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Annie: 30th Anniversary Sing-Along Edition Blu-ray Review

Annie (1982) movie poster Annie

Theatrical Release: May 21, 1982 / Running Time: 127 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: John Huston / Writers: Carol Sobieski (screenplay), Harold Gray (comic strip - uncredited), Thomas Meehan (book of the stage play), Charles Strouse (music), Martin Charnin (lyrics)

Cast: Albert Finney (Daddy Oliver Warbucks), Carol Burnett (Miss Hannigan), Ann Reinking (Grace Farrell), Tim Curry (Rooster Hannigan), Bernadette Peters (Lily St. Regis), Aileen Quinn (Annie), Geoffrey Holder (Punjab), Roger Minami (Asp), Toni Ann Gisondi (Molly), Roseanne Sorrentino (Pepper), Lara Berk (Tessie), April Lerman (Kate), Robin Ignico (Duffy), Lucie Stewart (July), Edward Herrmann (Franklin Delano "F.D.R." Roosevelt), Lois de Banzie (Eleanor Roosevelt), Peter Marshall (Bert Healy), Loni Ackerman (Boylan Sister), Murphy Cross (Boylan Sister), Nancy Sinclair (Boylan Sister), I.M. Hobson (Drake), Lu Leonard (Mrs. Pugh), Mavis Ray (Mrs. Greer), Pamela Blair (Annette), Colleen Zenk (Celette), Victor Griffin (Saunders), Jerome Collamore (Frick), Jon Richards (Frack), Wayne Cilento (Photographer), Ken Swofford (Weasel), Larry Hankin (Pound Man), Irving Metzman (Mr. Bundles), Angela Martin (Mrs. McKracky), Kurtis Epper Sanders (Spike), Sandy (Himself)

Songs: "Tomorrow (Opening Titles)", "Maybe", "It's the Hard-Knock Life", "Dumb Dog", "Sandy", "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here", "Little Girls", "Maybe (Reprise)", "Let's Go to the Movies", "We Got Annie", "Sign", "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile", "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile (Dressed Children)", "Tomorrow (White House Version)", "Easy Street", "Maybe (Same Effect on Everyone)", "Finale Medley (I Don't Need Anything But You/We Got Annie/Tomorrow)"

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The 1982 musical film Annie has an unusual history that involves a number of mediums and stretches back nearly one hundred years. For its third printing, the 1885 American poem "The Elf Child" by James Whitcomb was retitled "Little Orphant Allie", but a typecasting error rendered it "Little Orphant Annie." Forty years later, in 1924, that four-stanza,
heavily stylized poem would inspire Little Orphan Annie, a daily comic strip by Harold Gray. Gray's strip would outlive him by over forty years, only being cancelled in 2010. At the height of its popularity in the 1930s, the syndicated comic strip would become a radio program and two major studio movies, neither well received.

The comic continued appearing in newspapers all over, when in 1977, writer Thomas Meehan (whose few credits came from Anne Bancroft television specials), Bye Bye Birdie composer Charles Strouse, and lyricist Martin Charnin adapted it into a Broadway musical. The winner of seven Tony Awards including Best Musical, Annie was a huge hit on the stage, running for six years and multiple tours in North America and abroad. A hit of that size inevitably paved the way for a film version and in 1982, the world got that, courtesy of screenwriter Carol Sobieski and legendary director John Huston.

Annie (Aileen Quinn) pleads with a pound officer to let her newly-adopted dog Sandy remain free. Grace (Ann Reinking) has to defend her selection of a female orphan for bald billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Albert Finney).

Set in and around New York City during the Great Depression, Annie opens in a girls' orphanage run by the needy, alcoholic, inhospitable Miss Hannigan (Carol Burnett). It is an awful place for children to grow up and yet these girls look out for one another, their common situation and shared dislike of their unfit guardian cushioning the blows of their grim, laborious existence.

Freckled, redheaded 10-year-old Annie (Aileen Quinn) is more cheerful than she has any right to be. After she is caught in her latest escape attempt, things pick up for her when Grace Farrell (Ann Reinking) chooses Annie as the orphan with whom her boss, influential local billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Albert Finney), will take in for a week. It's a flimsy premise seemingly destined for a painful parting, but being welcomed into Warbucks' vast estate is a fairy tale turn of events for the spirited, street-smart Annie and her newly-adopted mongrel Sandy. The bald, bold Warbucks initially resists a girl orphan, but he soon comes to warm to her and aims to make his wardship permanent.

