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Annie (2014): Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Annie (2014) movie poster Annie

Theatrical Release: December 19, 2014 / Running Time: 118 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Will Gluck / Writers: Will Gluck, Aline Brosh McKenna (screenplay); Thomas Meehan (musical stage play book), Charles Strouse (musical stage play music), Martin Charnin (musical stage play lyrics)

Cast: Jamie Foxx (William Randolph Stacks), Quvenzhané Wallis (Annie Bennett), Rose Byrne (Grace Farrell), Bobby Cannavale (Guy Gamberling), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Nash), David Zayas (Lou), Cameron Diaz (Miss Colleen Hannigan), Zoe Margaret Colletti (Tessie Dutchess), Nicolette Pierini (Mia Putnam), Eden Duncan-Smith (Isabella Sullivan), Amanda Troya (Pepper Ulster), Dorian Missick (Annie's "Dad"), Tracie Thoms (Annie's "Mom"), Mike Biribiglia (Social Services Inspector), Stephanie Kurtzuba (Mrs. Kovacevic), Peter Van Wagner (Harold Gray), Ray Iannicelli (Waiter at Domani), Michael J. Fox (Himself), Sia Furler (Animal Care & Control Volunteer), Mila Kunis (Andrea Alvin), Ashton Kutcher (Simon Goodspeed), Rihanna (Moon Goddess), Scarlett Benchley (Fish Goddess) / Uncredited: Patricia Clarkson (Focus Group Woman), Bobby Moynihan (Guy in Bar)

Songs: "Overture", "Maybe", "It's the Hard Knock Life", "Tomorrow", "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here", "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile", "Little Girls", "The City's Yours", "Opportunity", "Easy Street", "Who Am I?", "I Don't Need Anything", "Tomorrow/I Don't Need Anything"

Buy Annie from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HDDVDInstant Video

Given that a less than sacred original film is a remake's most promising foundation for success, the good but hardly outstanding nature of 1982's Annie ought to have bred some hope for a new movie based on the same Broadway musical
and Little Orphan Annie comic strip. Instead, 2014's Annie generated cynicism from conception. That's because it was developed by Will Smith as a vanity project for his then-preteen daughter Willow. Hollywood nepotism of the highest order, those origins led even those not crazy about the John Huston-directed '82 movie to sharpen their claws and brace for the worst.

Willow Smith ended up dropping out of the project, shunning the spotlight that had treated her parents, her older brother Jaden, and herself as the singer of the Platinum single "Whip My Hair" so well. That eliminated the nepotism angle and paved the way for a more talent-based and age-appropriate casting choice, one that perhaps inevitably assigned the title role to Quvenzhané Wallis, whose work in Beasts of the Southern Wild made her at 9½ the youngest person ever nominated for a competitive acting Academy Award.

Though her musical abilities were thus unknown and the extent of acting involved in her Oscar-nominated performance unclear, Wallis seemed as qualified as any young actress to give Annie an African American makeover for a new generation.

Billionaire mogul Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) isn't completely comfortable with having foster kid Annie Bennett (Quvenzhané Wallis) stay with him in "Annie."

In the present day, cheery 10-year-old Annie Bennett (Wallis) has bounced around a number of Harlem foster homes. Her current situation is less than ideal as one of five orphan girls living with Miss Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz), an unpleasant, alcoholic never-was still bitter at being fired from C + C Music Factory and Hootie and the Blowfish before those acts made it big in the 1990s. Annie remains optimistic that she will one day reunite with her birth parents; her Friday tradition is to wait at the Italian restaurant where she was abandoned and hope Mom and Dad return for some cannoli.

Annie's life changes when she is pulled from the path of an oncoming van by Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx). Caught on cell phone camera by bystander, the rescue story goes viral for more than just the usual human interest. Stacks, this film's Daddy Warbucks, is a billionaire bigwig in telecommunications. He's also a candidate in New York City's upcoming mayoral race and the incident provides him with a much-needed boost in opinion polling. To help their chances in the election even more, Stacks' trusted, not entirely scrupled campaign manager (Bobby Cannavale) decides that letting Annie live with him temporarily would do wonders for improving the germaphobe candidate's image and shedding the prevalent notion that he is out of touch with the public.

