“Annie” Casting Review

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Rebooting a movie has become so common in this day and age the process can basically be broken down into a couple key steps, including (but not limited to): reworking the narrative so it offers something different than its predecessor, changing up the cast to inject some diversity, and modernizing the story and themes to better reflect the current times. Although this process is relatively easy for normal narratives, things can get a bit more complicated when trying to reboot a musical movie, specifically Annie. Remaking musicals can be tricky–not only does it entail reworking the story and characters, but one must also address the music. Musicals are obviously created with specific songs and routines in mind, so filmmakers need to be mindful when thinking about re-tweaking this. Thankfully, you don’t have to worry too much about the new Annie remake as it mostly succeeds what it sets out to do, and offers a delightful, family-friendly romp.

Although Annie has had several incarnations during its lifetime–it was first a Broadway play in 1977 before hitting the big screen in 1982, and then a made-for-TV movie for Disney in 1999, this latest version is unlike any you’ve seen so far. Since it’s been a good 15 years since an Annie last graced a big or small screen, this latest version sets the story in contemporary New York City. The characters and story remain largely the same, and focuses on a young foster kid (not to be confused with an orphan), named “Annie”, who forms a relationship with an older wealthy gentleman who grows, over the course of the narrative, to be a father figure to the girl. Thankfully, the film’s setting isn’t the only modern aspect of this movie, and the cast itself also accurately reflects current media expectations for diversity. This can be readily seen in the film’s two leads–Annie and “Will Stacks”, played by actors Quvenzhané Wallis and Jamie Foxx, respectively. This is the first time these roles have been played by non-Caucasian actors on screen, and hopefully the success of this film will encourage other studios to practice this same kind of diverse casting–especially when it comes to rebooting already familiar franchises.

When it comes to talented young actresses under the age of 15, you can’t really go wrong with Quvenzhané Wallis who, prior to Annie, was best known for her role as “Hushpuppy” in the 2012 critically-acclaimed film Beasts of the Southern Wild, which garnered her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Wallis also happens to be the youngest actress to date to have ever received that nomination, which readily puts her at the head of the pack for her age bracket. After Beasts of the Southern Wild, Wallis went on to have a supporting role in Steve McQueen’s award winning film 12 Years a Slave, and now with Annie, the young actress has been keeping good company and making wise use of her momentum. Her role as the titular Annie is also a fun change of pace for the actress, and allows her to showcase a completely different side of her personality and talent. Wallis’ Annie is spunky and sassy like her predecessors, but she also adds an extra layer of optimism and maturity to really make the character her own.

Considering that this film is indeed still a musical, Foxx is a fantastic choice for handsome and single billionaire Will Stacks (alternatively known as “Mr. Warbucks” in previous Annie incarnations). Similar to actors like Anna Kendrick and Meryl Streep, Foxx was already an established working actor before he showed the world his musical abilities in the 2004 musical biopic Ray, playing the title character of “Ray Charles”. That film netted Foxx an Oscar for Best Actor Performance, making him a no-brainer casting choice in the musical movie Dreamgirls, which went on to win numerous awards in its own right. Since then, Foxx has continued not only to star in A-list projects, but he also readily embraces his musicality and continues his work as a singer and songwriter–did I mention he’s also a Grammy Award-winning musician? Because of this history, Foxx is a great choice to play opposite Wallis, and besides lending his sexy voice and R&B sensibilities, he’s a gifted and seasoned actor that Wallis can benefit from playing opposite of. Strong actors tend to bring out the best performances from their peers, which is especially the case for younger actors.

Although the film has been praised for its choice of casting in the two leads, the diversity doesn’t stop with just Annie and Will. Annie’s fellow foster kids are a cute and well-mixed bunch that offer a far more realistic sampling of the plethora of backgrounds and ethnicities living in New York. Young actresses Zoe Margaret Colletti, Nicolette Pierini, Eden Duncan-Smith, and Amanda Troya play foster kids “Tessie”, “Mia”, “Isabella”, and “Pepper”, respectively. Like most of the cast, these foster kids are loosely based off of the “orphans” from the previous versions of Annie, with Tessie and Pepper specifically sharing the same names as their previous counterparts. The character of Pepper in particular keeps true to her roots: still the bossiest of the bunch, and still likes Annie the least. Regardless, all four young actresses are talented up and coming artists in their own rights, and all have bright careers ahead of them.

Other familiar characters from the Annie franchise that have been reincarnated here are Will’s secretary/assistant “Grace”, and the foster parent “Miss Hannigan”. Aussie actress Rose Byrne plays Grace, and, like her predecessors, she readily takes a shining to Wallis’ Annie and eventually becomes a romantic interest for Will. Byrne can now add movie musical to her already diverse resume, since she easily oscillates from starring in R-rated comedies like Neighbors to dramas and thrillers like Insidious and The Place Beyond the Pines. Miss Hannigan is played by Cameron Diaz, who plays the role of an alcoholic, washed-up starlet quite effectively.

Even though Bobby Cannavale’s “Guy” doesn’t share the same name as an already-established Annie character, he seems to be inspired by the “Rooster” character, and thus acts as an eventual antagonist to Annie and her cohorts. Cannavale’s Guy is the campaign advisor for Will’s mayoral race who quickly reveals that he’s only in it for the money. Cannavale excels in these darkly comedic-type characters, and it’s a shame his character doesn’t get any fun musical numbers in the film–especially given his extensive theater and Broadway background. Amusingly, Cannavale just starred opposite Byrne in the indie comedy Adult Beginners. Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje and David Zayas round out the rest of the supporting cast. Akinnouye-Agbaje plays “Nash”, Will’s loyal and trusted driver/employee, and the role is a far lighter part for the actor mostly known for playing villains and insidious characters. Zayas from Showtime’s Dexter plays “Lou”, a local shop owner who is not only friends with Annie, but also has the hots for Miss Hannigan.

Compared to other film franchises that are rebooted far too often, the Annie franchise has mostly succeeded due to its ample spacing throughout the years. The Broadway show premiere in the 70s while film and TV adaptations hit the screens in the 80s and 90s. Because these incarnations are literally decades apart, it allows each version to really capture its own generation of fans, while also drawing upon the classic themes and fans of the original story. 2014’s Annie is the millennial generation’s version, and it brings with it much of the charm and thematic sensibilities of its predecessors while throwing on a new coat of paint in the process. If you’re not familiar with the story of “Annie”, be sure to give this one a try.

 

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Kyle