A musical based on the New York City newsboy strike of 1899. When young newspaper sellers are exploited beyond reason by their bosses they set out to enact change and are met by the ruthlessness of big business.
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July, 1899: When Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst raise the distribution price one-tenth of a cent per paper, ten cents per hundred, the newsboys, poor enough already, are outraged. Inspired by the strike put on by the trolley workers, Jack "Cowboy" Kelly (Christian Bale) organizes a newsboys' strike. With David Jacobs (David Moscow) as the brains of the new union, and Jack as the voice, the weak and oppressed found the strength to band together and challenge the powerful. Written by
Kaitlin Dwyer Rankins
Waaaaaaaaaaaay back in the early 1990's, when Jeffrey Katzenberg was still a top exec at Disney, he had one of his less successful ideas -- to bring back the break-into-song musical. So, as the story goes, he selected three scripts that were about to go into production and gave them to Disney Music Maestro Alan Menken and asked him which of the scripts could be turned into a musical.
And that's how NEWSIES was born.
It's a great story, too, being a fictionalized account of the newsboy strike in New York at the turn of the century. It follows the exploits of a ragtag band of teenage boys, including Cowboy (Christian Bale), who dreams of becoming a ranch hand in Santa Fe, and David & Les (David Moscow & Luke Edwards), brothers who take up selling newspapers when their father is injured on the job.
Conflict arises when Joseph Pulitzer (Robert Duval) gets greedy and raises the price of his newspapers to the newsboys, but not to the public. The outraged "newsies" decide to go on strike, which eventually galvanizes all the working children in the city to stand up for themselves.
It's a fun film, with Duval playing his villain to the hilt, but Ann-Margret is wasted in her role as a showgirl (both of her musical numbers are badly edited down to just snippets of song). Bale is the real wonder here, though, singing and dancing with surprising aplomb. The songs overall are quite good, but a couple of them are hard to distinguish from each other. My favorites are the opening number, "Carrying the Banner," and the rousing "The World Will Know." It seems odd, though, that Duval doesn't get a musical number of his own, considering in Disney's animated musicals the villains usually get the best songs ("Poor Unfortunate Souls" or "Be Prepared" anyone?).
It's a shame that the film didn't do better financially, since as a result of its dismal box office Disney declined to ever make another like it. First time director Kenny Ortega, who also choreographed (he was known for his choreography of DIRTY DANCING), directed one more feature after this, the underrated Bette Midler flick HOCUS POCUS; since that film also failed to find an audience, he hasn't directed a movie since. And that's a shame; he has a very distinctive kinetic style that served both films well.
Seek out a copy of NEWSIES, and go for the widescreen version. You won't be disappointed!
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