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The East

The East emerges as an exciting piece of filmmaking from the independent scene’s hott —Matt Anderson (review...)

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I recently watched That’s Entertainment!, a tribute to MGM musicals. From the 1920s through the 1950s, the studio churned out hundreds of them. Whether they were of the cookie-cutter variety or grand Technicolor spectacles, it’s clear that MGM knew how to make a good-quality, entertaining musical.

In 1992, Disney tried to revive the genre with Newsies, which was avoided by audiences and panned by most critics. I’m glad to report that Newsies isn’t as bad as its reputation, but watching the movie only reminds me that they don’t make ‘em like they used to.

Based on a True Story

Christian Bale jumps for joyAccording to the DVD bonus materials, Newsies is based on real events. A century ago, newspapers in New York City were sold mainly by young street vendors. The kids would buy the “papes” from the publishers at 10 for a nickel and sell them for one penny each. In 1899, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, the two biggest newspaper publishers in New York, decided to charge the vendors six cents for 10 papers. The newsies, who were barely eking out a living, went on strike.

Christian Bale is charismatic as Jack Kelly. He’s the unofficial older brother of the newsies, and he becomes the leader of the strike. David Moscow rarely cracks a smile as David, who provides the brains behind Jack’s leadership. Robert Duvall, who does not sing in this movie, is appropriately gruff as Pulitzer. The supporting cast of youngsters gives a spirited performance, though none of the characters really stand out.

The plot follows a predictable route through gains and setbacks. A romance between Jack and David’s sister feels obligatory and adds little to the story. Even the happy ending seems hollow. While one can’t expect a high degree of realism from a Disney musical, they movie brushes aside troubling questions about child labor.

Song and Dance Boys

It’s easy to forgive a predictable plot if a musical has great production numbers, but Newsies falls short. Aside from the ballad Santa Fe, performed with spirit by Bale, the songs are unmemorable. Composer Alan Menken (who has composed songs for many Disney animated features) attempts to give some of the tunes a period feel, but the results are mostly bland.

The cast’s dancing is impressive considering that most of them had no prior experience. They put a lot of energy into the routines but the choreography lacks imagination – perhaps because of the young actors’ inexperience. Watching the one ensemble piece after another left me wishing for a solo by someone who really knew how to dance.

DVD Extras

This special edition DVD features a commentary by Ortega, his co-choreographer Peggy Holmes, screenwriters Bob Tzudiker and Noni White, and producer Michael Finnell. What stands out is their enthusiasm for the movie. The commentary is less boring than on some DVDs and offers some interesting tidbits about the production, but it will probably only be of interest to serious fans of Newsies.

A short feature about the actual newsboys’ strike of 1899 provides some interesting historical background. The DVD also contains two behind-the-scenes featurettes which are noteworthy if only because they show all the training that the cast had to go through to perform in the film.

The DVD also features a storyboard-to-scene comparison sequence with audio commentary by production designer William Sandell, two theatrical trailers, and a sing-along feature, which puts subtitles on the screen during songs. There is also a section which translates the newsies’ slang, although many of the words need no translation for American audiences. The disc also has a Spanish language track and Spanish and French subtitles.

Picture and Sound

Newsies is presented widescreen with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The sound is Dolby digital surround. Both picture and sound are crisp and clear. The surround sound stands out in some of the street scenes. As this movie is only 10 years old, the picture and sound should meet the standards of any home theater.

Conclusion

Some unintentional insights into the movie’s shortcomings come from Ortega, speaking on the DVD’s commentary track. He was grateful that many of the technicians on the film had worked in Hollywood for a long time. Most younger people working in movies these days, he said, just don’t know how to film musicals.

Ortega also talks with reverence about a visit by Gene Kelly to the set. Kelly told Ortega that when he was making movies, as many as six weeks would be spent working on a single musical number. By contrast, the cast of Newsies had just five weeks to learn how to sing, dance and fight. While I can’t fault the film’s ambitions, maybe Hollywood just doesn’t know how to make a good musical anymore.

