Village Roadshow Pictures/Overbrook Entertainment/Columbia Pictures
Directed by Will Gluck
Produced by Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, Caleeb Pinkett, James Lassiter, Lawrence “Jay” Brown and Tyrone “Ty Ty” Smith
Screenplay by Will Gluck, Aline Brosh McKenna and Emma Thompson
Based on the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” by Harold Gray and the stage musical “Annie” by Thomas Meehan
So how did I end up seeing ANNIE you may well ask. Especially as I had no burning desire to see the movie in the first place. Having to listen to “It’s The Hard-Knock Life” for the past two weeks didn’t help either. Not that I don’t mind listening to Patricia sing. Not at all. She has a delightful singing voice. But hey, listening to to two weeks of anything puts a damper on my enthusiasm. But the real deal breaker was the name of Jamie Foxx’s character.
“What’s wrong with his name?” Patricia wanted to know.
“It ain’t Daddy Warbucks,” I replied. “And if it ain’t got Daddy Warbucks then it ain’t ANNIE far as I’m concerned.” What can I tell you? I’m a traditionalist. If I’m going to see a movie based on Little Orphan Annie, I want to see Daddy Warbucks as well as his loyal bodyguards Punjab and The Asp who were in the 1982 movie with Punjab played by the late great Geoffrey Holder. However, in our PC mad world today, I knew there was no chance those characters would be in the new movie. So I was prepared to be disappointed.
My interest was piqued by the very clever opening scene in a classroom which believe it or not, reminded me of the scene in “Django Unchained” where Jamie Foxx and Franco Nero meet briefly and there is a subtle passing of the torch. The same thing happens here where there is a subtle passing of the torch from the classic Little Orphan Annie to the Annie of the 21st Century (Quvenzhane Wallis) Things like that will earn my respect for the filmmakers and what they’re doing as they’re demonstrating their respect for what came before in their acknowledgment of the source material.
Ten year old Annie Bennett is a foster child living in Harlem with four other foster children. Their foster parent Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) is a frustrated and bitter alcoholic who continually rebuffs Lou (David Zayas) the owner of the corner bodega who has a massive crush on her. Annie never gives up hope that her real parents will one day return for her and she spends her days singing and bringing good cheer to all. Her ability to brighten anyone’s day is put to the test when she meets Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) billionaire communications mogul. Stacks is running for mayor of New York but his disastrous campaign is in the toilet and about to be flushed for good. All that changes when he rescues Annie from being hit by a truck. Stacks’ campaign advisor Guy (Bobby Cannavale) sees this as the perfect opportunity to improve Stacks’ image with the people as he’s an unlikeable workaholic germophobe. Stacks’ assistant Grace Farrell (Rose Byrne) arraigns for Stacks to become Annie’s temporary guardian.
Being no fool, Annie agrees to help improve Stacks’ chances of being elected mayor if his bodyguard Nash (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) will use the resources of Stacks’ communications empire to find her parents. Guy arranges all sorts of public outings for Annie and Stacks, making sure to take advantage of social media to turn Annie in a star and Stacks’ public image rapidly improve along with his chances of actually winning the election.
All this is well and good but slowly Annie, Stacks and Grace come to realize that maybe the family they all are looking for and desperately want is right in front of them. Stacks discovers that he and Annie have more in common than he would have believed. Meanwhile, behind his back, Guy hooks up with Miss Hannigan to concoct a scheme that will make the both of them very rich. But will also destroy the relationship and trust that has grown between Annie and Stacks.
ANNIE is not a movie made for cynics or for those of you who insist on your movies being dark, depressing and realistic. This is very much a Musical in the tradition of classic musicals. Even down to the fact that everybody in the movie understands that they live in a musical universe where it is normal for people to break out in song and dance to express how they feel. There’s never any doubt that there’s going to be a happy ending and no matter how bleak things seem, nobody stays worried for very long because there’s another song to cheer them up.
From start to finish the movie is owned by Quvenzhane Wallis. She’s just as captivating here as she was in “Beasts of The Southern Wild” a movie I totally loathed but loved her performance. Her Annie is funny, twice as smart as any of the adults in her life, compassionate, loving, generous, gutsy and resourceful. In other words, she’s a movie kid. But Quvenzhane makes Annie believable. She never steps over the line and makes Annie an adult in a kid’s body. At the right times she reminds us that for all her smarts and confidence, Annie is still a kid. It’s a wonderful performance that is complimented well by Jamie Foxx’s performance. In between the songs Foxx shows us that in a lot of ways, Stacks is still a damaged kid himself.
Cameron Diaz comes close to stealing the movie as Miss Hannigan. Her incarnation of the character is not as depraved or as insane as the Carol Burnett version. Diaz’s Miss Hannigan is more sad and pathetic and we never fear that the girls may very well come to harm at her hands. Unlike the Carol Burnett version who seemed as if she’d actually strangle one of the orphans in one of her drunken rampages. I’m glad that Rose Byrne is in a movie where she gets to use her own voice and doesn’t have to use an American accent. She and Quvenzhane have a nice number together; “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here” It’s not a show stopping number like “It’s The Hard-Knock Life” or “Tomorrow” but it is quite charming and cute.
So should you see ANNIE? I say yes. I have a great affection for movies that are designed to do nothing but make you feel good and for two hours put a smile on your face. ANNIE does that. It’s not High Art or innovative filmmaking and it doesn’t have to be. It knows what kind of movie it is and its content to unashamedly be that kind of movie. It’s nothing but pure family entertainment and if that’s what you’re looking for then enjoy with my blessings.