An age-old classic, the story of Annie is loved by many. Remaking this family favourite, though, brings with it an abundance of unavoidable problems: a sickly-sweet resolution, an anachronistic moral message and one-note characters. Will Gluck’s present-day adaptation significantly softens the blow by casting a likeable lead and including a plethora of in-jokes, but there’s not nearly enough effort put into believably contemporising Annie, and some weak performances from supporting actors compound the film’s inherent difficulties.
Despite some superficial revisions, this is a well-known tale. Annie has grown up in a foster home under the care of Miss Hannigan (played by a particularly hammy Cameron Diaz) – a malicious alcoholic with an aversion to the children in her care. Annie’s luck takes a turn for the better when a billionaire wannabe-mayor decides to temporarily foster her as a publicity stunt, after a chance encounter with her raises his standing in the polls.
It’s in Hannigan’s foster home that the film’s thematic problems become clear. Annie shares a room with four other foster children who dream of the day they’ll finally be adopted, and it just doesn’t ring true. Hannigan herself is clearly unstable and, although she stops just short of beating the children, she’s not nearly sympathetic enough for her last-minute change of heart to feel justified.
Elsewhere, an uneven performance by Jamie Foxx as Will Stacks (an updating of the musical’s Daddy Warbucks) portrays a workaholic telecom magnate, who for some reason is in the running to become mayor. It’s a family film, of course, but these incongruities add up to a story whose characters are slaves to lacklustre plotting.
One of Annie‘s few saving graces is the Oscar-nominated Quvenzhané Wallis. Star of the superb Beasts of the Southern Wild, Wallis brings over a little of the vibrancy from her first acting role, ensuring the titular lead character is mostly likeable and never too precocious.
The remixes start early. Annie fans will recognise many of the songs in the film’s opening sequence as Annie darts across New York City. The songs are catchy in a High School Musical kind of way, so parents thinking about purchasing the soundtrack as a stocking filler should do so with care. There are hits – Wallis performs a great little number for the attendees of a posh dinner, and Foxx’s helicopter serenade is particularly cringe-inducing, but fun – and most are well-produced.
It might be time to give up on the idea of adapting Annie for the big screen. The story is overly sentimental and largely anachronistic, and its view of kindly capitalism is far too black-and-white, even without any mention of the dreaded Bolsheviks. This film has its moments, but some dodgy performances and a lack of originality mean this is just another Annie for the pile.
Joe Manners Lewis
Annie is released nationwide on 26th December 2014.
Watch the trailer for Annie here: