With a bowl of popcorn and a song in their hearts, Consequence of Sound film writers Adriane Neuenschwander and Roy Ivy review the new Annie remake.
Adriane Neuenschwander (AN): Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of John Huston’s original 1982 version of Annie. It was my favorite movie growing up, and I must’ve watched it a hundred times or more. So, when I read a few years back that Will and Jada Pinkett Smith were teaming up with Jay-Z to produce a modern-day remake — one intended to star the Smiths’ untalented hellspawn Willow — I immediately began foaming at the mouth with rage. I didn’t react that way because I viewed Annie as some sort of sacred cow, either; I reacted that way because the Smiths had pulled a similarly nepotistic stunt with their remake of The Karate Kid starring Jaden. And that movie stunk. It stunk hard. It stunk more than the farts of a thousand purged thetans.
But, still, I’m a professional, so I tried going into this new version of Annie with an open mind. After all, Willow got too old and had to be kicked to the curb, so there was still a glimmer of hope that Annie Redux would be watchable. That possibility got obliterated for me in the film’s very first scene, however.
The movie opens with a perky, red-headed girl named Annie giving a presentation to her classmates. When she’s finished, the entire room erupts with jeers and hisses. Then the homeroom teacher calls up another girl named Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) to give her presentation. This hip, new Annie leads her peers in a foot-stomping chant about FDR’s New Deal, and they burst into applause. Within five not-so-subtle minutes, the new Annie is acknowledging the original film and shitting on its memory. I half-expected Jay-Z to pop up in the corner of the frame and yell, “Kids, this ain’t your daddy’s Annie!” It’s that brazenly crass.
So, Roy, what were your first impressions of Annie 2014? Did you hate it from the first scene as much as I did?
Roy Ivy (RI): That first scene’s as subtle as a record scratch. I’m surprised they didn’t use the old Columbia Pictures logo, just to have Shirley Temple yanked away with a cartoonish cane by Poochie. It’s just that severe. Maybe it’ll strike the right chord with fans of Stomp, or people who just love old Pringles commercials, but it just turned me off from the get-go.
But I never gave up on it. Like you, the lumbering ol’ Huston Annie was a childhood favorite. It’s one of those “girls” movies that I didn’t wanna see as a boy, but my sister ruled the VCR and I had no choice. And, soon enough, I wound up being the one who refused to eject the tape. And, 32 years later, I still know every song by heart. I can only assume that Jay-Z, Big Willie Style, and I share the same sentiments.
But if you truly love something, why try to mock and redress it with such severity? It’s like if the next James Bond movie started with Daniel Craig throwing Sean Connery down a staircase while mocking his accent.
And if you just can’t think of anything else to get your hair-whippin’, space-case, zillionaire kid on a marquee, why choose something so inherently square and old-fashioned as Annie and then gut it of everything that makes it Annie? A musical remake of Willow, starring Willow Smith as Willow, would have been easier to stomach.
I’ll give it this: At least they waited over 30 years before chumming this oldie. I thought we’d be on our umpteenth Annie remake by now — perhaps even a role-reversed Manny or a cutesy A Dumb Dog’s Life: The Sandy Story.
But there are so many unforgivable new updates that make Annie unbearable. Will Gluck can make a decent movie (I have no qualms with Easy A), but I wonder how much of this was actually his movie? That six-pack of zillionaire executive producers probably blew plenty of steam down his back. Annie should have been a sure thing. The story’s template is solid. The roles are iron-clad. The songs are legendary.
But they ruin it by warping the template, changing the characters for the worst, and most importantly, they ruin songs I didn’t think could be ruined. What were your feelings on those hip new tracks?
