If you’re expecting a more or less exact rehash of the beloved musical (I watched the 1982 film version so much it made my parents sick), please disabuse yourself of that idea pronto. The opening scene begins with precocious, bouncy, curly redheaded girl--Annie as we’re used to seeing her. Soon enough, however, she’s dismissed and Quvenzhane’s Annie B is ushered on screen. From the very start, things are made clear that this Annie ain’t that old Annie.
All of the actors perform so well together that I liked it even better when they weren’t singing. Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, and Rose Byrne are genuinely funny and appear to be having a the time of their lives with these characters. However, I just can’t buy Diaz as the boozy and cruel Ms. Hannigan. Diaz spends so much time being goofy you forget that you’re supposed to dislike her; she’s more obstacle than villain. Even though Stephanie Kurtzuba plays a small part as a social worker, I believe her disdain for Annie much more readily than Diaz’s.
The film struggles with who it wants to be. It rushes through the first few scenes in what seems to be an attempt to get some of the classic Annie songs out of the way, so it can get it on with its own vision of music video edits and original songs (the best of which is Opportunity, penned by Sia sung by Quvenzhane in a sincerely touching scene). This indecision keeps any real emotion from landing for too long. It’s clear Annie has some sadness about not knowing her family, but before it settles into her face, she’s off running, smiling and singing.
Storylines are so quickly and bloodlessly handled that you wonder why they even bothered to begin and Jamie Foxx's silky tones are so underutilized that I nearly forgot he could sing at all. Characters sway between being confused by the idea that their screen partners are breaking into song or completely ignoring that doing so is anything special (as you do!), which in turn, confuses the audience.
So many of the issues of unevenness with Annie stem from the way it treats its musical element. From numbers that feel less genuine than others to what amounts to hiding your light under a bush. Yet, so many of the strengths of Annie flow from the characters’ interactions and the relationships they form. You truly see the change in Mr. Stacks and how Annie comes to trust him. It seems clear Annie might have benefitted most from losing the music all together and making a being a strictly dramatic interpretation of the musical.
As lumpy as it is, Annie is far from unenjoyable. This won’t hurt Quvenzhane’s rise to stardom and the cast of her fellow foster sisters are equally as charming and talented. Seeing Mr. Stacks and Annie grow closer together and learn from each other is honestly heartwarming. The moments of delight are spread generously throughout and most importantly, the children at the screening loved the whole thing!