With so little in life to be sure of, it’s comforting how Hollywood can always be relied upon to remind us of the inevitability of the remake. That, and the equally predictable certainty that said remake will look, at least upon first glance, like an absolutely dreadful idea. It's nice to know you can depend on people.
Sony Pictures released the first trailer for the "contemporary vision" re-imagined adaptation of the 1977 Tony Award-winning Broadway classic, Annie, this week, and from the look of things, Sony publicists would do well to steer clear of the use of any and all derivations of the word "imagination" when talking about this Jay-Z/Will Smith/Jada Pinkett-Smith produced musical.
I'm not a classicist who thinks the 1982 John Huston film was a flawless gem that shouldn't be touched (although, as lumbering as I thought it was at the time, it does seem to grow better with age), nor do I begrudge youngsters unfamiliar with either that film or the 1999 TV-movie adaptation (demographically, this movie's best bet) an Annie they can claim as their own. My main problem is that (and, based on less than three-minutes worth of footage from a film likely to run at least two hours ... how valid is any of this, anyway?) this movie looks insanely terrible.
Granted, Oscar-nominee Quvenzhané Wallis looks thoroughly adorable as Annie, and I've always liked the show's musical score by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, but the cringe-worthy Auto-Tune, funkified musical arrangements in the trailer evoke the worst of Glee and The Disney Channel; the nondescript, colorfully-dressed cast of orphans (now Foster kids) look like they stepped out of that Spotlightz Acting Camp skit from SNL; the bits of "humor" from the screenplay by Aline Bosh McKenna & Will Gluck (what happened to earlier-touted Emma Thompson's screenplay?) gives credence to their reputations as writers of some of the worst rom-coms ever made; and apparently Cameron Diaz (as Miss Hannigan) was cast specifically so she could reprise her character from 2011's Bad Teacher ... in toto.
In addition, the trailer for Annie also provides brief hints that there will be absolutely ZERO chemistry between Annie and Jamie Foxx's cell phone mogul and mayoral candidate, Will Stacks (at one point to be named Benjamin Stacks ... I wonder where they got the inspiration for his new name? ), and Miss Hannigan's story arc will have a happy ending and a love interest (Screenwriting 101 guess: a manipulative fake-out by Blue Jasmine's Bobby Cannavale as Stack's political adviser, leading to the real thing by way of teddy-bearish David Zayas as a bodega owner secretly crushing on Miss H). Absent, from this first trailer at least, is any trace of Dorian Missick and Tracie Thom (Rent) who play Annie's false parents and who get to perform the song, "Easy Street" (which I hope to God hasn't been changed to something like "E-Z Street"). One thing to be sure, those who see the trailer will either think Annie looks totally awesome or totally execrable; it all looks so ordinary I can't imagine a middle-ground here.
Here's the plot synopsis provided by the Annie website: Academy Award® nominee Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) stars as Annie, a young, happy foster kid who's also tough enough to make her way on the streets of New York in 2014. Originally left by her parents as a baby with the promise that they'd be back for her someday, it's been a hard knock life ever since with her mean foster mom Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). But everything's about to change when the hard-nosed tycoon and New York mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) - advised by his brilliant VP, Grace (Rose Byrne) and his shrewd and scheming campaign adviser, Guy (Bobby Cannavale) - makes a thinly-veiled campaign move and takes her in. Stacks believes he's her guardian angel, but Annie's self-assured nature and bright, sun-will-come-out-tomorrow outlook on life just might mean it's the other way around.
Oh, and since none of the songs from the original score are be eligible for an Oscar nomination and one of Annie's biggest marketing hooks has been the participation of Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter as both producer and musical supervisor, I'm sure we all can expect a new song or two.
Annie is the musical feature film debut for director Will Gluck (Friends with Benefits), and as yet, no one has stepped forward to take credit/blame for Annie's choreography, which, should it deviate too significantly from standard, musical comedy dance, will most assuredly contribute to making Annie appear dated a week after it opens. (When Richard Attenborough's 1985 screen adaptation of A Chorus Line jettisoned Michael Bennett's timeless musical theater choreography for Jeffrey Hornaday's 1980s flashdance moves, the film became an instant timepiece.)
Slated for release on December 19, 2014 with only Night at the Museum 3 for competition (but a week before Rob Marshall's adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods hits theaters), good or bad, Annie should clean up during a season when parents are desperate to find any sort of diversion to keep restless, home-on-vacation kids from being underfoot.
In the end, perhaps we can all agree to disagree as to whether Annie looks terrible or terrific ... and just be grateful Willow Smith grew too old for the part.