AN: You hit the nail on the head. How did they take that soundtrack, which features timeless songs such as “Tomorrow”, “Maybe”, and “It’s the Hard-Knock Life”, and botch it so badly? Having heard Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”, which samples from the original Annie score, I was expecting the addition of hip-hop beats. What I wasn’t expecting was just how timid and dull the vocal melodies would be. Wallis is cute and all, but she’s not a great musical performer. Neither is Cameron Diaz, whose voice is so off-putting that her lack of talent had to be addressed in the script — this version of Miss Hannigan got kicked out of C+C Music Factory before starting a foster home.
In a stupid business move, the producers decide to update one of the original score’s most forgettable songs, “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile”, for radio play, instead of one of its proven hits. The new version performed by Sia is a hot mess. Her voice sounds strained and nasally, like she recorded it while battling a bout of food poisoning. And like many of the new and “improved” songs on Annie 2014’s soundtrack, this version presents an oddly conservative message. Lyrically, it’s telling the listener that no matter how expensive your clothes, true happiness is more important. But this song plays over a scene where Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx as the Daddy Warbucks surrogate) escorts Annie down the red carpet at a movie premiere, and they both brag about the designers they’re wearing. Sia’s constipated strains pipe back in when Annie and her fellow foster kids go to an A-list after-party filled with gift baskets and other luxuries. So, clearly, despite the song’s refrain, a nice row of pearly whites takes a backseat to a bunch of bitchin’ stuff.
This materialistic message pervades the film as a whole, and it really left a bad taste in my mouth. Two of the film’s original songs — “Opportunity” and “The City’s Yours” — are also about grabbing the world by the balls and not letting go until you’re rich and successful. What kind of message is that for kids? The joy of the 1982 version of Annie is that you can be happy and fulfilled regardless of your economic class. This remake seems more concerned with inspiring kids to get rich at any cost. It’s like Scarface for preteens.
What did you think about the film’s sociopolitical themes, Roy? It had a lot of moronic things to say about capitalism and race.
RI: Moronic is too kind of a word. This has a capitalist message that even Alex P. Keaton would find off-putting. Our Lil’ Orphan Annie just wanted to be loved. This Lil’ Foster Home Annie may pine for her parents a little, but what she really wants is cheddar. And retweets. And Instagram followers. What the fuck?
“The City’s Yours” is the most wretched example of why Annie should just be called Poor People Suck. It happens around the time you’re expecting a newfangled update of the FDR scene, and you’re wondering who the modern surrogate will be (Obama? Jaden Smith as Obama?). But you get no FDR, just a sloppy helicopter ride and an ear-aching, Sia-scribed fart about taking what’s rightfully yours (which, for this jerk, is the city of New York). Need more proof that poor people suck? Check out the knee-slapper of a scene where Will Stacks goes to a soup kitchen for a publicity stunt. He’s grossed out when he tries the mashed potatoes, so naturally, he spits them in a homeless man’s face. This isn’t played as a setup for a “rich guy learns the hells of poverty” arc. It’s played for laughs. Hey-oh!
The handling of race is flat-out weird and always played for laughs. Stacks tosses some unwelcome prejudice towards Hispanics (zing!), and then we get two “black people sure are loud at movies” scenes (the second being the stinger … thanks?) for bad measure. These scenes are not only irresponsible, lazy, played out, and completely out of place: They’re just not funny.
But on top of the capitalist message and the waterboarded and bludgeoned songbook, this Annie flat-out fails as a musical, period. The big numbers are sloppily choreographed, if they’re even choreographed at all. You get more razzle-dazzle from a ’90s Gap ad. Think I’m exaggerating? For the supposed show-stopper “The City’s Yours”, we get the Broadway excitement of Jamie Foxx sitting in a chair, lip-synching for the entire song. Even the grand finale, where you expect fireworks and swooping crane shots, is a static bore.
