Maybe now this prayer's the last one of it's kind

Maybe now this prayer’s
the last one of it’s kind

Any artistic outlet that one chooses to study begins the very same way – you learn the fundamentals. It feels boring, repetitious, and stodgy but the point is always the same. The point is that every artistic medium has rules, rules that have been carved into stone, and rules that will define whether your contribution to the art can keep up, let alone matter. It’s only by learning these rules that one can figure out which ones can be bent, and which ones can be broken.

Bending and breaking rules is what leads to truly lasting and revolutionary art. Absolute ignorance of the rules is what leads to incompetence.

The 2014 remake of ANNIE is the latter.

ANNIE is the story of Annie Bennett (Quvenzhané Wallis). Orphaned as a baby, Annie has been raised in a foster home under the care of Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz); a failed-rock-star foster-mother who sees every one of her wards as a way to collect a steady paycheque. Annie’s deepest desire is to be reunited with her birth parents. Since the only lead she has is a note written on the back of a restaurant bill, she waits outside of it every Friday in the hopes that they might go back to a familiar place for dinner.

One day while running to chase some boys being mean to a dog, Annie is pulled out of harm’s way by an industrialist named William Stacks (Jamie Foxx). Stacks is running for mayor of New York City and is followed every waking moment of the day by his campaign team, Grace (Rose Byrne) and Guy (Bobby Canavale). They are trying to get Stacks elected despite his knack for being gaffe-prone at every single photo-op. When he saves Annie though, his poll numbers begin to climb. It’s then that Grace and Guy suggest Stacks become a temporary guardian for her.

After putting the decision to Annie, she agrees – much to the chagrin of Hannigan, and still ever-hopeful that she can one day be reunited with her birth parents.
Annie 2014
There’s a funny push-pull where remakes and musical revivals are concerned. To remake a film, as one talented actor recently put it to me, one is “digging up a corpse”. The medium is finite, with stories meant to be told once and be done with. Musicals on the other hand are specifically meant to be replayed, re-arranged, re-interpreted and indeed revived. So when ANNIE was circled as a property to be dusted off, it held possibilities. Everything from a new dynamic to the cast to setting the story in present day felt like it could make the story just that little bit more tangible and transcend the label of “cash-grab” that seems to apply itself to most remakes.

Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell this to the filmmakers, because they seem to have felt that their job was done once the cast was set.

ANNIE is technically inept like no other musical I have seen in the modern era.

The centrepiece of any musical production – be it stage or screen – is the musical numbers themselves. They can be subtle or showy, solos or spectacles, but they must always seem crafted, measured, and lively. In film, this is usually achieved by explicit direction, photography, and editing – and on all three criteria, ANNIE fails miserably.

None of these elements of filmmaking seem to be able to hear the rhythm of the songs they are trying to capture, none of them seem to be able to get in-tune with the emotions conveyed in the lyrics. In a well-executed musical number, it often feels like the camera is a dance partner all its own, moving with its own set of steps. In ANNIE, the camera has two left feet and a bad hip. The musical numbers lack energy, staging, and resonance…all of which were found in abundance in the original version.

Further to that point is the singing, all of which was top-tier in most other productions of this show. While nobody’s singing in ANNIE is particularly atrocious, it’s never given the proper production it deserves. Vocals are often drowned out in the mix, with the characters struggling to be heard over their own backing tracks. Even if you don’t want to stack your cast with established veterans of musical theatre, why in the world would you make their jobs harder and cause your audience to strain for weak vocals?

All of this lack of execution leads to a fatal flaw for this movie musical; the songs aren’t breaks in the plot to allow the characters to express themselves, they’re just characters singing for no reason. Allow me to explain. In a musical like Annie, when the characters break into song, it’s less about driving the plot than it is putting an exclamation point on a particular detail. It’s like a home run trot – for all intents and purposes, the story isn’t being told in this moment and there is nothing wrong with this. However, if these moments lack the panache that defines them as exclamation points, they make no sense. They stop being an expression of hope, love, frustration, or fear. Instead, they are people randomly breaking into song in the middle of a crowded room – and that’s weird.

The film actually tries to make fun of it with Miss Hannigan pointing out that her foster children break into song all the time for no reason at all. Unfortunately that joke doesn’t work, since it only serves to underline that every character in this film seems to be breaking into song for no reason at all.

Ultimately, none of these technical flaws should hold a whole lot of bearing on ANNIE’s success, because like every other iteration of Annie that has come before, this is a story aimed at children. Children don’t care about technique, they don’t care about how well a film represents a genre, and they don’t even care whether the actors in their film can sing without the aid of ProTools – they only want to be entertained. However, the children at my screening were far from entertained. They checked out after “Hard Knock Life” and seemed unfazed by anything else Annie had to offer.

This could have been the start of something great – it could have introduced a long-lost property to a whole new generation of fans, and brought a whole new audience to a genre. Instead it is a colossal misfire, and an unfortunate waste of time.

Matineescore: 1/2 ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
What did you think? Please leave comments with your thoughts and reactions on ANNIE.