Few traditional Hollywood musicals are made today, and the ones that do get funded are released almost exclusively at Christmas. That’s because musicals require an entirely different mindset from audiences than other types of films. Otherwise realistic characters suddenly bursting into song to express their innermost feelings? It’s hard to think of anything more old-fashioned and out-of-sync with today’s mostly reality-based pop culture — but it might work during the holidays.
Director Will Gluck (Friends With Benefits) wants to bridge that cultural divide with the latest film adaptation of 1970s hit Broadway musical Annie. He cast Houma native and Beasts of the Southern Wild star Quvenzhané Wallis in the title role, and sets the film in a modern-day Manhattan that no longer supports a middle class. But the opportunities represented by those choices — mainly to put a new spin on the original story’s gulf between the haves and the have-nots — are squandered by a film that’s too timid to address today’s world in a meaningful way.
That said, Annie isn’t as awful as its current press would have you believe. Local hero Wallis makes a charismatic Annie, and the film has a light-and-breezy quality that contrasts nicely with this season’s somber and self-important film dramas. And it hits the bull’s-eye for its target pre-teen audience. Annie’s real crime is that every singing voice in the film is Auto-Tuned into oblivion. The voices are so digitally altered that it’s impossible to tell whether Wallis and her co-stars can even carry a tune — which of course makes you suspect that they can’t. It’s one thing to expect modern audiences to adopt a musical for the holidays, and it’s another to deprive them of the natural voices that might have made it all worthwhile.