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'Annie' is the first live-action family musical in ages

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It isn't ''Little Awful Annie,'' as one critic suggests. But it's not a rebirth of the great musical tradition, either.

After all the publicity, and all the tales of inflated spending - up to $50 million by some reports - Annie turns out to be a reasonably entertaining movie. Adults might want to take a child along, with fresh eyes to appreciate the overblown settings and fantastic story twists. And children might want to have a grown-up in tow, to explain the ''New Deal'' that Daddy Warbucks and Franklin D. Roosevelt talk about so much. But viewers of all ages are likely to have a pretty good time.

Whatever happened to the great musical tradition, anyway? Hardly any musicals are made nowadays, and the few we do get are tricky, like ''All That Jazz,'' or revisionist, like ''New York, New York.'' Or both, like ''Pennies From Heaven.'' Based on the venerable comic strip and the hit Broadway show, ''Annie'' is the first live-action, all-family musical in ages. As such, it's considered a major commercial risk. But it's also a major opportunity to revitalize a type of innocent entertainment that has become rare.

This said, it's too bad ''Annie'' falls flat in a few departme.ts. Most disappointing is the climax, which reaches for suspense with a contrived chase on a railroad bridge - a pointless and prolonged sequence that neither thrills nor chills. More generally, the subplots are knitted too loosely into the film's fabric, and the screenplay has enough lapses from taste to earn a PG rating.

On the plus side, ''Annie'' strikes a neat balance between its extravagant story, its boisterous musical numbers, and its neat performances. Suspend your disbelief just a smidgen, and it's hard to resist the plot about a smart-alecky kid who rises from rags to riches on the strength of curly hair and sheer chutzpah. While few of the songs are memorable, they're sung and danced with an energy that borders on mania, and who cares if some of the hoofing looks like leftovers from ''Mary Poppins''?


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