The last time I saw the musical about little orphan Annie was the 1999 TV movie with Kathy Bates and Victor Garber. That version was pretty straight forward and kept to the same story format and all the songs that are in the stage version of the musical. Fifteen years later, we have a new version of Annie and it’s definitely not the straight-laced adaptation, but incorporates a lot of pop versions of the original songs that purists might not enjoy, but which have their own way of worming themselves and this slightly altered spin on the story into our hearts.
Annie (Quvenzhane Wallis) is an orphan who’s been in the foster care system for 6 years. Ever since then, she’s been searching for her parents and hasn’t given up hope of finding them. All she has to go on is the locket that’s around her neck and a letter on the back of an Italian restaurant receipt claiming they’ll be back for her one day. Probably one of the most optimistic foster child and orphan ever, Annie goes every Friday to the Italian restaurant to see if her parents will come around. When she finally goes home, it’s to the cruel and forever grouchy Ms. Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), a former singer who never reached the success she wanted, resulting in her less-than-happy demeanor.
After almost getting hit by a truck, Annie is rescued by Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), a mutli-millionaire owner of one of the most competitive phone companies. He’s driven, distrusting, doesn’t have any real friends, except for his confidante and assistant Grace (Rose Byrne), and is attempting to run for mayor of the city with the help of Guy (Bobby Cannavale). In what can only be called a marketing move to boost Stacks’s poll numbers, he becomes Annie’s temporary guardian and predictably starts caring for her, but Annie still looks for her parents.
For the Annie musical purists, the alterations to make the songs more modern and pop-sounding might be a bit jarring at first. It’s something to get used to, but you may find that you’ll like this new take on the songs, especially “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” by Sia, the main catchy tune of the entire film. You’ll probably be humming it on your way out of the theater, and it’ll definitely be more appealing to the younger audience.
Quvenzhane Wallis is cute as Annie and fits the role very well. She’s upbeat, optimistic, and strikes just the right balance between childlike innocence and an adolescent’s quick wit. It feels natural. The young actress isn’t over-the-top perky and thankfully isn’t obnoxiously overzealous like the young actors on the Disney Channel. She has a fun rapport with Jamie Foxx and easily slips into a father/daughter relationship with him.
Cameron Diaz is crazily evil to the young girls in her care, too focused on living through her past and what she could have been. There are a lot of moments where it feels like Diaz is miscast. She does overdo the cruel persona a bit and comes off being more annoying than mean. Jamie Foxx slips easily into his role as multi-billionaire who’s forgotten that he has a heart and Rose Byrne compliments his rough edges with her calm demeanor.
Most of the songs are catchy, though not always memorable. “Tomorrow,” probably one of the better known songs from the musical behind the better known “Hard Knock Life,” comes off a little flat and isn’t as moving as it’s meant to be, but outside of that, all the other songs are generally fun, upbeat, and feel-good. The entire film is very family friendly. It’s practically a cheese-fest of mushy goodness that’s sure to leave a smile on everyone’s face, kids and adults alike. This is the new, modern Annie that kids these days can relate to, with many aspects of the original kept, just updated. And even though Foxx’s character has a new name, there’s still a shout-out to Daddy Warbucks in the story. You can’t really ask for more than that.