Annie — Christian Movie Review
Can Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) carry the lead as Annie? That’s the question no one is asking, because, come on, that girl can act. She’s already won the heart of America, and she’s a great choice as lead for this modern-day take on the Annie story — an interesting version that uses the Information Age of the 21st century as an important backdrop.
And I’m not kidding, the smart phone/device has such a central role in the film, and it is so prevalent that is essentially another character in the movie. In the 1982 version of Annie, they said that New York City was a character. In this modern Annie, the invention of the smart phone is a character.
Besides Wallis, the film stars Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale, and it features quite a few fun cameos. Despite this all-star cast and a beloved story at its roots, critics are still blasting this film. However…
Rotten Tomato? No Way! Why the Critics Are Wrong
Despite Wallis’s amazing talent, many critics are complaining that the 1982 version (or the 1977 stage version) is the true story and this new film is a failed attempt to try and remake it — to the tune of around 20% positive ratings on Rotten Tomatoes website.
1. The character of orphan Annie has been around since 1885 when a poem called “Little Orphant Annie” was written by American poet James Whitcomb Riley.
2. Re-imagined in 1924, Annie debuted in a comic strip written by Harold Gray in the New York Daily News.
3. Since 1924, Annie has been on the radio, TV, big screen, and in thousands of community centers, elementary schools, and stages.
Annie is not Aileen Quinn, the original child actor who starred in the 1982 film; Annie is an American legend who needs to be reinvented, reimagined, and rediscovered for each generation. Annie, in other words, is an American treasure belonging to many generations, and her character is important to the American psyche. So, frankly, the complaints that critics are making about rebooting Annie is a non-issue.
That being said, this film does not disrespect the 1982 version; it pays homage to its roots. A couple of nods to the 1982 version stand out as fun little asides to the adults who grew up watching Aileen Quinn.
For example, a look-alike red-headed spitfire is the first face you’ll see when the movie starts. And her name is Annie. Wait, what? And she’s giving her classmates her report on U.S. President Benjamin Harrison! Lest you think you’re in the wrong movie, her teacher calls up the OTHER Annie, Annie B. (Quvenzhané Wallis), for her report on FDR and the New Deal.
I will dig into other things that made this reboot of Annie so enjoyable (and look at a couple of its flaws), but first let’s cover the Parental Guidance Issues.
Parental Guidance Issue at a Glance…
Sexual Content/Nudity: Cameron Diaz wears sleazy clothes (fitting with her character) — so much so she is mistaken for a prostitute. A man is mistaken to be an ugly prostitute. Both prostitute scenes are played for laughs. A few kisses between adult characters.
Violence/Gore: One punch to the face between adults in an emotional scene. No blood/after-effect is seen.
Language: Mild crude language throughout. Words used include “suck,” “damn,” “hell,” “oh my god.” The most noticeable is a child saying the word “suck” for comedic value. It stands out in a very prominent moment in a song (where a child basically shouts “our life sucks.”)
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: Heavy-drinker Miss Hannigan is often drunk, staggering and emotionally affected by alcohol. We see many alcohol drinks and bottles. A scene takes place in a nightclub with many drinks flowing. A reference is made to Miss Hannigan’s medicine cabinet (having items which she doesn’t want an inspector to see) and someone needing Ambien to sleep.
Frightening/Intense Content: A “Twilight” parody movie (“Moonquake Lake”) is shown that features an evil-looking face popping up unexpectedly for scare value. Annie is almost hit by a truck. A gang of boys chases a dog while throwing trash at him. A mild car chase scene with police and helicopters in pursuit, causing peril for those in the vehicles.
Other Parental Warnings: Excessive use of phones, the Internet, and technology throughout by all ages. Most big plot points center around various forms of social media and its celebrity culture. A cell phone company references recording every location, conversation, and text of its customers in a searchable database. As mentioned before, the film uses the smart phone essentially as another character. I only mention this as a “warning” because I know that some parents are sensitive about limiting (or even prohibiting) excessive smart phone use by their children. In this film it seems like every kid has a cell phone, so it might make a child watching this movie feel like having a cell phone and using it often is an absolute must.
(Review continues below)
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When Musicals Get Awkward: Some of Annie’s Weaknesses
A big part of Annie is music. I loved the updated pieces in this film, the musical team on this movie (Jay Z and Sia, among others) really did an excellent work with keeping true to the heart of the songs — even bumping them up a notch.
