'Annie' updates the classic story with cell phones, political campaigns

'Annie' stars Quvenzhané Wallis as a foster kid who catches the attention of a cell phone billionaire who's running for mayor. The film co-stars Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, and Rose Byrne.

Barry Wetcher/Columbia Pictures/AP
'Annie' stars Quvenzhané Wallis.

Forget the curly red hair and Depression-era orphans.

The hit musical "Annie" moves firmly into the 21st century in a new film version where the star is a street-smart African-American foster kid who rides New York buses, and her savior is a black cell phone billionaire who will stop at nothing to become mayor.

"Tomorrow" is still the signature song, but the "Annie," produced by a team that includes rapper Jay-Z and actor Will Smith, is all about today.

Quvenzhané Wallis, 11, who two years ago became the youngest person to win a Best Actress Oscar nomination, plays the foster kid living a hard-knock life in the multiethnic version of the Tony-winning 1977 Broadway musical that opens in U.S. movie theaters on Friday.

Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks is transformed from a 1930s industrialist into the workaholic telecoms tycoon Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx), while actor Bobby Cannavale adds a topical, satirical edge as his scheming political campaign adviser.

The musical's famous songs get a pop music makeover, sprinkled with the sounds of street jackhammers and trash can lids, and Annie's fake parents are found in mass reality TV-style auditions.

Cannavale said the updates bring the beloved musical "to a contemporary American audience which is one of many different colors, shapes, sizes and ethnicities."

"It is really exciting that kids can go and see themselves now in this movie in a way they were not able to before," Cannavale told Reuters

Cameron Diaz plays mean foster mother Miss Hannigan as a failed pop star.

"This is a woman who thinks that to be loved she has to be famous, which is kind of an epidemic in our society right now," Diaz said.

Wallis made a big splash as an enigmatic child survivalist in the 2012 independent movie "Beasts of the Southern Wild." But like much of the rest of the "Annie" cast, she had little previous experience as a singer and dancer and said she had not seen the stage musical or any of its many TV or film remakes.

"I saw the musical after (filming) because they didn't want it to interfere with the way I filmed it," Wallis explained.

The way director Will Gluck filmed it, however, has won scant approval from U.S. movie critics. The Hollywood Reporter called the film a "toxic mess," while Variety deemed it "overblown and undernourished."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.