Rebooting a series is a huge undertaking. There are so many pitfalls along the way that you have to be careful not to fall and snap your neck. There are very few reasons to reboot anything: updating/changing the story to fit modern society, introducing a new twist or way of seeing the original story, and then, of course, just for the money. Annie has always been a rags to riches story, but this time around there is much more emphasis on the “riches” than anything else, including its probable motivation for being remade.
The story of Annie is an American classic. The spunky young orphan with a heart of gold has now become a semi-spunky foster kids with a heart of fools-gold. Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) lives with a few other foster girls and an alcoholic, former “celebrity” foster mother, Ms. Hannigan (Cameron Diaz); emphasis on the “Miss” as she will annoyingly remind you. Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), cell phone kingpin, germaphobe and mayoral hopeful, needs to find something to help his image and gain more voters. His business partner and the friendless Grace (Rose Byrne) tries to keep his business afloat while he is campaigning with suspicious political manager Guy (Bobby Cannavale). After Stacks is caught on video saving Annie, the video goes viral and boosts his campaign. Guy decides that Stacks should temporarily keep Annie, at least until the campaign is over and he’s won. Bonds are created, “parents” are found, “parents” are lost, real parents are discovered to have died years ago only to be immediately followed by an unconscionably uplifting musical number, as if nothing happened. Yes, that really happened, but it’s far from the worst thing in the film.
Annie strays far from its humble orphan roots. The story is modernized, but in the worst possible way. There was a more genuine feel to the 1982 film version, where Annie was dirty and roughened by the hard New York streets. At times it was a little sugarcoated and heavy on the sap, but in retrospect, that is completely forgivable. This remake of a film based on a Broadway musical is so over-sweet, sugarcoated and sappy that you may as well try drinking the densest maple syrup known to man; you’ll realize that this film is as equally hard to swallow. The characters are cliched caricatures or archetypes that have either been used to death or should be long dead. The worst character degenerations would have to be between the Warbucks/Stacks change, and the devolution of Grace. Warbucks was a titan of industry, a self-made man whose only flaw (unless you count being an ardent Republican as one) was that his work ethic gave him little time to be interested in human connections. Stacks is a man whose success is based on the innovations of others, who actively avoids human contact because of the his fear of germs, and whose company can (and at one point does) invade its customers’ privacy. Grace is possibly the worst change, going from an independent, well-rounded businesswoman with a work ethic that mirrors Warbucks’, to being turned into a socially awkward joke in the remake.
With all of that already going against the film, there is one crime against the original production that is worse yet: the music. I’ll admit, I was excited to hear that Annie was being remade, but with a potentially different take on it, replacing the small, pale redhead with the talented Quvenzhané Wallis (Beast of the Southern Wild). Then, when I heard Jay-Z was attached as a producer, I pictured a grittier, more urban update to the film, with an equally great music soundtrack to go along with it. Not to mention that one of Jay-Z’s most popular songs is “Hard Knock Life“, where he samples several verses from the original film production. Say what you will about the original film production, but the caliber of the cast and their execution of the songs and musical numbers is beyond reproach. They are infectious, catchy, and resonate with genuine emotions to help move the story along. All but one musical number and a half in this production actually made me feel anything. Everything else came off as an empty, heavily auto-tuned horror show with aspirations of being Top 40 pop music and starring possibly the only person with any actual singing talent, Foxx. Not only is the music like a hard knock on the ear drums, but the original songs are so far beyond eviscerated and synthesized that trying to search for the familiar tunes would be like sifting through a terrible explosion only to find scattered and gored limbs.
Annie gleamed with the promise of a new tomorrow, but when the sun came out, something that should have been an easily adaptable film became something wholly un-adoptable. Aside from small children who may find some sort of entertainment in this disjointed, confused film remake of Annie, everyone else that sits through this two hour film will probably feel like they’re living their own hard knock life.
RATING: ★★(2/10 stars)