Believe it or not, co-writer/director Will Gluck’s new Annie is actually the third film version of the Thomas Meehan musical based on Harold Gray’s original comic strip. We all know John Huston’s 1982 version, but before the 2014 film came a Disney TV Movie in 1999 directed by Chicago-helmer Rob Marshall. What’s really interesting, is that Marshall also has a big screen musical coming out this holiday season for Disney as he trots Into the Woods. Unfortunately, there’s only one you should see, and even more surprising, it’s Annie. For anyone worried about the lyrical changes or casting choices, this is still the Annie we all know and love, through and through.
In this charmingly updated version, Quvenzhané Wallis is our “don’t call her little orphan” Annie, living as a foster child in the hard knock grips of the alcoholic Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). Annie spends her afternoons sitting outside an Italian restaurant on Friday nights, hoping to catch sight of her parents who left here there as a baby with a note that someday they will come back for her. Knowing that the sun will come out tomorrow, Annie lives life to the fullest, but gets the opportunity of a lifetime when billionaire cellphone-mogul Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) takes her in after a video of him saving her from being run over goes viral and his assistants Guy (Bobby Cannavale) and Grace (Rose Byrne) advise him to use this to get a head in his race for New York City mayor.
For anyone worried about their beloved Annie in the hands of the raunchy Gluck escaping unscathed, have no fear. The songs are everything you remember and there’s even some great choreography with the film moving at a rapid pace to the finish line. The most surprising aspect of this charming update, is that Gluck — and co-writer Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada) — make changes that work in the film’s favor. Extraneous characters have been cut and some new songs fill the gap in the third act, with Wallis delivering the huge showstopper “Opportunity” at a gala.
But the best part is how hilarious the film is. With tons of cameos — the best being Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher in a film-within-the-film — the film has humor and charm to spare. Especially with little Wallis as our new Annie. Wallis is totally adorable and the rest of the cast do their best to keep up with her. Especially Foxx, who seems to be making good on his In Living Color roots by showing he can still land a punchline and spit take. The Stacks/Grace romance feels more tacked on that it should, but Foxx and Byrne make it work. Even Diaz isn’t irritating, especially involving Miss Hannigan’s hilarious new backstory.
Annie is one of three big screen musicals to hit theaters this year, and it’s undoubtedly the best. You’ll leave with a big fat grin on your face and the songs stuck in your head for days. Or years, considering we already know most of the songs. But even the new additions — while being strictly modern — never feel out of place. Annie is the most fun you can have with the whole family this holiday season.
Photos courtesy Columbia Pictures[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B0000VCZKM,B00196YNWU,B00CQMCTDQ,B00O8NWDEG,0545797519]