Review by Fred Topel
I liked the new Annie. Some of the updates don’t work, like at all, but it’s still Annie and still the music, no matter how much they try to remix it. Every time there was a glaring mistake, it got back to the Annie story, and some of the mistakes are entertaining insanity in their own right. Now, my only experience with Annie before was seeing a grade school production in which legendary journalist Paul Fischer played Miss Hannigan, so it’s not like I was super attached to the material.
The tone of the movie is a weird hybrid of knowing enough to be self-referential, but still not getting it. The filmmakers clearly know they’re doing a blatantly modernized and urbanized version of a classic musical, and all the baggage that entails. They make fun of our expectations it in the first shot of the movie, and there are references throughout to movies and musicals. Then they imply that Annie named her dog Sandy after Hurricane Sandy, which is weirdly unnecessary. They need to indicate this is a post-Sandy world? All the cell phones weren’t enough to distinguish this from the old timey Annies?
But watching kids sing and dance is fun. Watching Jamie Foxx dance with kids is really fun and should have been incorporated earlier into the plot. It’s an unabashedly happy movie, perfect for the holidays, or any time really but at the moment it’s going up against Into the Woods which is less happy. I mean, the happiest musical of all time is Hairspray, and that was about racism, but at least there’s something new and uplifting.
The Stomp style music, turning household objects into the rhythm section, worked for me as a twist on the old arrangements. In “Hard Knock Life,” the kids sweeping and sponging, even folding laundry blends into the song nicely. The opening medley uses street sounds to make the famous Annie numbers before we even hear them. “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here” is completely rewritten to accommodate the new set, the melody altered too, but it’s still sweet and catchy. The city clerk cartwheeling through the number is completely unnecessary, but she’s got the moves. Making her a klepto was a really bizarre touch but so weird it’s interesting. But really, just Quvenzhane Wallis and Rose Byrne were fine on their own in that number.
Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) running a foster home works as an update on the orphanage. Hannigan referring to George Clooney does not. Mr. Stacks (Foxx) is the new Daddy Warbucks. He’s a cell phone magnate running for mayor. The cell phone thing is too desperate to appear “modern,” especially when everyone wants to take a selfie with Stacks. Stacks has actually co-opted historical landmarks for his technology, something that isn’t really explored . He confirms that his cell phones spy on their customers, but only to lead to a dead end on finding Annie (Wallis)’s parents. But then the random photobomber on Stacks’ TV interview is so random, so New York and so accurate to what a devoted prankster would do, it cracked me up.
The film gets really self-referential when Stacks takes Annie to a movie premiere and they joke about product placement. In a Sony movie. But then the director’s credit on the fake movie is just for us. I hope those directors really did direct the fake movie Moonquake.
I’m sure Diaz is going to take some heat for “Little Girls” but let me defend her a little. The verses of the song are supposed to sound bad and grating. She’s a washed up alcoholic spinster, who in other versions probably chain smoked. The chorus is the real song, and director Will Gluck stages some inventive practical effects in single takes. When there’s a jumpcut in that same number, that must mean they couldn’t get it in one take. Again, weird that there’s so much ambition and then a glaring shortcut at the same time.
A real problem comes when Annie delivers a message to Stacks that is actually a wildly inappropriate generalization. She tells him that sometimes when people say no, they’re just afraid to say yes. Please don’t tell a rapist that! I know in the movie it means that Stacks is the classic Hollywood workaholic who needs to break out of his Type A micromanaging. We got that. No still means no.
By the way, Annie’s parents leaving a note on the receipt of the restaurant where they left her is kind of evil. If you’re giving up your child, at least give her a clean break. Don’t make her hold out false hope. There’s always been a note and half a locket, but actually writing the note on a restaurant receipt where Annie can go wait for them seems especially manipulative.
So look, I’m aware of the shortcomings Annie has, but find most of them more interesting than detrimental. They sure did a lot of legwork to introduce modern social media to really only use it for selfies. Referencing Clooney and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air? Odd you thought those would make it hip. It’s not even hip as a way to show that Hannigan and Stacks are not hip, but someone decided that and got Diaz and Foxx to say it. Maybe it was a dare by producer Will Smith. He won.
Some of those “friends of Will Gluck” cameos and modern references are absurdly funny though. Ultimately, it’s just still the story of Annie persevering with her own self-sufficience and warming the heart of a cold businessman. Just please still tell your kids no means no.