By Kristin Battestella
Things are not at rest in
In his one and only musical, Christian Bale does not disappoint. Sure everyone loves him now after American Psycho, Batman Begins, and 3:10 to
Yes, Newsies is a musical. When Disney chose three scripts with the possibility of turning one into a musical, Newsies was probably the wrong choice. The music isn’t all bad. Popular composer JAC Redford (What the Deaf Man Heard) crafted some very sing-a-long-able tunes. The lyrics are period authentic, yet modern and funny. The boys don’t sing that bad and the dancing is alright. It just seems odd to sing about a strike. I can’t imagine the process was easy for choreographer turned director Ortega (Dirty Dancing)- orchestrating massive dance numbers and choirs and fight scenes with hundreds of kids fifty years after Oklahoma!. Newsies genuinely tries, but there’s too much humor and music against not enough development and drama.
Based on actual events, Newsies stretches a thin premise too thin. We get to know each newsie, we find what makes each one tick against the melancholy circumstances, but scriptwriting team Bob Tzudiker (The Lion King) and Noni White (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) don’t take the depth far enough. Was this the ill advised mix of musical and drama or Disney’s questions on weather to keep things juvenile or go for maturity? Perhaps a little of both. Again in 1992, no one knew you could make an adult oriented, seriously dramatic musical. As much as I love Newsies for the camp of it, I would love to see a really heavy drama full of debates. Christian Bale versus Robert Duvall! Bring it!
The DVD of Newsies is full of fun stuff. As unloved as the film was, Disney politely added behind the scenes features and on set clips, along with historical information about the real 1899 strike, fun newsie dialogue games, and even a sing a long feature. Good as this all is, it would have been utterly incredible to have the older, wiser cast and crew reflect upon the good, the bad, and the ugly that is Newsies.
Newsies would have made a fine straight drama for juvenile audiences. Stand up for what you believe in and all that inspiration. Unfortunately, Newsies was a big screen musical release when big screen musical releases were absolutely unheard of. You have to wonder, if Newsies was released today straight to the Disney channel, would it be as big a bust as it was then? Why doesn’t Disney show the movie on its networks and see what happens? It’s strange to say, but did dorks like me who watched Newsies and similar period music films like Swing Kids grow up to take part in our recent re-acceptance of musicals like Moulin Rouge!, The Phantom of the Opera, and Chicago? Friends and family that endured my 214 viewings (I’ve only watched it twice since I got the DVD, and hey, the other 212 was a bet I won.) would scoff at these notions. Newsies has the talent, the choreography, period piece vibes, even not so bad songs, but should all these elements really be together in this movie? No.
Fans of period pieces and musicals will most likely enjoy Newsies. If you can convince hip High School Musical loving kids to watch Newsies late at night when no one knows they’ve watched it, they will enjoy it, too. Bale fans no doubt own this DVD already. Newsies is far from perfect, but it’s a quality family film that dared to do something different-just like its striking newsboys.