Updating the story from the Great Depression to the Great Recession, this new ‘Annie’ is a candied corporate fantasia. Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) is now a plucky New York foster kid who, by chance, becomes the live-in ward of an antisocial billionaire (Jamie Foxx, terrific as mayoral candidate Will Stacks). At first, Stacks is literally allergic to poor people – ‘germaphobic’ – but after singing some songs with Annie, he learns that the 99 percent might just be human after all.
As a character, Annie has always embodied the sense of hope that greases the wheels of capitalism. And although Wallis displays the same exuberant attitude as she did in ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’, her character’s robotic happiness makes it hard to tell if she’s bullish or brainwashed. The shrillness of the musical’s familiar numbers doesn’t help, but at least the lower register of the film’s R&B-inflected new songs gives Wallis the chance to prove that her talent is real, just misapplied. Meanwhile, Cameron Diaz’s performance as the evil Miss Hannigan is so big it can probably be seen from space.
The most current thing about ‘Annie’ is how it cheers on family values while celebrating products as the only true form of modern connection: Annie’s friends get mobile phones instead of parents. The casting deserves praise for illustrating that old racial prejudices can be overturned by new movies, but this ‘Annie’ doesn’t speak to the kids of today so much as to their parents’ wallets.