Movie Review: 'Annie' Then and Now

The remake is worth taking the kids to see, with some caveats

I wondered if nostalgia would taint a remake of Annie, one of the most beloved movies from my childhood. The spunky redheaded star of the 1982 film was everything I wanted to be: Talented, smart, confident and charming. The high-energy film prepped me for a lifetime of enjoying over-the-top Broadway musicals, with its larger-than-life dance numbers and vocals.

The contemporary remake by Columbia Pictures of Annie, while quite different from the Broadway-styled original, is worth seeing. I’ve read mixed reviews — it's earned some harsh ones — but any remake of such an iconic classic is bound to face plenty of scrutiny. 

Was it bad? No.  Was I blown away? Not really. I enjoyed it, though. 

The pros 

Quvenzhané Wallis performs flawlessly. Her portrayal of Annie is a nice contrast to the original Annie (Aileen Quinn) whose Ethel-Merman-style vocals could, at times, be grating. I found Wallis to be more childlike and understated, which was refreshing.

Her gentle, pop-infused performance of “Tomorrow,” which she sings as her character walks past Harlem’s windows, reflecting her desire for a family, sets the stage for the differences between the versions. Sometimes, the simpler approach to the music works for the better, but at other times it falls flat (despite the obvious auto-tune for some of the film's weaker singers). 

Jamie Foxx contributes fabulous vocals as cell phone mogul Will Stacks (the modern version of Daddy Warbucks). He and Wallis definitely steal the show. The depiction of how their bond formed has a nice story arc.

I especially appreciated the diversity of the cast, starkly absent in the original, save one character whose portrayal was anything but PC (Punjab). There's no denying that the original was due for an update.

Spoiler: The remake also shines because of Annie’s vulnerability, specifically when it's revealed that she is unable to read. Her character was written and performed with more dimenson and depth than the original. 

The cons:

Perhaps the most accurate criticism of the film is this:

“The filmmakers only thought about how to make it current, and not about how to make it better.”

It’s true. The new Annie is current, it is entertaining but I don’t think that, for its time, it's better than the original. Those are some pretty big shoes for any movie to try to fill.  

I wish that the film took more risks. There could be a grittier depiction of Annie, a foster child in Harlem who faced neglect and abandonment. I wish the movie spent a little more time delving into her struggles. It seems like a missed opportunity.  

Bottom line? The over-the-top energy of the original is missing, and the choreography is forgettable, but its good parts are quite good. It is worth watching if for no other reason, than to dissect the choices and compare the two shows (if you are one of those people, like me, who loves to pick apart the good and the bad after seeing a film).

Final tip: My kids had a hard time sitting in their theater seats during the musical moments, so if your kids are the wiggly kind, avoid the theater and rent so you can let them dance and sing along from the couch at home.

Since my kids know some of the songs, thanks to the original movie, I'm contemplating buying the soundtrack – anything to get them to stop singing Let it Go.

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