However, complicated pieces and rhythms give these actors a run for their money. All of the voices (even the highly talented singer Jamie Foxx) seem over-produced and severely auto-tuned. I know they are recording these songs in many takes in a music studio somewhere (with professional musicians guiding them), and then lip-syncing. That’s not a secret, and no one expects that (except 2012’s Les Miserables pulled it off somehow!), but the voices went from sounding natural in whatever room/setting they were in to suddenly sounding very different, as if they were transported to a music hall even though they are still standing in a small room. It was like listening to people talking in normal voices, and then suddenly the sound out of their mouths is transformed into an iTunes-ready product of perfection.
It was a little jarring.
When you take any musical off the stage it runs in to some common problems on the screen – like why do random people start singing backup to a song they’ve never heard? How does everyone know the same hand motions to the song, etc.? This movie stumbles a bit here and there with awkward spots. But again, these are common problems and ones we just overlook in the tradition of movie musicals, mostly — except for one really awkward song — yes, an ENTIRE song — that takes place in the cramped quarters of a helicopter.
Four Things I Really Enjoyed About This Annie Reboot
Despite some of its awkwardness as a musical, here are four highlights of the film that stood out to me (in addition to the great performances of the leads Wallis and Foxx):
1. The stand-out role goes to Rose Byrne (X-Men: First Class, Bridesmaids). If you are a fan of the 1982 movie version of Grace (Daddy Warbuck’s assistant), I think you’ll appreciate the great acting, singing, and dancing. Whatever quality the original Grace (Ann Reinking) brought to the screen, Rose Byrne has it too in spades. She was a big highlight.
2. Cameron Diaz (There’s Something About Mary, Knight and Day) as Miss Hannigan does a better job than what the critics made her out to be — another case where some of the critics were wrong about this movie. In my opinion, the Carol Burnett version was overly sexual and bordered (and crossed over) into the creepy way too many times. This script went easier on us. Yes, she is out looking for a man and throws herself at them whenever she can, but it stays in-bounds for a family-friendly film. And, thankfully, there’s no creepy dance number with her brother (like there was in the 1982 version). Cameron’s not known as a singer, but she can carry the numbers she’s given from the safety of the music studio and post-production. It works.
3. Bobby Cannavale pulls off his role (a new character introduced for this film) very well. He dances and sings, but come on, this guy looks like he could turn on the cast at any moment as an undercover mobster, so he adds sort of an intimidating shadow to the film — but somehow it all worked. He’s also dating co-star Rose Byrne, which brings some unforeseen comedy to some moments of the film where not intended.
4. Some really fun cameos will make you smile. A few lines will have you grinning, and a couple scenes will have you reaching for your overpriced soda to get rid of the knot in your throat. A few moments, especially in the beginning of the film, had me feeling a bit wishy washy on how it was playing out, but the musical number (written for this version) “Who Am I?” really brought this reboot of Annie to a new level and nailed it for me.
A few passing references to God or religion include funny lines like “God has a path for all of us. Your path should be away from this car,” and more serious jabs like when a girl is told to pray for something and she replies, “I tried, nothing happened yet.”
Some business practices and the political race for mayor both deal with some shady dealings and people, but most of these issues are worked out and redeemed as the plot moves along.
Some positive qualities of the film include characters who find redemption by making the right choices (after making some wrong ones) and a general moral framework that is uplifting. The film also portrays a girl who is not a product of her environment; she shows us how to rise above adversity, take responsibility for her choices, and make empowered, determined steps toward success.
It’s a rags to riches story with a powerful underlying morality that redefine what rags and riches mean. It’s not just Annie who goes from rags to riches; it’s Jamie Foxx’s character Benjamin Stacks. For all the wealth he had accumulated, he was the one living in rags. He was a workaholic who preferred being alone. He desperately needed someone in his life, not only to love, but to take him away from the dizzying pace of the cocoon that he had built for himself. Annie is the heroine who brings him true wealth.
Conclusion: Annie a Refreshing Contrast to More Cynical Youth Films
The story of Annie is not going anywhere, and this movie proves that. Countless schools and community centers will put on the theatrical version. Little girls will don red dresses and belt out “Tomorrow.” Annie is an American treasure, and I’m glad they brought her back to the big screen.
What I think has worked about the Annie story is that it’s about a kid coming in to the world of adults and instead of BEING changed into a jaded adult-like tween, she keeps her optimism and charm and transforms the life of the adults. It’s a rare charismatic kid who can do that. And that’s why we love Annie.