Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

New, multi-cultural 'Annie' mixes old and new

Our "Little Orphan" gets an update, some of which works and some of which doesn't.

Rose Byrne (left) and Quvenzhane Wallis perform a table-top dance number at Will Stack's NYC penthouse in "Annie."
Rose Byrne (left) and Quvenzhane Wallis perform a table-top dance number at Will Stack's NYC penthouse in "Annie."Read more

HOW RAD and cool is the new "Annie"?

Enough to hold the rapt attention of young tykes for two hours, while keeping their parental guardians "fully dressed" with smiles for almost as long.

If you haven't heard, the contemporized, curly-locked 11-year-old is in foster care, now. No longer the "Little Orphan" of mid-20th-century comic strip fame then mid-1970s (and beyond) stage/screen musical adaptations.

Annie.2014 speeds around NYC by bike sharing and subway. She wears hip, thrift shop duds - not that stupid red dress.

When she and the other foster kids break into "It's A Hard Knock Life," they're working the number with a fresh hip-hop beat.

What else is new? All the world's now following Annie's rags-to-riches transformation on Twitter and Instagram, more than in tabloid newspapers (still semi-relevant, at least!).

And the super-rich guy who takes her in isn't a 1930s war-bonds profiteer named Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks feeling a twinge of Christmas holiday spirit.

Instead, he's a work-obsessed, 21st-century billionaire, Will Stacks, who runs a mobile phone company and has aspirations to become New York's next mayor. Think a cross between Michael Bloomberg and Steve Jobs.

Also quite modern (sadly) - Stacks' duplicitous campaign manager's schemes that using Annie for photo opps will bump up the boss's approval rating.

Oh, and did we mention that "Annie" (as portrayed by adorable Quvenzhane Wallis) and her new protector (Jamie Foxx) are African-American, co-mingling in a multicultural New York?

Stacks' executive VP and would-be love interest, Grace, now talks with an Australian accent, fitting as she's played by Rose Byrne.

Annie's boozed-up and embittered foster guardian Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) is a failed pop singer who still dresses like a tarty teen. Or maybe like a hooker, as Stacks presumes her to be.

Like most "family" flicks today, a few gags in the new "Annie" are pitched to grownups - referencing the likes of George Clooney and edgy visual artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

But the bulk of jokes are aimed at the demo who'll laugh or groan when Annie's bad cooking makes Stacks barf.

A couple reviewers have already blasted the new "Annie" for its modern, cynical tone - though the dirty political trick bits struck me as educational.

The movie's "missed opportunities" are a more valid criticism.

No real parallels are drawn between the Depression-era original and today's recessionary gulf between haves and have-nots. The film gravitates almost instantly toward the glammy side of New York where Stacks works and lives. Hey, who wouldn't "like it here," as Annie now sings, in a super teched-up bachelor pad atop 4 World Trade Center?

Three new songs written by pop hitmakers Sia and Greg Kurstin - "Who Am I?", "Opportunity" and "The City's Yours" - are OK but hardly as memorable as Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin's Broadway/Hollywood originals. "The City" pays closer homage to one of the film's celebrity producers, Jay Z. (Will and Jada Pinkett Smith also had a hand in the project.)

And for sure, characters are thinly sketched and cartoonish, with Diaz making a particularly sloppy, comic mess of herself.

But come on people. We're talking frothy musical comedy based on a comic strip.

Reinventing the wheel didn't make sense, figured new project director, writer and producer Will Gluck. But updating the time frame and cultural references would help "Annie" resonate better with an audience that never heard of FDR and the New Deal.

(Comic strip fans might appreciate one inside reference: Stacks' mayoral opponent is named after "Little Orphan Annie" creator Harold Gray.)

My nearly 5-year-old assistant reviewer Leah Weiss was so into the movie, she wouldn't let her "Poppy" (that's me) whisper or put a comforting arm around her, even when Annie seemed in danger in a high-speed chase sequence.

Leah's 6-year-old cousin, Morgan, a movie-going-veteran, was equally transfixed and judged the film "one of the best" she'd seen.

Both girls laughed when "Queen of Mean" Ms. Hannigan barked nutty orders and the kids paid her no mind. And "It's a Hard Knock Life" made such a strong impression, my wee one was belting it out on the ride home.

Leah's mom, Hilary, (who calls me "Dad" and grew up loving the original "Annie" movie) pronounced the new rendering "cute," though "a mite too long."

Morgan's curly-locked "Gram" Sharon Pinkenson (yes, the Philadelphia Film Office CEO) was delighted to spot the Temple University Diamond Marching Band in the film's grand finale. "Their second screen appearance," noted the Philly film authority. "They also marched through a raucous party scene in "The Wolf of Wall Street." What a super group!"