Modernizing Little Orphan Annie is certainly not a bad idea
as one would have a hard time releasing a movie today featuring a war
profiteer who rails against organized labor, is portrayed as an
idealized capitalist and not be the film’s bad guy. Adopting a dozen red
headed moppets couldn’t soften that image for today’s audiences.
It’s a hard knock life!
Enter producer Will Smith and director Will Gluck
who drag everyone’s favorite little orphan girl into 21st Century with a
little African-American alteration in casting and some sweeping changes
to the world of Little Orphan Annie. For me, and I’d like to
think most people, the changing of Annie from red-headed Caucasian girl
to a African-American one doesn’t even make a blip any political
correctness radar, and the casting of Quvenzhané Wallis is easily the
best decision this movie makes, sadly it is one of only a few good
decisions this movie makes.
Little Foster Annie.
Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) is a sweet orphan kid living with a group of other foster girls living under the drunken care of Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz)
who is only in it for the $157 dollars a week per kid she gets from the
government. This Mrs. Hannigan is a little on the lighter side when
compared to the Carol Burnett version we got in the 1982 movie
as this updated Hannigan is more bitter than mean, she has a backstory
where we find out she came close to fame as a singer and then had it
snatched away from her at the last minute, this makes her eventual
redemption more believable.
“I use to sing at the Coco Bongo club!”
In the case of this films Daddy Warbucks analog we have Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx)
a billionaire who made his money in cell phones and now wants to be
Mayor of New York City. We learn that he grew up in Queens but due to a
tough work ethic he developed from his now deceased father he rose to
the top of his field, and because this is Movie Cliché Land
hard work always means you’re neglecting the important things in life.
He doesn’t notice that his chief assistant Grace Farrell (Rose Byrne) is in love with him or that his campaign advisor Guy (Bobby Cannavale)
is a slimy asshat, but worst of all is that he has basically lost touch
with “The People.” Apparently this is a near unforgivable sin. He
desperately needs something to soften his image.
Can a singing orphan girl save this poor billionaire?
We are treated to most of the songs from the original musical, as
well as a few new ones, and overall they are quite well done, but where
the film fails is in its attempts at comedy and in its horrible third
act. And I do mean horrible, the level of lazy writing for this movie’s
conclusion is staggering, at no point does slimy campaign advisor’s
plan to create fake parents for Annie make any sense, nor in any way
would it not land all involved in jail.
“Help, I’ve been kidnapped by a plot contrivance!”
And as for the supposed comedy, well there is a scene in this film
where Will takes Annie to a movie premiere and he acts as if he’s never
seen a movie before, jumping out of his seat and shouting at the
characters on screen, he grew up in Queens not the jungles of Borneo for
Pete’s sake! It’s this kind of culture class comedy that prevents this
film from being a decent adaptation as everyone in this production is
talented, the songs are tried and true, so it comes down to the failure
of the screenplay and the direction, well that and the fact that several
of those talented people don’t actually know how to sing and are
obviously aided by Auto-Tune.
“Next stop, Glee!”
Quvenzhané Wallis is a fantastic young performer, and she truly
shines in this film, so her career will certainly not be harmed but its
overall averageness. Just remember kid no matter what the critics say, “The sun’ll come out tomorrow!”