And so, Annie gets to move into Stacks' extravagant, technologically supercharged penthouse apartment. Her needs there are largely attended to by Stacks' personal assistant, the sweet, caring, moral, and shy Grace (Rose Byrne). While Annie gets to discover a world of opportunity heretofore unknown to her, loner Stacks has his heart opened and his priorities reordered.

Cameron Diaz puts her own trashy imprint on Miss Hannigan, a role previously played by Carol Burnett.

Annie has no difficulty exceeding lowered expectations. It may not improve upon the 1982 movie, but it does provide a suitable update, bringing the Great Depression tale into modern times with exuberant contemporary cinema techniques,
a multicultural cast, and a musical sensibility more in line with today's pop tastes. It's pretty much guaranteed that if you hold the original Broadway musical and/or its first filming in high regard, you will not prefer this modernization. At the same time, you probably won't abhor this new interpretation, which at every instance is better in execution than it sounds on paper.

Three original songs are added to the original Broadway production's numbers by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin. You may have trouble distinguishing the old from the new, because the former are reinvented with new arrangements by Australian singer-songwriter Sia and pop producer Greg Kurstin. You'll certainly recognize "Tomorrow" and "Hard Knock Life", the original show's most enduring tunes. But each is reworked to meet modern tastes and the cast's wide range of vocal talent. "Hard Knock" especially resembles the '90s hip-hop rendition it was given by Jay-Z, who is but one of eight credited producers on this film. The results are generally all right, even if the recordings are often not perfectly synchronized with the visuals and make extensive use of processing and Auto-Tune. No amount of either nor overloud instrumentation can hide the fact that Diaz can't sing at all. But she's hardly the first movie star to reveal that while inviting comparison to far more capable stage performers who have previously held the same roles.

For having no background in musical theatre, director and co-writer Will Gluck (Easy A, Friends with Benefits) proves he's up to the genre's challenges. He crafts something that is technically ambitious, visually fulfilling, and fairly creative. The updates that he and accomplished co-writer Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses) bring to the nearly 40-year-old source material, including the introduction of a literacy subplot, are pretty smart, productive, and compatible with the story. The scribes largely avoid the crude, lowbrow content you typically find in live-action family films. Gluck has also made the connections to call in some celebrity cameos, from A-listers (Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, and Rihanna acting in a sci-fi movie-within-a-movie directed by the 21 Jump Street and Lego Movie duo) to the eclectic (Patricia Clarkson, Michael J. Fox).

Not quite the holiday season attraction Sony envisioned, Annie still managed to perform well in theaters, grossing $86 million domestically and $135 M worldwide on a reasonable $65 M budget. The film did draw two Golden Globe nominations, one for Original Song and, more surprisingly, Wallis for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical (perhaps making up for her Beasts snub from them). It also earned two Razzie nominations, "winning" for Worst Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel and "Diaz losing" for Worst Supporting Actress.

Shy, saintly personal assistant Grace (Rose Byrne) dresses to impress Will Stacks.

Annie (2014) is now available to own on DVD and in the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack reviewed here.

Annie (2014) Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English, French), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish, Descriptive Video Service), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish, Descriptive Video Service), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English and Spanish
Release Date: March 17, 2015
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $38.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($30.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

As you expect for a major new studio film, especially a Sony one, Annie looks great on Blu-ray. The 2.40:1 transfer is sharp, colorful, and pristine. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack also brims with life, showcasing much bass during certain energetic musical numbers.

Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) sings the deleted song "Something Was Missing" while carrying a sleeping Annie home. Quvenzhané Wallis cutely holds the clapboard at the start of the bloopers reel.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with an audio commentary by Will Gluck. He is full of information and, even without someone to talk to, reasonably easy to listen to, as he acknowledges the input of many cast and crew members and points out some fun details you may have missed.

The all-HD video side kicks off with the deleted song "Something Was Missing" (2:35), performed by Will Stacks in the company of a sleeping Annie on the subway, on the walk home, and in a bed tuck-in.

Next is the obligatory bloopers reel (3:27), which sets goofs, blunders, and tomfoolery to "Hard Knock Life."

"I think I'm Gonna Like It Here" is one of five songs given sing-along/karaoke treatment. "A Day on Set with Quvenzhané" finds the Oscar-nominated actress enjoying time between takes with Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne.

