Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Annie (USA, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie Annie (2014)

1. Growing up in the 1980's, "Annie" was a childhood touchstone for me. So when I heard it was being remade, I was ready to hate. But he filmmakers knew that this version would be compared to the original, so they brilliantly put a stop to that right away. The first 30 seconds of the movie make it obvious that they are not trying to replace the other version. Annie's teacher even calls her "Annie B".

2. This movie, produced by Will Smith and Jay-Z, is a thoroughly revised and updated version of the 1982 classic that is specifically targeted to a 2014 audience.  It is also a commentary on classism, and what it means to be poor, but told in a way that makes it accessible to kids.

3.  This Annie is no starry-eyed, cheerful orphan. She is a street-wise foster child always on the hustle. Quvenzhane Wallis plays Annie; after her blistering, preternatural performance in "Beasts of the Southern Wild", I was afraid she would turn into one of those child actors that would never star in anything again. I'm glad to see her in this role - she turns Annie into a real person.

4. Let me just get this out of the way. As far as bitter, alcoholic orphanage supervisors go, Carol Burnett is the only Agatha Hannigan.
As far as bitter, alcoholic foster moms go, Cameron Diaz does great as Colleen Hannigan. Diaz doesn't even attempt to fill Burnett's shoes (even Hannigan's first name is different). Diaz takes what's in the script and makes her own character with it.

5. Jamie Foxx does well with the Daddy Warbucks character - but here his name is William Stacks (Get it? Bill Stacks?). He's a cell phone mogul running for mayor that wants to use Annie to win the sympathy vote. Besides being the rich guy, Stacks is also the symbol of corporate America. As one of his employees says, "Most people are afraid of the government watching them. They should be worried about cell phone companies instead."

6. Many of the original songs are in this movie, but they have also been revised and updated. "Tomorrow" is no longer a bursting, irrepressible ode to optimism, but a bittersweet attempt by a defeated girl to keep herself going. Similarly, "Little Girls" is no longer a booze-addled, comedic complaint, but a cynical rock anthem about missed opportunities.

7. While this is a family movie, there is an adult, sarcastic, self-mocking vibe to it that goes completely over kids' heads and is aimed squarely at the generation of adults who grew up with the original version. There are inside cultural jokes and cameos that would make the adults in the theater laugh, while the kids seemed kind of puzzled. And there are a few hidden references to the original movie scattered in here, for the hardcore fans.

8. It is very rare to have a wide-release family movie where the main character is a black girl, and where the most powerful man in New York City is also black (of course, the casual racism of the 1982 version is gone, too). But the movie seems content with letting that speak for itself - race isn't really a thing here. It's a quietly integrated, fully interracial movie, that doesn't call attention to that fact.

9. This is still "Annie", so it has sentimental moments and messages that don't quite mesh with the underlying social commentary. But all in all, this is a surprisingly sharp, relevant, cool musical with some brilliant and wicked moments. It's trying to attract a new generation of fans without dismissing the original. The two versions of "Annie" are not competing, but complementary. It's OK to like both.