“Annie,” the Depression era-set Broadway musical previously adapted into a 1982 film and 1999 TV movie, gets its biggest makeover yet with the 2014 film version of the story.
Houma native Quvenzhané Wallis, the 11-year-old actress who received an Oscar nomination for her debut performance in 2012’s Louisiana-set drama “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” stars as the remake’s nearly always optimistic Annie.
Wallis, showing that her leading role in “Beasts” was no fluke, is a natural in the title role. She doesn’t act; she just is.
The actress also has easy rapport with her principal co-star, Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx. Foxx plays Will Stacks, a cellphone company billionaire and candidate in the race for mayor of New York City.
Stacks’ political aspirations are threatened because he’s anything but a people person. Taking Annie in becomes his continuous photo op. But Annie is no chump. “So, what’s the hustle?” she asks during their first meeting.
Unlike the workaholic Stacks, foster kid Annie is happy. Whatever side of the street she’s running or dancing on is the sunny of the street.
Annie keeps her outlook bright despite her abandonment at an Italian restaurant when she was a small child. Her parents left a note, saying they’d return some day to reclaim her. Annie treasures the note and hangs outside of the restaurant every Friday, waiting for her missing parents. Poignant stuff and another example of this child’s refusal to give up.
Annie lives in a room with four other foster children, all of them wards of the nasty Miss Hannigan. Cameron Diaz abandons her actress’ vanity, diving into this mess of a mean lady. As bitter and spiteful as Hannigan is, she’s a clown villainess.
“Clean up like your life depends on it!” Hannigan barks. “Because it does!”
The woozy command introduces signature “Annie” song “It’s a Hard Knock Life.” Wallis and the other actresses playing Hannigan’s foster children turn work into a song-and-dance ensemble number. It’s a performance of energy and spirit, but also a tad too choreographed, too tight.
At two hours, “Annie” is 30 minutes longer than the conventional 90-minute mark for children’s films. Director and co-writer Will Gluck keeps the tempo up, but it’s still too long. A collection of mostly not so amusing cameos contribute to the movie’s length. Patricia Clarkson, Rihanna, Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher and “Saturday Night Live’s” Bobby Moynihan are among the pop-up celebrities.
Working from the Broadway “Annie” musical score and book, Gluck and his co-writer, Aline Brosh McKenna, add modern touches to the story via Stacks’ mobile phone business, high-tech penthouse home and a few flights on his company helicopter.
Newly composed songs add more modernity. Foxx, after all, is a genuinely talented singer and recording artist. Wallis, an actress who loves to sing, holds her own in duets and ensembles with Foxx and other cast members.
The film’s updating ultimately becomes a neutral element. The original core and characters remain the heart of the picture. This latest “Annie” could have been told more efficiently, and with more depth, but with Wallis and Foxx leading the cast, it’s an engaging enough, if not memorable, remake.