From the Vault
“Open the gates and seize the day.” Inspirational words from a motivational speaker? Perhaps, but not in this context. That phrase is one uttered many times throughout Disney’s 1992 film “Newsies.” Blatant optimism is typical in Disney films, but for a movie about the Newsboy Strike of 1899, it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the film’s endearing oddities.
For those who have seen it, “Newsies” is the kind of film that either inspires sheepish recognition or proud acknowledgment. Chances are, either reaction is for the same reason. “Newsies” is pretty much a weird little film that arguably had no reason for existing. Nevertheless, for those who love the film, it’s easy to admit that it’s silly yet charming. It’s the equivalent of an inside joke: Either you get it or you don’t.
If a film — a musical, nonetheless — focusing on a two-week battle spurred by an increase of 10 cents in the price of newspapers seems like an odd choice, box office history would agree. “Newsies” was originally a terrific flop, ending up as one of Disney’s lowest grossing and most expensive live-action films. Despite its initial failure, in recent years the film has managed to reach cult status, especially among those college-aged and older.
It might be difficult to imagine why our generation would embrace a film set so far in the past, but the general themes of the film are essentially timeless. As a cohesive group, college students idealistically like to believe we can change the world — or at least sway a presidential election — and “Newsies” is a film that capitalizes on that notion of teamwork and accomplishment. It’s fun to watch a group of ragamuffin newspaper boys in jaunty caps and suspenders navigate the harsh streets of New York in order to fight against publishing giants Pulitzer and Hearst.
The cast of “Newsies” helps make it so entertaining. In 1992, the biggest star in the film was arguably Max Casella, who had been putting in time on TV’s “Doogie Howser, M.D.” Today, it’s safe to say that most moviegoers would be far more interested in the young actor who plays Jack ‘Cowboy’ Kelly — Batman himself, Christian Bale. While watching Bale twirl and leap down the streets of New York City isn’t exactly the same as seeing him kick ass in Gotham, it’s immensely entertaining. Today’s broody Bale may seem miscast as a hoodlum with a heart of gold — truth be told, he does look a little out of place — but it’s that awkwardness that make his presence in the film so endearing.
While a singing and dancing Bale is more than enough to put “Newsies” into your Netflix queue, it can’t be ignored that the real pay dirt is in the musical numbers. Directed and choreographed by Kenny Ortega (“High School Musical”), “Newsies” presents scene after scene of zealous dancers rocking some over-the-top dance moves — in a good way. It’s not the subtlest film ever produced, but it doesn’t have to be. It has heart and energy, and that’s more than enough to make it a film worth checking out.