Directed by:  Will Gluck

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhané Wallis, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, and Cameron Diaz

Annie is a classic American musical.  I first saw the film in theaters as a young girl in 1982, and then starred in my high school’s production of the musical.  Annie is near and dear to my heart.  The songs are iconic.  From “It’s The Hard-Knock Life” to “Tomorrow” to “Maybe,” the music grabs you.  My fondness for the tale is why I viewed the 2014 remake with both excitement and trepidation.  While there are definitely some bright spots in the film, this Annie reboot simply does not improve upon the original.

Annie (Quevenzhane Wallis) lives in a foster home in Harlem with several other girls.  Her foster mother, Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), is a washed up, bitter former member of the C & C Music Factory.  Ms. Hannigan views the girls as annoying brats and simply has them in her home to collect a check.  Annie, meanwhile, dreams of one day finding her parents.  When she was younger, her parents left her with a note and a locket, stating that they would return for her.  Annie is desperate to be reunited with her family.

On the more prosperous side of town, Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) is the billionaire head of a major cell phone company.  Stacks is trying to expand his already massive business footprint by running for mayor.  Stacks’ biggest problem, however, is that he is not relatable to the common man.  He hates shaking hands and keeps a steady supply of Purell handy.   When he attempts to be a “man of the people” and feed the homeless, he vomits into a pan of mashed potatoes.  His assistant Grace Farrell (Rose Byrne) and his sleazy campaign manager Guy (Bobby Cannavale) are working tirelessly to save Stacks’ campaign.

While Stacks is walking down the street, he runs into Annie and saves her from being hit by a car.  Stacks’ heroic act is caught on a cell phone camera, and suddenly, he starts to move up in the polls.  Seizing the opportunity, Guy coerces Stacks to have a meet and greet with Annie to generate even more positive press.  The end result is Annie temporarily living with Stacks.  The film follows the growth of the relationship between an unwanted foster kid and a cold, lonely billionaire.

This Annie remake has some positive aspects.  The cast is impressive.  Wallis, who first blazed onto the scene as the fearless Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild, is winsome as the title character.  She is plucky, sweet and cute without being nauseating. Foxx is also quite amusing as Stacks.  He delivers a number of biting, slightly rude one-liners that garnered chuckles in my theater.  Byrne also slides into the role of Grace well, although music and dance do not appear to be her specialty. The only real misstep in casting is Cameron Diaz as Ms. Hannigan.  It goes without saying that Carol Burnett’s performance in the original film was over the top, ridiculous drunken fun.   Diaz simply pales in comparison to the original Ms. Hannigan.  When Diaz performed a rock version of “Little Girls,” Burnett’s rendition played in my mind.

When filmmakers decide to remake a classic film, they must ensure that the remake is just as good or adds something fresh and new to the story.  Director Will Gluck fails to do so.  As an initial matter, Annie contains many of the songs that were in the original film, but the tunes are not as strong.  Wallis has a cute voice, but she does not have the vocal power of Aileen Quinn.  So the powerful ballads are not as moving.  Moreover, the new songs are not remarkable either.  It is possible the new material will grow on audiences.  However, with musical powerhouses Jay Z and Will Smith listed as producers for the film, I expected more on the musical front. 

Moreover, in the original film, the trials and tribulations of orphans in the Great Depression resonated.  There was a stark difference between the world of the “have and have nots.”  In this reboot, while Stacks’ modern day wealth is astounding, there is something missing in the film. It fails to make the same social, political and economic statements that the original film did.

I was not thrilled with the 1999 made for television version of Annie, and unfortunately this new movie feels like only a slightly better version.  Both films, however, fall far short of the original.  Annie earns a 0.09% rating.  Have a peppermint martini with this one for the holidays.  For parents with young children, my five year old loved the film for about an hour, and then got a little antsy.