Delayed Reaction: Disney’s Newsies (1992)

Growing up in a typical inner city neighborhood did not afford this sheltered dweller many opportunities to experience theaters or live plays. So I was not able to nurture a long loving relationship with musicals unless it came out on television. My very first legit theater experience outside of a school skit was during a middle field trip to see Les Miserables downtown. I was not familiar with the play at all so I was wholly unprepared for the cannon bursts and my teachers had to make a mad scramble to grab me as I bolted from my seat in abject fear.  It is safe to say that I did eventually garner a much calmer appreciation for the theatre arts.

When my fellow beings began to gush with excitement hearing that Newsies will be playing across theaters this month as a Fathom event,  I was completely clueless. I have never seen Newsies,  so I couldn’t share in their excitement. As the inner Fangirl stirred upon the chance of discovering something new to gush about, I decided to checked out the Newsies DVD.

Newsies was a pretty ambitious movie in terms of Disney telling a story about child labor. The movie was based on true events. Historically, in the 1880s, there was a strike between the young children who sell newspapers (“newsies”) and the newspaper conglomerates due to a price hike in the newspapers. The 1992 version of the movie is a musical featuring the newsies’ development from street urchins to those able to sway cultural  change. It is a great story showing that no matter how hopeless it seems, when you stand up for what you believe is right and you have the support, things can happen. A sentiment that still echoes strongly today.

The movement is lead by the dashing leader, Jack “Cowboy” Kelly aka Francis Sullivan (played by Christian Bale). As the leader of the group, he embodies what makes a newsie a newsie: strong, brave, clever, and quick on your toes. As the movement gets bigger and bigger, Jack spreads his charisma even further to enlist the newsies in other territories including Brooklyn. The introduction of the Brooklyn newsies has given me my favorite line of the whole movie: “Never fear, Brooklyn is ‘ere.” It was such a great delivery filled with charisma and fun that I could not stop smiling.

There were lots of little moments like that. The scene with the theater lady singing to a packed theater was sweet even with the undertones of doom. The family dinner. The dancing.  Bill Pullman singing. That is right! it cannot be a nineties movie without Bill Pullman. That man is a nineties treasure.

It seems a bit strange now to see the Disney company logo attached to this movie. If I had seen this when I was much younger I wouldn’t have been fazed. There seemed to be a period between the late 70’s to early 90’s where Disney was churning out gritty live action movies. These were movies that didn’t skip on the action or dangers of life. Two of my favorite live action Disney movies during that time were Escape to Witch Mountain and Pollyanna.

Dancing urchins. It’s what they do.

What was strange while watching this movie was how muscular these so called street urchins were. I was beginning to understand why so many of my friends were swooning when thinking of this movie. It took so long to connect why the lead actor was so familiar. Christian Bale! That was a young Christian Bale swaggering and carrying about. I do declare. No wonder he was a successful newsie. He knew how to work all the angles just right.

At some point in watching the movie, it transitioned from being settling to endure a cheesy embarrassment to actually tearing up and beaming like a happy fool at the end. Most likely it was the sprinkling of that Disney magic but I will credit it mostly to the satisfying and unifying rally at the end. It may have been a small thing but it was an important small thing that had big ripples in society.

Yet, I would not call this a musical that tugged deeply into my heart strings. I can definitely see why people are completely enamored with this musical but this was not my flavor. As inspiring and  powerful Newsies can be, stories based on true events tend to always have a dampening effect on the whole thing. I am however, very curious on how the theater version plays out so I ended up attending one of these Fathom events.

Until then, my love will still burn for musicals like Wicked and Hairspray.

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