Will Gluck’s reworking of Annie is a curate’s egg of a movie. The screening we attended what not so much peopled by ‘little girls’ whose freckles needed stamping on, as by women my age, who had clearly been fans of the 1982 version – and if they were anything like me – had high hopes this might have more verve and sparkle than the anodyne 1999 Disney adaptation. It certainly does have more verve and spark. In the lead role, Quvenzhané Wallis (an absolute delight in Beasts of the Southern Wild) is as feisty, kooky and determined as she needs to be and, she’s charming too, so that her disarming of Jamie Foxx (the restyled Daddy Warbucks) is quite credibly portrayed. The modernisation is nicely handled also. Foxx plays Will Stacks, a self-made mobile phone entrepreneur in need of a better media image; his cribs-style apartment is pure property porn. Rose Byrne as his PA, Grace Farrell, is perfectly adequate and it’s good to see Annie’s friendship with the (accidentally) racistly-drawn character of ‘mystic’ Punjab ousted in favour of a more sympathetic relationship with Warbucks’ chauffeur, Nash (Adawale Akkinuoye-Agbaje.)
But there are some unfortunate mis-steps too. Cameron Diaz’s Miss Hannigan really doesn’t work. She’s unconvincing as a foster mother of any sort, lurching and gurning her way drunkenly around the children’s home, clearly playing at trashy rather than living it. The music’s a bit hit-and-miss too. There are some interesting re-arrangements of the the old songs and a few new numbers thrown in to good effect, but they all lack lung-power and musicality; surely every musical needs at least one big blousy number? In 1982 Annie had some to spare. Here, they have been summarily kicked out and this is a mistake I think. Likewise the half-hearted choreography. Back in the day everyone hoofed it up in great style but here the actors stumble apologetically around as though they don’t quite want to admit they’re actually in a musical.
Overall, I liked it. Sort of. But I don’t see it capturing the imaginations of today’s kids in the way that Aileen Quinn and Carole Burnett did in the 80’s. This version simply isn’t strong enough to compete with everything that has gone before.