Now, John Huston was no Stanley Donen, but he was smart enough to plant the camera in the right spot and let the choreographers do their magic. And, most importantly, he filled his film with the likes of Ann Reinking, Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters, and Tim Curry: real goddamn singers and dancers who know how to play to the back row. Foxx has that gift, but he keeps it reined in and makes Stacks a bore. Absolutely no one else in this cast is fit for a musical. Just compare Burnett’s “Little Girls” to Diaz’s: It’s like comparing Buster Keaton to Carrot Top. And you’re right about Wallis. She’s a sweet and talented kid, but she’s got the dancing grace of a broken roller skate and the singing voice of a munchkin with a head cold.
We’ve already determined that fans of Annie ’82 will no doubt loathe Annie 2014. But the biggest question I have to ask (and have no idea how to answer) is this: Will modern kids like it? Will the new remix of “Tomorrow” become the next “Let It Go”?
AN: Before I attempt to answer that question, I have to backtrack just a minute because we forgot to discuss Annie 2014’s biggest what-the-fuck moment. After Wallis sleepwalks her way through the “Opportunity” song-and-dance number, the second act ends on this twist: Annie can’t read. Yes, despite the fact that she attends school and carries a letter from her parents wherever she goes, Gluck and company decide to make her illiterate. Why? I have no earthly idea. It’s completely unnecessary. The kid’s a goddamn orphan with an adorable shelter dog (named after hurricane Sandy, natch) — you already have the audience’s sympathy, Gluck.
My best guess is that Annie ’14 is illiterate because it fits into the film’s overarching theme about the possibility of getting rich despite any obstacles. You see, in this movie, Annie doesn’t really need to know her ABCs. In the final scene, where she’s kidnapped by two ne’er-do-wells pretending to be her birth parents, she uses her Instagram skills to escape instead. See? Annie can get out of any predicament with good, old-fashioned street smarts and image-based smartphone apps! She doesn’t need literacy. Literacy is for suckers.
Now that I’m on the verge of having a brain hemorrhage recalling that terrible plot device, back to your question. I don’t know if kids will take to this remake of Annie. Sure, their gelatinous little minds don’t have the original for comparison, nor will they likely care about its casual racism and nepotistic origins. But even without that baggage, Annie is a bad movie. It’s boring as hell. And unlike Annie 1982 or modern-day hits like Frozen, there’s no magic in this film, no earworms that will get stuck in your head for days. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think there are going to be any stampedes at Toys “R” Us to get the new Will Stacks action figure any time soon.
Annie is easily one of the worst movies of the year. It’s dull, offensive, poorly acted, and dreadfully choreographed. I wish John Huston was still alive, so he could kick Will Smith in the balls for bastardizing the movie in the first place.
RI: Well, I believe we’ve made our case. I could go on about Annie’s illiteracy (revealed 40 minutes after we’ve watched her read her parents’ letter aloud) or how poor Sandy is barely an afterthought (they even ditch both Sandy songs). But I’d like to address the Fresh Prince for a moment.
I know there’s still greatness inside you, Will Smith. Remember when you had the balls to make out with Anthony Michael Hall in Six Degrees of Separation? Or that time you played Cassius Clay? That was cool.
But please, please, please stop producing these horrible movies for your kids. Sure, Willow got too old to play Annie by the time it was shot, but we all know you developed it around her. We didn’t want The Karate Kid. We sure as hell don’t want your upcoming Karate Kid 2. And after After Earth? You should have learned your lesson.
We know your kids are photogenic; they won the Pinkett-Smith genetic lottery. But they’re never gonna be you. They’ll never have your natural charisma. They’ll never have your swagger. They’ll never convincingly punch an alien. Hell, they’ll never be Jim West. Some celebrity parents refuse to shoehorn their kids into the business (or their religion). Take a cue from them.
Will, look at it this way: With these nepotistic productions, you have become Charles Foster Kane. And Willow and Jaden? They’re both your Susan. And you’re so blinded by your love that you can’t see they’re butchering the opera, nor understand why audiences are booing.
Great, now Will Smith just announced a remake of Citizen Kane starring Jaden as an Internet tycoon. Shit.