  • briantty: I loved tyhe newsies Yah they are so hot December 23, 2005 reply
  • k: the newsies is an excellent movie! all the songs are so great and the dancing is so amusing! this movie is not as popular as it should be...its amazing, but thats just my opinion! April 3, 2006 reply
  • Maria: i love the newsies...seriously my mom had to buy me a new DVD cuz i played it so much that th ruined to DVD!!! newsies Rock i love u all June 18, 2006 reply
  • Carla .:.aka.:. C@rL!T@: 0M¥FG0§H!!!.

    da newsies is like the best movie ever!!!

    i watch da movie like almost everyday.

    its so0 funnie and adventurous.

    so0 yeah.

    i lubB dat movie.

    <3 August 23, 2006 reply
  • amna yaqoub: i am great fan of this movie.not only i but most of my family members including small aged cousins to old age aunts. August 28, 2006 reply
  • jessica (gem): luv this movie to death!!!!!!!!!!!
    cannot believe the reviews it got. now if someone said somethin' bad to me 'bout newsies, or to any other newsie fan, they'd be 'soaked' in 3 seconds flat. funny how that works. anyway, love this movie!
    November 18, 2006 reply
  • Unknown: This movie had a few errors, but looking beyond those it proved to be an excellent movie. Though it isn't as popular as it should be, the fans that do enjoy it cherish it. It had a great plot and a good cause. It shows how bad child labor really was. The cast was great, and I give this movie five stars. I only wish it could have touched the hearts of everyone else.

    Carryin' the bannah. February 16, 2007 reply
  • Taylor: This movie is one of the best I have ever seen in my life. I am going to tell all my friends about it and I just want t let everyone know that I think Much is is HOT! May 20, 2007 reply
  • Tiffany: Well, despite your opinion of what I believe is Disney's best live character movie, I would like to correct you on some information you have gotten wrong.

    Firstly, in your section "Based on a True Story," you made two mistakes. Joseph Pulizter raises his price to eight cents for 10 "papes," not six cents. Also, when you adress the issue of child labor, I have no idea what you mean by "brushes aside troubling questions." There are MANY refrences to child labor laws from the first second of the movie to the last. The song "Carring the Banner" makes a refrence to 'the fine life' of being a Newsie. If you listen to the lyrics, the newsies sing of getting conned of money, having to fake injuries to sell papers, etc. The song is clearly an irony and very much sarcastic. Next, the song "World Will Know" adresses back to Pulitzer and Hearst every three seconds when talking of striking, child rights, and money. I will also tell you to watch "King of New York" an additional time to hear the lyrics...may clear any other ideas. But lastly to your statement, the song "Once and For All" shows kids in sweat shops, children gettin beaten, and much more with the historic truth in the actual 1899 newsies REALLY printing their own newspaper and sending it out to all child workers and newsies.

    In your sectiion "Song and Dance Boys" you refer to bad dancing...well, to be honest, I am questioning if you actually saw the movie or not. Bad dancing? Inexperience? All I'm going to say, is show me a musical in which 200 teenage boys are doing triple barrel rolls, heel clicks, acrobatics, and intermediate tap combinations with counter point coreography and thirty different fights and other things going on in one scene. Oh, you can't? Yes, I really doubted it.

    In your "conclusion" you state that Hollywood can no longer make good musicals. Well Andrea, I agree with that some what. I agree with that statement as long as you count out the Newsies. The Newsies remains one of my favorite movies, and trust me, you can't compare it to "High School Musical" or anyother run down, retarded, and cheesy musical. Newsies had some hilarious humor, stupendous acting along with realistic accents and all, and musical numbers that can blow the butts off any broadway musical today.

    Newsies may be avoided by some naive audiences, but it is cherished by millions.

    "Headlines don't sell papes. Newsies sell papes..." June 2, 2007 reply
  • Skye: I have to agree wit tiffany i also say this is one of the greatest movies ever made i say one of because i am a Star Wars Fanatic and Pirates of the Carribean is right up there with it but newsies is my 3rd fave movie and just to point this out christian bale is the sexy cause no one mentioned that well thats all ihave to say so yeah luv da newies

    CHRISTIAN BALE IS SEXY! June 30, 2007 reply
  • Hazzy: I love Newsies, but I live in England and the DVD is not out here! I really wanted to get it, as i've only seen Newsies on the T.V.! I've searched everywhere but it just says that its out of stock, i really really really really really really really hope that i can find a Region 2 Newsies DVD cos i love it! x February 25, 2008 reply