If this new version of ‘Annie’ had been made as a Will Smith/Willow Smith vehicle (and one glaring ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ reference remains in the script), the musical remake could have been a magical trainwreck. It would have been a feature-length ode to the ego of the wackiest family in La-La-land. Sadly, Willow is too busy making her own ear-shredding music and writing her own novels to be bothered with such a project. Instead, we got this extra pointless edition of ‘Annie’ that can most charitably be described as “harmlessly crappy.” Please put that on the poster.
As the title suggests, this is ‘Annie’. You know, that dated and maudlin musical that will continue to be revived for some reason long after we’re all dead. The movie opens up with a peppy redheaded Annie singing in school, only for the teacher to ask her to stop so that “Annie B” (accidentally racist moment #1) can give her report on FDR (irritating self-conscious reference #1). Within seconds, the movie’s annoying M.O. has been laid bare on the screen. This film wants to recapture the old-timey innocence of the original Broadway show, while still feeling hip and contemporary for all the kids out there with their newfangled cells phones and internets and such. Unfortunately, that combination never mixes smoothly. It just offers audiences new reasons to cringe.
The aged musical fantasy is even harder to swallow when it’s so clearly taking place in modern day. Cameron Diaz’s evil orphan abuser is enough of a cartoon without her references to once being part of C&C Music Factory. The movie doubles down on irritating musical clichés and gets them all in, the new and the old. There are changes to the original tale, but the core is the same. It’s all about the relentlessly cheery Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) teaching a stuffy Richie Rich man (Jamie Foxx) to love the 99% and be happy.
Basically, it’s all just window dressing desperately trying to pass off a tired old tale as something even remotely relevant. The endless cheer on display is oppressive. The innocent wonder that Wallis brought to ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ is so overblown here that it never registers. She’s perfectly fine and does exactly what’s required; it’s just a cartoon painted so brightly that it hurts the eyes.
Jamie Foxx mugs more than he has since ‘In Loving Color’ as the new Daddy Warbucks, and the sheer desperation of his performance is difficult to watch. Cameron Diaz clearly has a ball as the witchy Hannigan, and can often even be quite fun. However, there should have been some excuse made for how it’s even remotely possible that Diaz could struggle to find a man. Meanwhile, Rose Byrne continues her career-long quest to be the best part of bad movies and does it again. Every single member of the cast gets an “A” for effort. Unfortunately, that effort tends to be either misplaced or a few steps beyond overboard.
Writer/director Will Gluck (‘Easy A’) goes out of his way to desperately make this old story feel contemporary, and it’s safe to say that a musical fantasy about the rich learning to love to poor has some modern resonance. The trouble is that those themes aren’t really the sort of thing that fits into a big splashy family musical. It’s hard to consider subtext when you’re faced with a barrage of garish overproduction and nauseating cheer. The mandate for this movie appears to have been, “Too much is never enough.” The camerawork isn’t just flashy; it calls endless attention to itself. The production design and costumes aren’t just bright and loud; they’re blinding and deafening.
‘Annie’ wants to pummel audiences into liking it. Perhaps some will submit. Personally, I felt abused by all the splashy production numbers and aggressive positively. ‘Annie 2.0’ is an absolute mess and not even a fun one.