Five songs are given the Sing-Along treatment (14:27): "Hard Knock Life", "Tomorrow", "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here", "Opportunity", and "I Don't Need Anything But You." The complete numbers are presented from the film with snazzy animated graphics providing the lyrics over them. You can even toggle between karaoke and sing-along soundtracks, with the former losing the movie's sung vocals.

"A Day on Set with Quvenzhané" (6:20) tags along with the young lead actress as she gets her hair and make-up done, rehearses, acts for the camera, passes the time between takes. As usual, a kid's perspective of the filmmaking process is interesting.

"It's a Hard Knock Camp: Auditions and Training" (11:21) shows us what Wallis and her fellow child actors playing the foster kids went through in preparation for the film.

"The Lego Movie" directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are interviewed by "Pop Culture Canada!" as if their movie-within-a-movie "Moonquake Lake" is real. "The Making of 'Annie'" gives us behind-the-scenes looks at production in New York.

"Fun with Sandy" (2:20) offers behind-the-scenes looks at filming the dog, who figures much less prominently than the male one in the original movie.

"Moonquake Lake, On Set!" (11:21) is a mock making-of featurette "Pop Culture Canada!" for the movie within the movie. Alexander St. James (director Will Gluck) interviews "the directors", Phil Lord and Christopher Miller about their epic fantasy franchise, while touching upon their real movies. It's amusing, if stretched too thin.

"The Making of Annie" (14:34) is a solid all-purpose featurette considering the departures from the original movie, the personnel of this movie, and filming in New York. Will Smith is as absent here as everywhere else.

Young "Annie" cast members try to cheer up New Yorkers in the music video for "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile." You may strike a similar pose to this in response to the Blu-ray's simple photo gallery of publicity stills.

Unconventional music videos meant to go viral are supplied for two songs.

The Sia-performed "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" (3:26) sees Wallis and her young castmates trying to brighten the days of ordinary New Yorkers, the hosts of "Good Morning, America", and Bobby Cannavale. "Tomorrow Around the World" (2:32) translates Annie's theme into a variety of languages with clips of the dubbing artists.

An Annie Trivia Track, which unfortunately cannot be paired with the audio commentary, dispenses screen-specific fun facts about the film and the media on which it is based. It even has a sense of humor, like identifying the referenced George Clooney by his earliest and least significant credits.

The Blu-ray extras conclude with an unremarkable photo gallery comprised of around 90 publicity stills which can be navigated or presented as a self-advancing slideshow.

The DVD, the same one you can buy on its own sans slipcover, only includes the director's audio commentary, "The Making of Annie", and the "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" music video.

The discs open with a Digital HD UltraViolet promo followed by trailers for Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, and The Smurfs 2, a lot that shows us how infrequently Sony dabbles in family films these days. The menus' "Previews" listings repeat the same ads.

A "Hard Knock Life" instrumental accompanies the static menu's cast shot. The Blu-ray supports bookmarks and also resumes playback.

The full color Blu-ray and silver DVD share a side-snapped keepcase that is topped by an embossed slipcover applying sparkly effects to the title and skyscrapers. Inserts supply codes for the Digital HD UltraViolet included with purchase and a free photo book (with pricey shipping and handling) from Shutterfly, which I'm not sure fulfills the slipcover sticker's promise of up to $30 of savings inside.

Golden Globe nominee Quvenzhané Wallis sings the Golden Globe-nominated original song "Opportunity" in 2014's "Annie."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

2014's Annie is better than you'd fear, though maybe not quite as good as you'd like. Not the disaster that poor reviews indicated, this remake doesn't supplant the 1982 movie, but it does undoubtedly make the musical more palatable for today's kids without betraying the story's spirit.

Sony's Blu-ray combo pack kindly offers an abundance of bonus features and a first-rate feature presentation. If you like the movie or think you will, this set should satisfy you thoroughly.

Buy Annie from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Combo / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Musicals: Annie (1982) • Into the Woods (2014) • EnchantedThe MuppetsWilly Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Quvenzhané Wallis: Beasts of the Southern Wild | Jamie Foxx: The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Written and Directed by Will Gluck: Easy A | Written by Aline Brosh McKenna: We Bought a ZooMorning GloryI Don't Know How She Does It
Remakes: Arthur (2011) • The Karate Kid (2010) • Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryRace to Witch MountainThe Parent Trap (1998)
New: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad DayBig Hero 6To Sir, with LoveTinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast

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Reviewed March 20, 2015.



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