Monday, July 15, 2013

Movie Review: Newsies (1992)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun songs and a story that really pulls you in
Cons: Might take two viewings; one pointless character
The Bottom Line
A musical strike
That has really grown on me
Give it second chance

"Headlines Don't Sell Papes.  Newsies Sell Papes."

Every so often, there’s a movie that I didn’t necessarily enjoy the first time around, but I wind up seeing it again and enjoying it more.  That’s the case for me with Newsies.  I must not be the only one because in the last twenty years it’s gone from being a disappointment in initial release to being a cult classic that has been turned into a Broadway music.

The movie is a musical inspired by the newsboy’s, or newsies, strike against all the papers inNew York Cityin 1899.  It focuses especially on Jack Kelly (Christian Bale) and David Jacobs (David Moscow) who are the leaders of the movement, at least in this telling of the tale.

Jack and David meet when David joins the newsies who sell for Pulitzer and Jack takes him under his wing to help him figure out how to sell.  Despite David’s original reluctance, they quickly become a good team.

However, Pulitzer is looking for more profits, and he decides that the best way to do this is to raise the price on the newsies without raising the cost of the paper.  He figured they won’t do anything but roll over and take it.  But he’s wrong.  Jack, with David reluctantly coaching him, begins organizing the others in a strike that spreads to the other newspapers.

Only one reporter is willing to cover the story, Bryan Denton (Bill Pullman).  Their only other real ally is Medda Larkson (Ann-Margaret), who owns and performs in a dance hall.  Will they be able to win the strike?  Or are the odds too stacked against them?

Honestly, I can see why the movie didn’t do well when it first came out.  It’s just a strange proposition.  A musical around a strike?  And it does have a few fights in it that don’t quite seem to fit the first time through.  Plus Ann-Margaret’s character seems to be there only to provide a female who sings – she adds very little to the plot.

And yet.

And yet, the story is compelling.  Bryan Denton makes a comparison early on to David and Goliath, a comparison that is very apt when looking at the odds the newsies have to overcome.  And who doesn’t love to root for the underdog?  The story is actually fairly entertaining, and while you know how various plot points will turn out, you really do wonder how the characters will get there.

Another things that works are the characters.  You really see some growth in both Jack and David, plus you genuinely believe in their friendship.  While we don’t get to know the rest of the newsies nearly as well, we still feel sympathy for them, too.

Then there’s the music.  With lyrics by Jack Feldmen and music by Alan Menken, fresh off his success on The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, there are some winners here.  Most of the songs are fun, but if Jack’s “Santa Fe” doesn’t tug at your heart strings just a little, you’ve got a serious problem.

The film was directed by Kenny Ortega, who most recently was behind the High School Musical franchise.  And if you didn’t know that going into it, you’d suspect it by the time the movie was over.  Between the similarly styled choreography and a few trademark type scenes, the similarities are evident even if the stories are very different.  That includes the dancing, which could be better but is fun.

One thing I found interesting was how it shows the power of the press.  Pulitzer does his best to squash the story of the strikes to make the newsies give in to him.  While many would consider some of their rallies news, he convinces all the media of the time to not cover the story.  Some things in the media certainly haven't changed, have they?

So look past some of the oddities, and you’ll find a movie that is actually very entertaining.  I’m glad I gave Newsies a second chance, and if you are looking for a lesser known musical, I highly recommend this one.

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