*It’s no secret that rapper and entrepreneur Jay Z loves “Annie.” In 1998 he remade the popular song, ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life’ after hearing Kid Capri playing a modified track produced by 45 King in Madison Garden during Puff Daddy’s “No Way Out Tour” that occurred in December of 1997. Days later he would be recording what was to become his most successful commercial single.
Following the tremendous success of the album, single and resulting tour, “The Hard Knock Tour” in 1998, Jay Z has been on a grind to redo the movie. Jay Z said in a NPR Radio interview that he told a “bad lie … for a good reason” to obtain the rights to the song “It’s a Hard Knock Life” from the soundtrack of “Annie” from original songwriters, Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin.
“When the TV version of Annie came on,” said Jay Z on NPR Radio, “I was drawn to it. It was the struggle of this poor kid in this environment and how her life changed. It immediately resonated. This venture into film development and production is a perfect next step with teams that are accomplished, creative, and innovative.”
“Annie,” the movie, was finally produced by the production team of James Lassiter, Will Gluck, Jada Pinkett Smith & Will Smith, Caleeb Pinkett, Shawn “Jay Z” Carter, Laurence “Jay” Brown, and Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith.
“A decade ago, Jay-Z proved that the power of the underlying Broadway property remains,” said Columbia Pictures President Doug Belgrad, “by showing how these songs could be reinterpreted for a new generation with “Hard-Knock Life.”
The movie “Annie” stars Quvenzhané Wallis, Cameron Diaz, and Jamie Foxx and features remakes of musical selection from the original Annie soundtrack and a few new songs. Like the original, the movie transitions from traditional dialogue scenes into musical song and dance. Although not as much rapping involved as one might expect with Jay Z as one of the producers, the Hip Hop influence is felt throughout the movie.
The director of the movie, Will Gluck, does a good job modernizing the classic story and moving it into the 21st century.
Wallis, who is best known for her starring role in ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ and a supporting role in “12 Years a Slave,” proves her overwhelming lovability and outstanding talent singing and dancing alongside of veteran actors and performers Cameron Diaz, and Jamie Fox. Choosing Wallis over the above average talent and upbringing of Will and Jada Pinket-Smith’s daughter Willow for the lead role was a surprise to many in the theater and was quickly forgotten after the first dance routine that featured the female orphans cleaning their living space as they made music with their pots, pans, brooms and feet.
A surprise performer was Diaz who plays the foster-mother, Miss Agatha Hannigan, reprising the role made famous by Carol Burnett in 1982. Initially seeming awkward as the alcoholic foster-mother, Diaz pulls from the comic styling’s of Burnett and delights audiences moving from the arch-nemesis to surprise hero. The song “Little Girls” sung by Diaz and cleverly produced in the film, places Hannigan walking through the living quarters in a drunken stupor where she hallucinates seeing the foster children as various pieces of furniture.
It was no surprise that Jamie Fox took the chance to sing the anthem-like track titled “The Cities Yours” alongside Wallis. The track is reminiscent of Jay Z and Alicia Keys “Empire State of Mind” but is held aloft by the strong vocals of Fox. In the film Fox plays the millionaire Will Stacks. Stacks starts off as very stern, but due to the lovable nature and the heart melting smile of Annie, reveals a softer and more loving side.
The main problem with remaking classic pieces of art is that viewers are constantly referring to the originals, especially the stand out parts and become disappointed, if not disillusioned, if the new version does not exceed the previous. The original movie made is 1982, 32 years before has such memorable scenes and the director, Will Gluck, had to pull out the stops to make this new film live up to the original adding cinematic views of Manhattan, and even a high speed chase scene.
One noticeable part left out in the movie was the magical butler, Punjab, played by the late Geoffrey Holder. Instead Gluck and the writing team chose to replace him with a character named ‘Nash’ played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Punjab’s delightful magic replaced with a group of mobile phone technicians, but still leads the story towards it climactic ending.
Dakota Rolison, a 2nd grade student at La Tijera K-8 Academy of Excellence Charter School in Inglewood said, “Annie was funny. My favorite part was when [Annie] went into the house because whenever she thought of something in the house it came up and the part when they were trying to get Annie back.”
Select students from the Inglewood Unified School District were invited to see an advanced screening of the movie a week before it came out in theaters. Turnaround Arts, a non-profit dedicated to bringing success in schools, and Sony Entertainment brought Fox to Warren Lane Elementary to promote the film and subsequently invited them out to Cinemark Theaters in the Howard Hughes Plaza to view the film.
The Broadway musical “Annie” is based upon the popular comic strip and features songs with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin and a book by Thomas Meehan. The show originally penned on April 21, 1977, and immediately became a hit, winning seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. In 1982, Columbia Pictures released a film adaptation directed by John Huston and starring Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters, Tim Curry, and Aileen Quinn as Annie.
For more information on Annie, go to www.annie-movie.com.
NPR Radio: www.npr.org