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 advisor, 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.
The 2014 remake of 'Annie' doesn't deserve the hard knocks that it has received. Although panned by critics (it currently sits with 28% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), the box office numbers showed that audiences disagreed. Despite a mild opening, it had longer legs than most analysts predicted. Word-of-mouth moved it along throughout the holiday season.
'Annie' was negatively criticized by the media while in the earliest stages of pre-production. When it was announced that producers Mr. and Mrs. Will Smith were considering an all-black version of the well known red-head orphan's tale, the media blasting began and never let up. Admittedly, I was swayed by the news. When the first trailer appeared online, I watched it with judgmental eyes – but I shouldn't have. And neither should anyone else.
I didn't see 'Fired Up,' so I cannot speak to that one, but director Will Gluck's two other feature films were much better than they deserved to be. 'Easy A' was Sony's formulaic vehicle used to test the star power of Emma Stone. The end result was the best '80s teen comedy to not be made in the '80s. Following that, Gluck put out 'Friends with Benefits,' another comedy that ended up being much more entertaining than it had any right to be. Gluck defied perfectly understandable expectations twice in a row, so why did we ever doubt that 'Annie' wouldn't disprove all of the early-onset negative buzz?
I assume that most people already know the story of little orphan Annie as told through Harold Gray's comic strip, Thomas Meehan's stage play or John Huston's 1982 movie version, but for those who don't, here's a quick rundown of the story: a young girl has spent the majority of her life in an orphanage (or a foster home, as seen in the 2014 version). She's longed for the day that her parents would come back and take her away from the villainous orphanage head (or foster mother) Ms. Hannigan. Early in the story, she meets a wealthy politician who ultimately falls for her and takes her in as a child of his own. Annie then gets a taste of what real family life is like.
Gluck's 'Annie' is rather faithful, only making slight changes here and there to modernize the tale and make it more applicable for the current times and more relatable for modern young audiences. In his version, the wealthy businessman, Mr. Stacks (Jamie Foxx), is a cell phone/communications tycoon running for the office of New York City mayor. Annie is a passed-around foster child. And the music is more along the lines of today's radio-friendly pop music.
One of my favorite aspects is the incredibly strong use of sound and music. All of the well-known songs from the soundtrack are included – like "Hard Knock Life," "Tomorrow" and "Maybe" – as well as a few original songs written for the film by Sia. The song composition is fantastic, the most creative being "Hard Knock Life." Most of the beats and sounds come from in-movie objects, like slamming doors, swishing mops, clapping hands and ringing bells. This clever creative decision is absolutely delightful to listen to.
Another extremely high note that 'Annie' nails is characterization. A fantastic cast was assembled for this production. Ten-year-old Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis ('Beasts of the Southern Wild') plays Annie. She's charming, funny and can sing and dance well. We may have forgotten that Foxx can act, sing and dance, but we're reminded of that here. Rose Byrne plays Banks' assistant, the lovely workaholic Grace. She's just as enjoyable as ever. And Cameron Diaz – whom I typically can't stand – is actually a decent "bad guy." Gluck's screenplay is witty and this batch of actors makes it a whole lot of fun to watch. Cameos abound, including Taylor Richardson (the young actress who played Annie in the Broadway revival), Patricia Clarkson, Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, Rihanna, Michael J. Fox and more.
If you like musicals and kids movies, then there's absolutely no reason that you wouldn't like Will Gluck's 'Annie.' It's the type of family entertainment that's just as fun for the adults as it is for the kids. Many of the jokes that go right over the kids' heads will land smiles on the parents' faces. If I have solitary complaint with 'Annie,' it's that the final act runs a little long – but considering how bad most live-action kids movies are, that's hardly a complaint at all.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony has given 'Annie' a fully-loaded combo pack release that includes a Region A BD-50 Blu-ray disc, a DVD and a code for redeeming both an Ultraviolet and an iTunes digital copy. Within the blue two-disc eco-LITE vortex keepcase is a another paper slip that contains entry details for a trip to New York City and a coupon for a free 8" x 8" picture book from Shutterfly. The case slides vertically into an embossed and sparkly cardboard keepcase. A lot of pre-menu content plays prior to the static and music-laden main menu, but they can each be skipped over individually.
'Annie' delivers a magnificent, highly detailed, crystal clear, and wonderfully sharp 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. Shot with Sony's digital CineAlta cameras, you really shouldn't expect anything less from a new film. While I'm a lover of grainy celluloid, I certainly can't complain about video qualities like this.
Every line in 'Annie' is perfectly smooth, never jagged or unsharp. Fine details are equally defined and abundant. You'll see the textures to just about every object or article of clothing that appears on-screen. From obvious elements, like clothing patterns, to the welcome next-level elements, like specks of dust and fibers that float through bright lighting, its greatness never lets up.
The color scheme of 'Annie' is explosive and larger than life, amplifying the vibrancy and punching it up beyond reality. As you'd expect, it's dominated by gorgeous fiery reds, but deep blues and other powerful primaries are featured throughout.
I didn't notice a single bit of noise, banding or aliasing, but there are occasional moments of black crush. Unfortunately, it pops up when in instances that count. For example, in some darkened scenes, Annie's dark hair becomes a messy blob that's void of detail. This doesn't happen full-time, but it's enough to keep the video quality from getting a perfect five-star rating.
With sound playing such an integral role in 'Annie,' it's no surprise that the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is highly impressive. Before I dig into the good stuff, let's get the solitary flaw out of the way. Mind you, this flaw doesn't result from the lossless track, but of the original mix – and you can't not notice it. The movie's dialog is perfectly clear. The levels work well with music and effects, but the initial moment that the actors break into song, it becomes sorely obvious that the singing you're hearing isn't at all the singing coming out the actors' mouths. It's comparable to bad ADR. Have you ever watched a movie whose vocal characteristics suddenly and awfully cut over to contain different qualities from the previous moment, somewhat like a TV edit dub of an R-rated movie? Be prepared to have that same reaction every single time a song starts in 'Annie.' The flawlessly-produced music is a bit too perfect.
Now for the good stuff. With absolutely creative sound design, the effects and music are intrinsically connected. The partnership results in one of the most consistently active mixes that I've heard in a while.
There's absolutely no lack of dynamics. The movie kicks off with the Broadway version of "Hard Knock Life." The horns and drums kick in pumping from different channels. The instruments mix together amazingly. And as impressive as that is, it only gets better. Once we get the opening credits score medley that employs the sound effects of visual elements as part of the music, the dynamics are kicked up to pure perfection. Music always plays through all channels in a way that catches your attention each time it kicks in.
The effects that aren't used for music are mixed in a strong way that's similar to the use of the musical sound effects. They're layered in great detail throughout all of the speakers. There are several instances of seamless imaging, including bikes cruising by on the city streets, elevated trains passing overhead and a chopper hovering high above the city. If the ADR-ish singing wasn't so distracting, this mix would be demo-worthy.
Sony's remake of 'Annie' is much better than the reviews made it out to be. Will Gluck has produced yet another entertaining and delightful film thanks to his modernized screenplay and fantastic cast. Quvenzhané Wallis is lovable as Annie; Jamie Foxx is an entertaining father figure; Rose Byrne is as charming as ever; and Cameron Diaz is surprisingly enjoyable as the ruthless Ms. Hannigan. Both the video and audio qualities are on the brink of perfection. Loaded with Blu-ray exclusives, there are a whole lot of special features for kids and adults to enjoy. If you like light-weight and fun kids movie and/or musicals, there's absolutely no reason to not see 'Annie.'