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In 1992, a musical film directed by Kenny Ortega was released. The film received negative reviews and ended up flopping at the box office, but gained quite a cult following throughout the years.
The popularity of the film was so great that the film was eventually adapted as a proper Broadway musical! So, is this film a hidden treasure that just wasn’t understood or appreciated when it first came out? Or is this film honestly deserving of its initial negative reviews? Let’s find out as we explore the cultural phenomenon that is Newsies!
(This was a request by one of my readers. I forget who it was though, so sorry!)
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
As the film opens in New York City in the 1890s, we see an old somewhat run-down place wherein a whole bunch of young male kids seem to reside. They’re our newsies, our newspaper boys. Their job is to sell and distribute newspapers that moguls like Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst print. They’re all of different sizes, races, ages, physical capabilities, etc. The first song of the film, Carrying the Banner, lets us see deeper into the daily lives of these boys.
The leader of the newsies, or at least the one whom the rest of the boys look up the most, is a teenager named Jack Kelly, played by Christian Bale. He’s your typical mischievous guy who has a good heart filled with a sense of justice and an attitude saying that nobody can push him around. He has dreams of leaving the business and heading out west to Santa Fe to form a new life. We hear more of his desires and feelings in the song, Santa Fe.
One day, in an effort to make more profits, Joseph Pulitzer, played by Robert Duvall, increases the price of the newspapers. This affects the newsies as it costs them more to buy papers now and will result in them barely making a living. They’re all upset at this price increase and under the leadership of Jack and another newsie named David, played by David Moscow, they decide to strike! They refuse to sell any more papers until the price goes back to what it was!
It’s not long before the newsies’ strike gets the attention of people including that of a local reporter, Bryan Denton, played by Bill Pullman. He soon joins forces with the boys by publishing their strike in his paper as Pulitzer has banned any mention of the strike in his papers. When that doesn’t quell the strike, Pulitzer uses brute force against the newsies which also backfires. He finally calls Jack up for a man-to-man talk.
Pulitzer basically tempts Jack with his dreams of going to Santa Fe and this surprisingly has an effect on Jack. He soon starts to work again for Pulitzer and is viewed as a sell-out to the other boys. And if that wasn’t enough, Denton can no longer cover the strike as it’s affecting his career with his paper. Then just as quickly as they seemed to change, Jack soon changes his mind and rejoins the strike while Denton decides to help the newsies publish their own newspaper regardless of what it does to his career!
The newsies’ newspaper was printed to distribute to kids all over New York City to rally in front of Pulitzer’s office. This last stand of solidarity shown amongst the newsies and the children makes Pulitzer give in and put the price of his newspaper back to what it originally was. All the newsies are happy especially Jack who has a chance now to go to Santa Fe! But, he decides to stay back with his newsies brethren and continue “carrying the banner”!
And that was Newsies. And…I kinda agree with the initial negative reviews that this movie received.
This film reminds me a lot of Pete’s Dragon. It’s an ambitious attempt with potential to be great, but it fails both as a musical and as a film. In terms of the musical aspect, while the choreography is wonderful to watch, I would say many of the songs in this film are forgettable and/or pointless. The only songs that I think are any good in this film are Carrying the Banner, Santa Fe, and King of New York.
In terms of the film aspect, while the film has some nice production design, cinematography, and acting by Christian Bale and the other boys, that’s pretty much the only strong points to the film. The acting of the adults almost all seem like they’re doing it for the paycheck and some appearances, such as that of Ann-Margret, seem entirely pointless!
The story also isn’t strong as it loses focus often. It gets distracted with all these minor appearances by other actors as well as subplots such as attempting to save a fellow newsie from a prison-like orphanage and then not saving him afterwards! I’ve already mentioned how quickly Jack and Denton’s characters change from being “traitors” to back on the side of the newsies! The story is just incredibly loose!
So, I agree with the original reaction to this film when it came out! But, if you want to give a watch, go ahead, just don’t expect Mary Poppins!
(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)
So, the final score for this film is 21/35 = 60% (D-) !
The next review will be posted on May 23rd.