Modernizing Little Orphan Annie is certainly not a bad idea as one would have a hard time releasing a movie today featuring a war profiteer who rails against organized labor, is portrayed as an idealized capitalist and not be the film’s bad guy. Adopting a dozen red headed moppets couldn’t soften that image for today’s audiences.
Enter producer Will Smith and director Will Gluck who drag everyone’s favorite little orphan girl into 21st Century with a little African-American alteration in casting and some sweeping changes to the world of Little Orphan Annie. For me, and I’d like to think most people, the changing of Annie from red-headed Caucasian girl to a African-American one doesn’t even make a blip any political correctness radar, and the casting of Quvenzhané Wallis is easily the best decision this movie makes, sadly it is one of only a few good decisions this movie makes.
Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) is a sweet orphan kid living with a group of other foster girls living under the drunken care of Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) who is only in it for the $157 dollars a week per kid she gets from the government. This Mrs. Hannigan is a little on the lighter side when compared to the Carol Burnett version we got in the 1982 movie as this updated Hannigan is more bitter than mean, she has a backstory where we find out she came close to fame as a singer and then had it snatched away from her at the last minute, this makes her eventual redemption more believable.
In the case of this films Daddy Warbucks analog we have Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) a billionaire who made his money in cell phones and now wants to be Mayor of New York City. We learn that he grew up in Queens but due to a tough work ethic he developed from his now deceased father he rose to the top of his field, and because this is Movie Cliché Land hard work always means you’re neglecting the important things in life. He doesn’t notice that his chief assistant Grace Farrell (Rose Byrne) is in love with him or that his campaign advisor Guy (Bobby Cannavale) is a slimy asshat, but worst of all is that he has basically lost touch with “The People.” Apparently this is a near unforgivable sin. He desperately needs something to soften his image.
We are treated to most of the songs from the original musical, as well as a few new ones, and overall they are quite well done, but where the film fails is in its attempts at comedy and in its horrible third act. And I do mean horrible, the level of lazy writing for this movie’s conclusion is staggering, at no point does slimy campaign advisor’s plan to create fake parents for Annie make any sense, nor in any way would it not land all involved in jail.
And as for the supposed comedy, well there is a scene in this film where Will takes Annie to a movie premiere and he acts as if he’s never seen a movie before, jumping out of his seat and shouting at the characters on screen, he grew up in Queens not the jungles of Borneo for Pete’s sake! It’s this kind of culture class comedy that prevents this film from being a decent adaptation as everyone in this production is talented, the songs are tried and true, so it comes down to the failure of the screenplay and the direction, well that and the fact that several of those talented people don’t actually know how to sing and are obviously aided by Auto-Tune.
Quvenzhané Wallis is a fantastic young performer, and she truly shines in this film, so her career will certainly not be harmed but its overall averageness. Just remember kid no matter what the critics say, “The sun’ll come out tomorrow!”