Though grateful, Annie wishes to reconnect with her birth parents, whom she is certain will return as promised with the missing part of the broken locket she proudly wears. Warbucks uses some of his wealth, resources, and connections to conduct a nationwide search for Annie's parents. All he and Grace can find though are phonies smelling a lucrative opportunity. The most promising lead in the search is the appearance of a couple from New Jersey (Tim Curry and Bernadette Peters) with the missing locket piece. Alas, we alone know them as deceitful associates of Miss Hannigan with sketchy motives.

Miss Hannigan (Carol Burnett), Lily (Bernadette Peters), and Rooster (Tim Curry) gleefully celebrate an evil plot to make them rich. Young orphans of the Hudson St. Home for Girls put a happy face on their abusive upbringing.

Annie opens feeling very staged and stilted, with its young, adorable orphans singing and dancing about their hard-knock life. There is only so much genuine emotion you can expect from young child actors, particularly those jaded by countless casting sessions and auditions. Quinn at least emerges as both a talented singer and charismatic protagonist, although neither is as essential to the film's success as the title would suggest.
Annie's infectious optimism transforms the business-minded Warbucks into the "Daddy" we know him as. Who among us will not want this sweet little girl dealt a bad hand to get out of scrapes and avoid the harm that nasty adults like Miss Hannigan inflict upon her?

John Huston is no better suited to directing this than Robert Altman was to making Popeye two years earlier. Nonetheless, the songs are catchy and energetic. The sets and settings, ranging from Warbucks' nicely-photographed immense mansion to the dumpy yet livelier orphanage, inject flavor. You're well aware that you aren't watching great art, but irresistible entertainment that doesn't pretend to be more than that. Sure, it does more for your eyes and ears than your heart and head, but appealing musical cinema has been hard enough to find in the past several decades that you're bound to appreciate this even while acknowledging its obvious limitations.

It's been thirty years since Annie won over moviegoers to the tune of $57 million (the equivalent of $156 M at today's ticket prices), the tenth highest gross of 1982. Nominated for two Oscars (art direction and original song score), Annie would win just two minor honors of opposite meaning, with Aileen Quinn winning both the Young Artist Award for Best Motion Picture Actress and the Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress. (Keep in mind, the same Razzies nominated Stanley Kubrick as Worst Director two years earlier for The Shining.) The pearl anniversary is reason enough for Annie to have recently come to Blu-ray in a disc dubbed both 30th Anniversary and Sing-Along Edition.

Annie: 30th Anniversary Sing-Along Edition Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Japanese), Dolby Digital 4.1 (Italian), Dolby 2.0 Stereo (French, German, Italian)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish
Some Extras Subtitled in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish
Release Date: October 2, 2012 / Suggested Retail Price: $14.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50) / Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Still available Special Anniversary Edition Pan & Scan DVD ($9.99 SRP; January 13, 2004), Pan & Scan Double Feature DVD with Annie: A Royal Adventure ($14.99 SRP; March 30, 2010) and on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released as Widescreen and Pan & Scan DVD (December 12, 2000)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Annie is one of those movies that have frustrated DVD collectors over the years, because distributor Sony has repeatedly released it to DVD in a 1.33:1 pan & scan presentation, a heavily compromised reframing of the film's wide Oscar-nominated visuals. The movie's original DVD release back in 2000 upheld the film's original 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio (along with the pan & scan), albeit with some reported framing issues. But it was discontinued and replaced by a Special Anniversary Edition in 2004 (commemorating the film's all-important 22nd anniversary) that inconceivably only offered the film in so-called "full screen", a format increasingly misnamed with the rise of 16:9 widescreen displays. A 2005 Double Feature (repackaged in 2010) that paired it with the little-known 1995 made-for-TV sequel Annie: A Royal Adventure hung onto the 1.33:1 DVD, which was missing over 40% of the intended picture.

Gladly, this new release puts the aspect ratio issue to bed at least for those who have upgraded to Blu-ray. Annie appears in its proper 2.40:1, looking better than it ever has before. The element is spotless, surprising considering its age. Certain shots and parts of shots are slightly lacking in focus and most display a fitting amount of grain. The colors are not as vivid as a 2012 film. But accepting those production realities, this is a highly satisfying transfer.

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio also undoubtedly takes the film to new heights. The soundtrack's biggest concern may be the disparity between the aged dialogue recordings and the potent musical numbers. The latter infuse the film with bass, depth, and impact otherwise lacking. I suspect this may be true to the original design. I'm not old enough to know that or familiar enough with Annie to say how that compares to its DVD releases. It's not a problem per se and the track satisfies, especially by keeping the volume range reasonable.

