It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The new "Annie" is getting kicked up and down Critic's Row like an unwanted orphan, but if you see it with a big audience you'll experience an emotion entirely different from the one being described in many reviews: unabashed cheer.
This new version of the Broadway musical is the first since the 1999 ABC TV version, and the only theatrical movie version since the 1982 John Huston picture that starred Aileen Quinn, Albert Finney and Carol Burnett. (The '99 TV version is excellent, by the way—well worth seeking out; it's easily the best thing director Rob Marshall has been associated with.) Judged purely in terms of its production and direction, this latest "Annie" is inferior to its predecessors; director Will Gluck, of TV's "The Marshalls" and "Andy Richter Controls the Universe," has envisioned it as a repository of 2014 music and musical performance cliches, the actors cavorting through indifferently composed widescreen vistas, and singing in voices that have been heavily AutoTuned.
And yet a quality of willfully naive optimism—of repeatedly neglected and disappointed goodness hauling itself up off the pavement, summoning a smile, and singing out—shines through anyway, and you might or might not be amazed to learn that it cancels out the movie's many flaws. Bottom line: this "Annie" is a gigantic smiley face, arriving on screens at the tail end of one of the most miserable years in recent American history—a year whose uninterrupted flood of not just bad but national-identity-challenging, often racially toxic news made even some of the most optimistic among us want to crawl into bed, pull the covers up, and stay there until the calendar rolled over.
And now here's little Quvenzhané Wallis, the youngest Oscar nominee in history, stepping into shoes that have previous been filled only by red-haired Caucasian girls, and striding through a present day New York City enclosed and in some ways superseded by the virtual world of the Internet and cell phones and satellite locators, singing and dancing opposite an African-American version of Daddy Warbucks, a self-made cell phone magnate played by Jamie Foxx—and it's still "Annie," a deeply American story about reinvention and striving, survival and dreams.