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December 19, 2014

I’ve touched on the subject of reboots before, mainly that I see no sense in them if you’re basically going to just do the same thing. When it comes to theater, some people hold this idea so close to their heart that they end up producing revivals that are so far removed from the original source material that we must seriously ask if they’re reviving anything at all. Annie, the Broadway musical based on the Little Orphan Annie comic strip, has been revived twice on Broadway and once in the West End in addition to a film adaptation, and two television movies.

Needless to say, the story has long been in need of an update, and so we arrive at this year’s Annie. Casting aside the musical’s Great Depression setting, along with forgettable numbers such as “We’d Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover,” and “A New Deal For Christmas,” the story of Annie is retold in a modern setting. Daddy Warbucks goes from generic industrialist to William Stacks (Foxx), a modern telecommunications mogul who is running for mayor of New York City (against Harold Gray, one of many fun nods to the source material). Miss Hannigan (Diaz) is now a washed up singer who missed out on her one chance at fame and so drinks away her evenings and abuses her foster children. And finally there is Annie (Quvenzahne Wallis), the adorable and precocious child who gets wrapped up in Stacks’s life (and political campaign) after a chance meeting on the street.

While one could easily discuss the importance of a black girl being cast as Annie, an equally important change that I hope will not be overlooked is how much more proactive the character is in this film. Annie’s desire to find her parents is what sets the film’s events into motion, and drives a majority of the plot throughout. While Annie has always opened up the heart of a billionaire, this time around it isn’t accomplished by the mere sweetness of her presence alone. Annie works hard to help Stacks, and his dutiful assistant Grace (Byrne), open up about themselves, to the world, and to each other. By the end of the film, the growth of all of the characters not only feels earned, it feels like it all stems from Annie.

The most difficult part of reboots or revivals is actually accomplishing something with them, and Annie manages to center the story in a way that it feels at once familiar and yet still worth watching. The film’s universe feels more fully realized and alive than one might expect. While Annie’s fellow orphans have always been one note, they’re established so naturally in the first song (“Maybe”), that we never stop to question anything else we see them do. The fact that the film takes several scenes to sit down and show us a hilarious Twilight parody called Moon Quake Lake that Stacks Mobile has sponsored through product placement, never feels strange because they use it to illuminate Annie’s character and the world she inhabits.

However, the story is still just a fun happy musical story, what makes the film worth watching is the way it treats its musical numbers. Much like several modern musicals, it’s never quite clear if the characters are actually singing and dancing, but it makes many quips and glances at the sheer ridiculousness of what seems to be occurring. The dance choreography is great but more importantly the director, William Gluck, takes advantage of Annie being a film by allowing the characters and camera to move about. As can be expected, given its prominence in the culture at large, “Tomorrow,” is one of the more interesting numbers with Annie’s imagination running in reflected surfaces (windows, puddles, etc) while we see what’s actually occurring around her as she moves through the streets of New York. The whole film has this same frenetic hyper-theatricality to it that some musical-to-film adaptations (for example, this year’s Jersey Boys) are often too afraid to embrace and they suffer as a result, whereas Annie becomes just a little more magical.

Truly, my only real complaint about Annie is that for some reason, in every song, the vocal volume is turned down very low, to the point where it almost gets lost in the music. Depressing, but not film ruining. As to the question of whether or not you should get up and go see Annie, well I must pose another question to you, “Do you have kids?”

For as much as I enjoyed it, I can’t call this the best movie I’ve seen even within the past month. It’s definitely something you should see at some point because you won’t be disappointed but unless you have kids (who will be greatly entertained by Annie), there’s little reason to run out this weekend to catch it (you should probably see Top Five if you haven’t yet). Though, and this should go without saying because this is Annie, the tunes are catchy. So parents don’t be surprised when your kids are constantly singing their own garbled version of “Hard Knock Life” for days on end.

From → Movies

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