A grown-up Aileen Quinn looks back at her Hollywood adventure in this 2003 featurette. The Swedish girl band Play puts its spin of "It's the Hard Knock Life" in their music video.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The one area where this new disc might be considered inferior to the movie's in-print DVD is in bonus features. Sony scales back offerings that didn't run very deep to begin with.

The top-billed extra is the one from which the Blu-ray takes one of its monikers. "Sing-Along with Annie!" gives you the chance to watch the entire film with lyric subtitles appearing over the music numbers. These are at least more creative than standard subtitles, with a red rounded rectangle holding black words that turn white around the same time they are sung. You can also choose to view any of the seventeen songs given this obvious treatment on their own, but the menu doesn't think to supply "Play All" and "Random Play" options that would have added value.
Also, despite the bevy of foreign dubs and subtitles offered, this feature is strictly available in English.

Next up is "My Hollywood Adventure with Aileen Quinn" (12:04), a 2003-ish featurette that catches up with the woman who played Annie in this film. She shares her experience in direct camera addresses, speaking with young viewers in mind. Her fond reflections from a night-lit city set are complemented by behind-the-scenes production photos as well as excerpts of her screen test and a casting announcement press conference. It's an excellent piece and one that, ironically considering the DVD for which it was made, is in widescreen along with the film clips it features.

"Musical Performance by Play" (3:20) isn't a performance from the Broadway musical. Instead, it is a 2003 music video for young girl band Play's pop cover of Annie's "It's the Hard-Knock Life." Four trendy teenaged girls, apparently all Swedes and since disbanded, sing on city sets among clips from the movie. It seems like an adequate substitute for Jay-Z's "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)", which might have been welcome here if not for its less family-friendliness.

A behind-the-scenes teaser trailer supplies the disc's only video glimpse at the making of "Annie." A posed Annie and Sandy seem okay with Miss Hannigan's rough treatment of her orphans on the Blu-ray's menu.

"Trailers & TV Spots" serves up the original theatrical trailer (3:39), a behind-the-scenes teaser (2:18), and three 30-60-second TV spots (2:09) for Annie. Original marketing materials aren't often preserved by Sony, so these fine early '80s-styled ads are a welcome treat, especially in their improbably presentable HD state here. Sadly, there is no trailer for Annie: A Royal Adventure found here.

Lost from the Special Anniversary Edition DVD are "The Age of Annie" trivia game, "Sing Along with Annie!" and "Act Along with Annie!" Unlike the lyrics mode offered here, the "Sing Along" feature also treated you to karaoke-type versions of three songs from the movie without vocals.

"Act Along", introduced by Quinn, did the same for three scenes, with you getting to perform Annie's dialogue. Dropped from the movie's original DVD are "Talent Files" for Huston and actors, a gallery of eight lobby cards, and a booklet of production notes. All of it would have been nice to have here, but none of it sounds like a deal-breaker. It is a bit surprising that, given the family film status Sony has always assigned it, that they didn't offer this as a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack, which could have salvaged some of these casualties. It's also disappointing that the studio still hasn't managed to include PBS' in-depth hour-long 1982 making-of documentary "Lights, Camera, Annie!" (which supposedly they have rights to, but cannot find the master of).

The menu's "Previews" listing plays a trailer for Arthur Christmas.

The lively menu plays clips on a stage bordered by blinking lights and joined by a rotation of character stills. This being a Sony release, the BD kindly both supports bookmarks and resuming playback.

The set's final inclusion is found on the insert in the side-snapped keepcase which boasts Sony's usual double-sided cover art: directions and a unique code for accessing an UltraViolet stream of the movie. The prospect of "your movies in the cloud" does nothing for me and the public has voiced their preference for hard files digital copies over streams that rely on networks and multiple companies. Still, those who occasionally find a disc, player, and television too cumbersome might appreciate the treatment extended to something other than a brand new movie.

Daddy Warbucks (Albert Finney) and little orphan Annie (Aileen Quinn) get a happy ending together full of lights and Fourth of July fireworks.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The upbeat, innocent Annie is an easy target for ridicule, but it's also a reliable source of musical entertainment that is capably transferred to the big screen. Though a tad overlong and a bit underwhelming in several places, the film offers more than enough fun to overlook its faults.

Though Sony's Blu-ray is light in the extras department and loses some items from the DVD releases, its handful of supplements will satisfy most viewers. More important than that is at last the film is treated to a respectable feature presentation, with original widescreen framing and terrific picture and sound. Between that and the low list price, this earns a no-brainer recommendation for fans of the film and of musicals in general.

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Blu-ray / Widescreen & P&S DVD / Pan & Scan DVD / P & S Double Feature DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed October 19, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1982 Columbia Pictures, Rastar Films, and 2012 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
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