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  Newsies The Paperboy Band
Year: 1992
Director: Kenny Ortega
Stars: Christian Bale, David Moscow, Luke Edwards, Bill Pullman, Robert Duvall, Ann-Margret, Ele Keats, Jeffrey DeMunn, Deborra Lee-Furness, Marc Lawrence, Michael Lerner, Kevin Tighe, Charles Cioffi, Max Casella, Gabriel Damon, Marty Belafsky, Trey Parker
Genre: Musical, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: July 1899, and in New York City the two major press barons, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer (Robert Duvall) are pitted in rivalry to secure the greatest number of readers, and therefore the greatest profits, but Pulitzer is beginning to lag behind: the headlines about the trolley car strike dragging on for yet another week are not the attention-grabbers that his papers really need. Down on the ground level, the newsies, that is the boys who sell the papers on the streets, are made up of various urchins and orphans, some of them the breadwinners for impoverished families and friends, so what Pulitzer has in mind will not be welcome...

Newsies was notable for its incredibly slow success: directed by choreographer Kenny Ortega (he of High School Musical fame), when it was released back in 1992, it was almost completely ignored and theatres stayed largely empty for its screenings. However, once it made it to home video and later DVD, its studio Disney were surprised and pleased to see it begin to crawl back into making some money for them, so that decades later it was finally in the black and the recipient of a cult following which spawned its own stage musical spin-off. On this evidence, the little girls who had fallen for the movie's charms and the sight of seeing all those strapping young lads prancing about were a formidable force once they had caught onto it.

Star Christian Bale did not share that enthusiasm and saw this as a low point; it was accurate to say he looks less than comfortable in scenes where he's required to dance, and that fact that he can almost but not quite sing appears to be a source of embarrassment for him, which shows in his expressions. What many picked up on was that in turning what was originally meant to be a straightforward drama into a musical, Disney appeared to be trying to emulate the worldwide success of Oliver! back in the sixties, what with an Americanised variation on Fagin's band of thieves transformed into newspaper vendors and singing in broad accents that made them sound like The Three Stooges.

Those songs were penned by Disney's go to guy for the showtunes Alan Menken, with lyrics by Jack Feldman, but not among his best, with little to distinguish them beyond the sort of thing a theatre fan might leave the auditorium whistling, though with not much appeal to anyone else: there's no equivalent of Consider Yourself here, though they attempt it in the chorus of King of New York. Plotwise, it was an odd choice for this studio, for the newsies see their livelihoods threatened when Pulitzer decides to cut their wages to save money, a point which underlines the message that when times are hard, it's the poorest who suffer, often at the hands of the rich: yup, this was a socialist musical.

From Disney! With the newsies creating their own union so they can go on strike! Knowing his business practices, Uncle Walt must have been spinning in his grave if he'd been aware his empire was promoting good and fair union deals at the expense of the fat cats, which only made this item all the more notable. It was based on genuine events, so they had history to back them up, but the impression this would be more absorbing as an article rather than a full-blown movie never really left it, as the results were dry and stodgy unless you were enamoured of watching masses of teenage boys dancing in formation. That said, obviously that appealed to a lot of people and you couldn't begrudge their pleasure in the production, no matter how mediocre it seemed to the uninitiated, and besides, how many other films could you hear Bill Pullman sing in, never mind Christian? OK, that's not such an attractive proposition, but at least we could be thankful Robert Duvall didn't fling open his arms, throw back his head and start belting out a big number. Ann-Margret was a different matter, but you expected that.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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