Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.
I feel like there are a dozen film adaptations of the Broadway musical Annie, but, aside from a shitty song-free sequel, the IMDb tells me there have only been three: the one with Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan that I’ve seen, the made-for-TV one with Victor Garber as Daddy Warbucks that I’ve seen, and the one that was just released last year that I haven’t seen. Until now, *EXPLOSION* THE SUN COMES OUT TODAY, MOTHAFUCKA.
So I deliberately didn’t rewatch any of the other Annies before today’s viewing so I could let this one stand on its own, and also because I didn’t want to, but pretend it’s that first reason. So Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) is a little orph—uh, foster kid, sorry—who isn’t like other Annies you might know.
Wait a damn minute, but on the poster…
Yes, the movie really opens on your typical alabaster ginger Annie who gets a bunch of eye-rolls from her classmates, then the teacher calls on “Annie P.” and introduces us to our actual protagonist, who is black. I could spend all day on whether this gag is a hilarious mockery of White America’s racist moviegoing gripes or a bullshitty safe method of easing audiences into how you’re making their favorite dusty intellectual properties interesting again (or somewhere awkwardly in the middle), but nevertheless, you need to know that this is a thoroughly modern Annie, and you’ll be reminded of that at every turn. Daddy Warbucks is now Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), a Tony Stark-ish tech mogul running for mayor of New York City. Katy Perry totes tweets about Annie after a YouTube video of Stacks saving her from a speeding van goes viral. Her dog Sandy is always spinning around chasing her tail, so she’s named after Hurricane Sandy—wait, that can’t be right.
That is actually what happens, but nothing is “right” about it.
But aside from the in-your-face moderning up of every detail for better or for worse, is it a good story? Well, it certainly tries. It delves into all sorts of issues with class, politics, media, adoption, etc., but it doesn’t spend too much time digging around in those topics, instead using them as springboards for some snappy funny dialogue (which is by far the movie’s biggest strength). There’s a generic sort of “hard work vs. luck” message that’s a tad simplistic, but it functions perfectly fine as a framework for Annie’s journey into nice things.
Pretty sure the only message Annie can hear right now is “helicopter ride, wheeee!”
Overall, they made a solid effort to modernize the Annie story, and the parts where it works are truly great, but the tiny bits here and there where it doesn’t are extra irritating because you don’t really get a do-over when you try a brand new spin on something.
Oh, what am I saying? Sony will reboot this in two years.
I’ve famously never been any good at judging child actors, but Quvenzhané Wallis is an entirely pleasant Annie. She’s sweet and adorable with attitude, which is exactly what you want your Annie to be. Thumbs up, actress who is also a kid!
Is it over? Can I stop criticizing children that are more talented than me?
Alright, is it safe to harshly judge the grown-up actors now? Good, because wow, just about every adult in this movie is doing something wrong. Part of the blame could fall on the directing or the script, but still, explain yourself, Cameron Diaz. They tried to make grouchy caretaker Miss Hannigan into a washed-up party girl longing for her glory days, which is actually a pretty entertaining direction to take her character in, but there’s something so… fake about how hard she’s hamming it up. You can see Diaz having way too much fun, but so far over the line that you expect her to say to the camera, “Look, I’m in an Annie movie, I’m the mean drunk lady, ha ha!”
Pictured: method acting, probably.
Will Stacks is a hard character to figure out. The movie seems to be going for a curmudgeon who gets his cold heart thawed by a precocious child, but frankly, Jamie Foxx is too likable to feel like a true snobby grump. Whenever he does gripe or do something solely for political gain, it often feels out of place. This is probably script trouble again, though, so at the very least, he’s funny and transitions well into a warm mentor role.
“Remind me if I like you yet in this scene.”
And Bobby Canavale… well, let’s just say none of the villains in this movie feel like real people. Bobby plays Will Stacks’s campaign manager Guy, and he’s constantly running around the screen like a Noo Yawk cartoon saying, “This is bad for your image! This humanizes you! Agh!” He has some of the funniest lines, but his wacky anxiety can get just a little tiresome.
I don’t think he ever says “bingo bango” but he sure looks like he does.
Or maybe Rose Byrne is Stacks’s campaign manager? I dunno, I wish she had a character beyond surrogate Annie mom and receptacle for Jamie Foxx smooches.
Longing for Cameron Diaz’s part so she has something to do.
THE SONGS AND DANCES:
If you, like me, saw the “Hard Knock Life” segment in the percussion-heavy trailer for Annie and thought, “Neat, they’re doing all the songs in a hip hop style,” I’m sorry to inform you that we were wrong. I mean, not that I think that would even work for every song, but what they’ve done is take several of the original tunes and rearrange them to sound like modern pop music across multiple genres. So no, they did not just take a Jay Z song and stretch the concept out into a feature-length film.
Though you could be forgiven for assuming that, since Jay Z was a producer on it.
The movie opens with an overture of the revamped songs we’re about to hear, and it’s pretty damn cool. The natural sounds of the city are incorporated into the rhythm, and I’ve gotta say, it got me pumped for these new interpretations of old Annie favorites. And it’s during scenes of Annie struggling to get around the city, even borrowing somebody’s leftover Citi Bike minutes. “Oh,” I thought. “They’re setting up that Annie has no money and does the best with what she can. This even applies to the music. That’s very hip hop.”
