Hollywood's upcoming remake of one of Broadway's most beloved musicals will finally be seen by a new crop of moviegoers this Christmas — but it's not your grandparents' version of "Annie."
For starters, the story itself (based on the landmark 1977 Broadway production, which was originally inspired by a 1924 comic strip) does not take place in Depression-Era New York City but is set in present-day cosmopolitan Manhattan. Also, there's new music from the hit-making singer/songwriter SIA. And of course, there's the cast — led by history-making Academy Award nominee Quvenzhane Wallis (of "Beasts of the Southern Wild" fame) and also including Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx, Emmy Award winner Bobby Cannavale, Rose Byrne and Cameron Diaz.
"We've changed it quite a bit, and what we kept was all the good parts and the parts that we all love about Annie and we've updated it to 2014," the movie's co-writer/director/producer Will Gluck told Playbill.com.
"I remember going to see the play with Katie Finneran, who's a friend of mine, in it and I hear them singing about Herbert Hoover and FDR and I look around and I see these six-year-old kids and I think, 'How do they know what's going on here?' and 'Do they have any idea who the man in the wheelchair is talking about when he says Hoover and Hooverville?' So we updated it to take place now, so people still get the benefit of the great story and the music but a little more contemporary."
"There's no President Barack Obama, no politics in this movie," Gluck deadpanned, then added that "the Daddy Warbucks character, played by Jamie Foxx, is a millionaire running for Mayor of New York City."
Gluck, a New York City native himself, came to the project after a couple of years of false starts. Produced by Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, James Lassiter and Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, the new version of "Annie" was announced in 2011 and originally had Willow Smith attached to star. Academy Award-winning actress and writer Emma Thompson was originally involved with the screenwriting process, and "Glee" co-creator Ryan Murphy was reportedly considered to helm the movie. But when it was all said and done, Gluck, responsible for comedies such "Easy A" and "Friends With Benefits," became the man for the job — even if it was terrain he was not known for.
"This is my first musical and yeah, there's a big learning curve," he shared of the ambitious undertaking. "I was a fan of musicals growing up. The challenge was making sure that we made a really good movie. I didn't look at it as making a musical. I may have looked at it as making a movie so everything had to kind of all make sense together: the script and the music and the comedy and the characters. So I always said, 'If there were no songs, the movie will make sense and you'd like it.' And that was my challenge to everybody."
In most recent years, Hollywood has had somewhat of an inconsistent record with movie musicals. Although 2012's powerful remake of "Les Miserables," starring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe, was a critical success and grossed over $440 million internationally, 2005's ill-fated adaptation of "The Producers," starring Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick and Uma Thurman, failed miserably at the worldwide box office bringing in less than $40 million. Other notable musical remakes have been hits and misses over the past decade: 2006's "Dreamgirls" ($103 million domestic), 2007's "Hairspray" ($118 million domestic), 2008's "Mamma Mia" ($144 million), 2009's "Nine" ($19.6 million domestic), 2012's "Rock of Ages" ($38.5 million domestic) and this year's "Jersey Boys" ($47 million domestic).
And Gluck's version of the fabled musical isn't Annie's first time to the celluloid rodeo either.
On the heels of its hit run on Broadway, the Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin-crafted Tony Award-winning tuner was first adapted into a film in 1982 directed by John Huston and starring Aileen Quinn, Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Tim Curry, Bernadette Peters, Ann Reinking and Geoffrey Holder, respectively. Released via Columbia Pictures, the beloved movie, nominated for two Academy Awards, was a box-office hit despite mixed reviews. In 1999, Disney produced a made-for-television film version directed by Rob Marshall, which starred Alicia Morton, Victor Garber, Kathy Bates, Alan Cumming and Audra McDonald. This new "Annie" is quite different from the others due to the fact that its lead is African American — a first for the longtime franchise. Wallis, who starred in the 2012 critically-acclaimed film "Beasts of The Southern Wild," garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. At the age of nine, she became the youngest nominee ever in that category.
Gluck plays down the racial component of the casting choice and focuses more on the talent: "The people in the press have been saying, 'Wow, there's an African-American Annie, and why [would] you make such a change?' and my response to that is, 'This is an 11-year-old girl who has to shoulder the entire movie with her music, with her singing, with her acting. How many times in history do we have an 11-year-old girl who has been nominated for an Oscar? So we were extremely lucky that she was available and that she existed and that we didn't have to find someone. 'The Beasts of the Southern Wild' found her for us, and we were really lucky for that."
But can she sing?
"You have to be able to sing and she can really sing," he answered. "Quvenzhane sings a song called 'Opportunity' in The Guggenheim Museum, and she just brings the house down."
Another aspect about the movie the ambitious auteur was excited about was filming in The Big Apple.
"It's completely contemporary. We shot the whole thing entirely in New York City," Gluck explained. "We were lucky to shoot a lot of stuff near where I grew up. I always like to shoot locations for locations. I don't like to double anything, so we shot Harlem for Harlem, and we were lucky to be the only people to shoot in the new World Trade Center. We shot on the 50th floor. We built an entire apartment in there." "It was crazy because you know New Yorkers, they don't care if you're shooting a movie," he added. "We had to shoot 'Tomorrow' for three straight days on 116th and Lexington. And that was interesting because people wanted to go about their business more than they wanted to see 'Annie.' But everyone embraced us in the end."
Gluck is ecstatic about the finished product and is looking forward to the world seeing "Annie."
"It's a message that the original 'Annie' had; it's hope, it's family and it's dreaming. There's these two people: this foster kid and this kind of cold guy that thinks he doesn't need a family. Sometimes family is out there, and often it's not where you think it is. And it's a great message for Christmas and for families to kind of get behind."