So begins Annie, the fourth film adaptation of the classic stage musical about a young orphan girl looking for her real parents. This one, however, promises to be a “contemporary reimagining” of the classic story, which essentially means bringing the story into the present day—where these young girls have access to smartphones and Twitter, where Miss Hannigan is a former frontwoman of a pop band, and where Daddy Warbucks (now called Will Stacks) is a cellphone company mogul running for mayor of New York City.
Okay, let’s start with the good first. Annie is actually decently well written. I laughed out loud at most of the jokes, and there’s rarely a bit that flat-out doesn’t work. Given director Will Gluck’s work on Easy A, this isn’t surprising. Cameron Diaz is delightfully ridiculous as Miss Hannigan, as she should be.
In every other aspect, Annie fails.
Annie is a musical, and the most important part of any musical is the music. What that means for the songs in the musical is one of two things: either 1) it’s essentially the same song but with a hip-hop beat underneath, as is the case with the big numbers like “Tomorrow” and “It’s Hard Knock Life;” or 2) the song is totally rewritten to sound like any other radio-friendly hit out today. “Little Girls” and “I Don’t Need Anything But You” are totally unrecognizable, save for the lyrics. There’s even a new song written by Sia that sounds like… well, a Sia song. Annie wouldn’t even be a success if they had kept the original music because the vocal performances are so wildly inconsistent. Quvenzhané Wallis is perfectly fine as Annie, but the syncing of her vocals to her on-screen Annie makes it painfully obvious she’s not really singing. Jamie Foxx goes all-out with his R&B riffs and it’s totally out of place. I don’t even remember how Cameron Diaz sounded, but it was probably fine, I guess. And Bobby Canavale… never have I heard such atrocious singing in a musical since Russell Crowe in Les Misérables. The backing music is also so horribly mixed that it sounds like a mushy blob of sound underneath the vocals. What I’m getting at is that the songs in Annie are bad. Really, really bad. And a musical with bad songs is a bad musical.
Annie feels like an unnecessary update to a perfectly fine musical. Most changes don’t work, some are downright cringe-worthy, and the vocal performances just aren’t there. If you really want to watch a musical about a spunky orphan girl wandering the streets of New York City looking for her parents, watch the original one.