audiences with the radically unconventional casting choice of having African-American child actress Quvenzhané Wallis as Annie!
Annie is one of the foster children under the care of mean and drunk has-been musician Miss Hannigan in her apartment in Harlem. Mr. Will Stacks is a wealthy cell phone magnate unsuccessfully running for mayor of New York City. One day, Mr. Stacks saved Annie from being hit by a van. When a video of this deed was uploaded on the net, the ratings of Stacks skyrocket in the polls. To gain further media mileage, Stacks proceeded to take temporary guardianship of Annie. However, as Annie and Stacks grow more and more fond of each other, fate seems to have other plans.
Admittedly it took some getting used to at first, but little Quvenzhané Wallis eventually convinces us that she was a good choice to be Annie. This girl first gained attention as Hushpuppy in the Oscar-nominated indie film "Beasts of the Southern Wild" in 2012, which was filmed when she was only six years old. In fact, Wallis was even nominated for Best Actress, the youngest ever with that honor at the age of nine. As Annie, Wallis was sassy, spunky and spirited. Her singing voice was good enough in her solos like "Tomorrow" and "Opportunity."
Jamie Foxx was made to deliver some lame lines, but overall he was both dapper and funny as Mr. Sparks. He also got to show off his smooth singing voice in the song "This City's Yours" which he sang while Stacks was touring Annie over NYC by helicopter. He shares a good chemistry with Wallis as their dramatic scenes hit home.
Cameron Diaz can split opinions about her over-the-top performance as Ms. Hannigan. She plays a hateful character, but personally, I liked the way Diaz played her. The writers also added the cute touch she was once a soloist in C+C Music Company! Aside from her solo song "Little Girls", she also shines vocally in the song "Who Am I?", which she sings with Foxx and Wallis.
Rose Byrne was very sweet as Grace, Stack's loyal personal assistant. Bobby Cannavale was slimy as Guy, Stack's ruthless political adviser. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays Nash, Stack's imposing but kind driver. David Zayas plays Lou, the owner of a neighborhood store who has a crush on Miss Hannigan.
Honestly, I was expecting it to be really bad because of the very negative reviews given it. However, while watching, I found it generally charming and delightful, thanks to the charisma of its stars. The modern pop hiphop arrangement of the songs and the updating of the storyline with gadgets and social media, were both very cool. It could have been edited to be a little shorter. This film is mainly geared for young audiences, hence the simplistic storytelling by director Will Gluck. Anyhow, little girls especially will really like it. 6/10.