My qualifications for this observation: I was too poor for instruments as a kid
and recorded dream breaks off the radio onto cassettes, and I’ve seen the movie Scratch.
This motif seems to carry over to the next number, “Maybe,” in which Annie and her friends provide their own percussion with their hands as they sing about what they imagine their parents are up to now. This sold me on the concept of modernizing the music in simple ways that make sense for a story about foster kids trying to stay positive. Please keep being this awesome, songs.
“It’s the Hard Knock Life” is by far the best sequence in the movie. It’s got a catchy beat, it’s synchronized with the sounds of the kids cleaning house, they’re flipping all around the place, the camera moves are dynamic, the choreography’s amazing, the editing is fast-paced without being confusing. It’s fun and brilliant, and worth watching the film for this scene alone.
Bonus: it might make your kids look forward to doing chores.
And then, the big one, “Tomorrow.” The arrangement is effectively modernized with minimal but prominent drums and it sounds like something you’d hear on the radio today, but the scene itself is confusing. Annie looks at her reflection multiple times, and at one point it looks like she sees her dad tossing Baby Annie into the air, but it’s only a guy with a bucket. And then she imagines a mailman as pushing a little boy instead of his cart, so she’s envisioning childhoods in general, not just her own? And then she sees a family but this time, surprise, it’s a real family? I can’t put my finger on what this moment was supposed to be depicting, but all I got was “the LSD is kicking in.”
“What if the sun never comes out, man?!”
Sadly, they lost me on the next one. When Annie gets to see Stacks’s fancy apartment with all kinds of technological innovations, she breaks into “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here,” but it’s been severely… Katy Perrified. At first I tried to rationalize this switch-up to a polished, manufactured pop style as being related to the fact that Annie is finally in a place of wealth and luxury, so she’s leaving the sound of the streets behind her. But, more likely, this is a movie for the kids and the kids like Katy Perry.
Overanalyzing this or Katy Perry is a lost cause.
Then Diaz drunk-stumbles her way through a Miley Cyrus-y rendition of “Little Girls.” With stripper moves. Eh. It’s short.
Not recommended viewing for moms that actually regret having daughters.
Hey, here comes a brand new track made specifically for this movie called “The City’s Yours.” If you’re going to pull a stunt like that while adapting a musical, it had better be something unique and exciting, right? So what is it? A jam about running New York, which I thought The Lonely Island had already closed the book on, but here we are with another one, in which Stacks basically throws “work hard and you win” platitudes in Annie’s face. Also, I don’t know if anybody informed Jamie Foxx when he recorded his vocals that he’s singing them to a small child, because damn, is he trying to get you wet with his sultry voice. It’s extra jarring when he’s having a normal conversation and suddenly MMM, GIRL.
That’s not Anastasia Steele in your helicopter, dude.
A-ha, but Annie sees your “a real man makes his own luck” ditty and raises you with another original composition, “Opportunity,” which is all about how thankful she is to Stacks for giving her the chance to shine. In addition to countering the lack of perspective in the previous song, it’s also the only number featuring an orchestra. It’s still definitely modern, though, sort of like, uh, what’s-her-name, with the chandelier… Sia. (Thank you, Google!)
And it turns out “the chandelier lady” co-wrote all the new songs, so I win?
Guy and Hannigan have a villain meeting and do a jazzy version of “Easy Street” that isn’t particularly memorable…
Oh, right, this.
…and then Stacks and Hannigan have a semi-duet called “Who Am I?” that unfortunately does not end with them realizing that they are Jean Valjean. The third new tune of the bunch, this is when Stacks and Hannigan, streets apart but harmonizing thanks to the power of editing, ruminate on whether or not they are morally upright citizens. Honestly, it’s pretty spectacular, since the hero is questioning if he’s really been that good and the villain is questioning if she could really continue to be this bad. Nice work, everybody.
I’ve entirely fabricated this frame since they never share the screen in this song.
Please do not blame the cheesy split on the editor.
And then Annie and Stacks and Other Lady realize they all super duper like each other so time for a big finish on “I Don’t Need Anything But You,” yay!
We did it! Happiness! Hooray!
Oh, there’s also a group dance “Tomorrow” reprise in the credits, and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” is covered by some singer I’ll look up later, but it’s only playing in the background of one scene. [It was Sia again. See ya!]
I THINK THIS LINE’S MOSTLY FILLER:
A lot of the songs in Annie are updated from their Broadway versions to keep with the times, but the weirdest ones are definitely in “I Think I’m Gonna Like Here,” which now describes all of the high tech conveniences of Annie’s new smart home. Er, smart apartment. Asmartment? Anyway, as Rose Byrne explains how each room can read your thoughts (which, sidebar, what???), Annie asks this question about the Pool of the Gods…
“It knows the temp you’re comfy in!”
“That’s great! Can it teach me to swim?”
Some of the modernizing in this movie is clunky as hell (there’s an especially overlong spoof of Twilight featuring fish-people that goes nowhere in particular), but if I overlook the little story missteps and jokes that don’t work, what’s left is a pretty decent movie intended for an audience that I am not a member of. Annie is for little children, and they love cartoonish acting and sugary pop songs, so have at it, kiddos! It’s ambitious and fun and probably better than most live action family films these days. Put it on for a tyke or two you know and enjoy the witty banter and catchy beats.
Into the Woods (2014)