Let me begin by saying I did not have a deprived childhood. I had a great childhood and was exposed to a wide range of literature, music and science, and saw my share of movies. However, I have never seen Lil’ Orphan Annie outside of the comics. Not even as an adult. However, today, I saw the movie Annie (2014), a contemporary adaptation of the original Broadway musical (1977) and found it delightful.
Part of the “contemporary” change is that Annie is no longer a redhead with freckles — she is black with big hair, and is absolutely charming. Played by 11-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, the part just sings. From her first scene, presenting her essay on President Franklin Roosevelt to her class, one can immediately see her indomitable, captivating spirit. She has the classroom rocking and has all her facts presented in familiar terms. (Something, as a teacher, I could appreciate, although her teacher didn’t seem too impressed.) Jamie Foxx is great as Will Stacks (the modern, black version of Daddy Warbucks), the would-be politician who slowly becomes transformed by Annie’s spirited optimism.
The sets are extremely high tech, such as Stacks’ headquarters where they can track cell phones and cell calls, and Stacks’ penthouse, which is an environment full of intuitive, voice-activated utilities, plus an elevator that uses handprint technology. As for his cell phone company, you “never drop a call” because he has more cell phone towers in New York City than any of his competitors, and they’re hidden in plain view. There’s even one in the crown of the Statue of Liberty.
Bobby Cannavale plays Stacks’ campaign manager (a complete sleaze) to perfection. He’s unfeeling, totally shallow, and prepared to do anything to win the election, including “finding” Annie’s real parents so Stacks can be the hero who restores her to her family. Rose Byrne plays Stacks’ assistant, a British lady who also lives an “all work and no play” life to match her boss’s lifestyle. Cameron Diaz plays the drunken, mean foster mother who has 5 kids in one bedroom with bunk beds and a pull-out couch and is adored by the neighbourhood grocer, David Zayas, who is a bit of a crook but a kind-hearted one. One of my favourites in this film was Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who plays Stacks’ ex-cop driver, and is genuinely interested in helping Annie find her parents.
The music and dancing in this film are terrific, and if you love New York City, you’ll love the views from the helicopter and from Stacks’ penthouse which faces south over Central Park. Oh yes, there’s also a cameo role for Michael J. Fox in it. It’s so refreshing to see a great movie — a movie that isn’t dependent on sex and violence to bring an audience out. You’ll leave it grinning and humming, and what could be better than that. * * * * *
Directed by Will Gluck.
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