Aside from “Memory,” the signature tune in the musical “Cats,” few Broadway songs are more insufferable than “Tomorrow” from the 1977 smash “Annie.”
But watch how the 2.0 movie adaptation (please never speak of the 1982 John Huston version) handles the maudlin ballad:
The camera roams the streets of Manhattan, following 11-year-old Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis, the young Oscar nominee from “Beasts of the Southern Wild”). But as she sings, “The sun’ll come out tomorrow,” the moxie-charged moppet is primarily seen in reflection: in puddles, street signs and city bus windows.
“Annie” isn’t great, but at least it’s trying something different. For a movie clearly aimed at the preteen set, it offers a passable diversion. Albeit a rather materialistic one.
Gone are the New Deal politics and Depression-era setting. Gone is the raggedy orphanage and red-haired heroine. Instead, this Obama-era Annie lives in a foster home in Harlem with a handful of other girls.
She’s under the care of Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz, way over-the-top), a former pop singer still bitter about her failed career. Apparently, she was a founding member of C+C Music Factory of “Everybody Dance Now” fame, before getting booted prior to an “Arsenio Hall Show” performance. (A show bill in her apartment amusingly reveals the group was first called C+C+H Music Factory.)
Annie is still pining over her parents, who abandoned her at an Italian restaurant and left a note and half a locket as a sign they’ll someday return. On the way to her weekly stakeout of the place, she is saved from becoming a traffic casualty by Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), a cellphone billionaire mired in an unpopular campaign for mayor.
These heroics are inevitably uploaded to YouTube, so his advisers, the sweet Grace (Rose Byrne) and opportunistic Guy (Bobby Cannavale), invite Annie to his luxury penthouse as a photo op. But the workaholic Stacks only views this as a distraction.
“I haven’t been to Disneyland, but I don’t think they have a paperwork ride,” Annie says, trying to persuade him to loosen up.
Can Annie change the germaphobic, misanthropic Stacks into a more charitable guy? Bet your bottom dollar she can.
Remaking “Annie” is justified only if the corny material is freshened up. The mere casting of Wallis helps. If only the adorable star had nailed the role. She’s simply a stronger dramatic actress, which is apparent when she’s playing hurt or fearful. Unfortunately, most of “Annie” requires her to be peppy and carefree. That’s not the greatest fit for a performer lauded for her gritty naturalism.
It’s also anybody’s guess whether Wallis can actually sing. Her vocals during the musical numbers emit the unmistakable whiff of digital pitch correction, giving her voice a robotic quality (like listening to Stephen Hawking sing) that runs counter to her happy-go-lucky character.
Although Wallis and Diaz aren’t exactly right, Foxx and Byrne make up the difference. Foxx — never Mr. Warmth — uses his innate aloofness to the movie’s advantage. Plus, the actor who won an Oscar for playing Ray Charles can really sing. Likewise, Byrne (“Bridesmaids”) knows her way around a punch line. The Australian actress is warm and believable in this wish-fulfillment fantasy.
Filmmaker Will Gluck (“Friends With Benefits”) leans on opulent locations and busy camerawork to keep the energy up. The songs are also retooled to bring more of an urban edge to the square (but still pretty catchy) tunes by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin. The new arrangements seem inspired by musician Jay-Z, whose 1998 hit “Hard Knock Life” ingeniously sampled the “Annie” anthem. He also serves as producer.
The hardest knock on “Annie” is the apparent obsession with tech-heavy materialism. The film constantly implies that if enough money is thrown around, just about any problem can go away.
This worldview even filters down to the title character. By the end, Annie’s parents may still be out there, but she’s too enamored with her penthouse view to notice.
Rated PG | Time: 1:59