A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 509 – Newsies

Newsies – July 22nd, 2011

Several years back, when Christian Bale was announced as the new Batman, I remember being immediately excited. I stated at the time that I thought he was an excellent choice and I was looking forward to seeing him in the role. And, at the time, Andy looked at me and wondered where he should know Christian Bale from. My incredulous reply was “NEWSIES!” Which didn’t really help him, because he had never seen it. I, on the other hand, had it memorized and had entertained a brief early teen crush on Bale based solely on his performance in it. I stand by my 12 year old self on this one. Bale was a cutie even at 17/18 and he dances in this!

Given my antipathy towards both Disney and musicals, one might wonder just how in hell I came to watch this movie so many times that I know it by heart. One would have to know my family’s history with cable for that. We didn’t have cable when I was younger. Most of my friends and classmates did, but we didn’t. For the most part, while I knew that in theory there were many things to watch that I was missing, I was content with what we had on broadcast television. And then my family spent two weeks renting a house on Cape Cod one summer. And this house had cable. And on A&E, for two hours every evening – just at the right time for dinner – The Avengers was on. Two hours of Steed and Emma or Steed and Tara(raboomdiay) that we hadn’t seen in ages because no broadcast channels were airing the show and the episodes we could buy on tape were limited. We lasted about four days when we got home. The cable guy was called in before the week was out. My mother had him lock out MTV and VH1 and subscribed to Disney as a “wholesome” channel for myself and my brother. Of course, she never changed the default code on the remote so I unlocked MTV whenever I was home on my own, but I did watch the Disney channel every so often as well. And they played this movie over and over and over and over and over.

Eventually I taped it off tv so I could watch it whenever. Inexplicably my brother also enjoyed it enough not to complain when I put it in. We’d sit and watch it and I’d make jokes about it (I was a born riffer) and make him laugh and somewhere along the line I memorized every line, every song, every stage direction. Everything. It was hard-pressed not to sing along with it watching it now, but I thought Andy would likely look at me funny. I’m sure he was laughing at me when I couldn’t help but mouth the words. Really, I should have been watching this with a couple of friends from college who love it like I do, so we’d have outnumbered him and been able to sing along. I mentioned on facebook that I was watching it and immediately one friend posted “I’M DA KING OF NEW YAWWWK” and we discussed the upcoming stage musical opening in September (why yes, I will be going). So what I’m saying here is that this movie is full of nostalgia for me.

Oh, it’s not perfect. I have to wonder what the impetus was for this movie, to be honest. It’s the story of the Newsies strike in 1899, which was a real thing that happened and was part of the whole labor reform movement in the US. And I find early labor reform really fascinating. So I’m all for a story about children organizing a strike to demand fair treatment. But what an odd choice for Disney to make a movie about. For children. I mean, it’s about kids, but it’s about a period in US history that’s rarely touched on. I mean, who covers the Spanish American War and its domestic consequences in depth at the age at which this movie is targeted? The late 1800s and early 1900s aren’t really a time period that gets a lot of kids movies made about it. Apparently it was originally conceived as a drama without musical numbers. And yet here we are, watching Christian Bale and David Moscow leap and kick and tap their way through Seize the Day, King of New York and several others. It’s a truly bizarre combination that to this day I can’t quite wrap my head around. No wonder it was a theatrical flop.

Despite all that, however, there is something about this movie that I find irresistible. I’m not sure what it is, specifically, that draws me to it because if all I wanted was to see Bale dancing I could just watch clips of this movie set to songs by Lady Gaga (yes, this is a thing, and it is wonderful) but that’s just not as satisfying. I do like the story, which follows Bale as Jack “Cowboy” Kelly and new friend David Jacobs (played by David Moscow) as they urge their fellow newspaper-selling peers to strike in protest of a price increase they can’t pass on to their customers. Jack’s an orphan with a history he’d like to forget about, sings about going to Santa Fe and is generally considered the best of the best by his peers (except the kids from Brooklyn, who have their own leader) where David gets into newspaper selling at the beginning of the movie to help out his family while his father is recovering from a work injury. With David’s smarts and Jack’s charisma and connections they manage to rally all the newsies in the city.

Of course the movie needs a villain and we get two good figures: There’s Joseph Pulitzer, played by Robert Duvall – the man who, in the movie, introduced the price hike that spurs the strike. And there’s Warden Snyder, who runs a juvenile detention hall where he stiffs the kids their meals and pockets the money that should be spent on their care. Snyder is after Jack since Jack escaped from the hall several years back. He goes to Pulitzer and identifies Jack as an escaped criminal, giving the city cause to send in the police to break up the strike. Of course you know that the newsies will prevail here. Regardless of any actual historical events this movie wouldn’t be getting a negative ending. It’s certainly going to be triumphant and involve singing and dancing because that’s how it works. But before it does there are threats and betrayals and people get beaten up and the reporter who’s been helping the newsies gets reassigned and just when you think it’s all going wrong the newsies print their own newspaper and distribute it to all the working kids in New York. Who are, of course, literate.

Not that I’m complaining about widespread literacy! But I highly suspect that this movie is embroidering the truth just a bit in terms of how many dock workers and laundry girls could read. One would expect the newsies to, but not necessarily everyone else. Still, it makes for a good crowd and a good feeling at the end, seeing all these child laborers standing up for their rights. This isn’t a movie that’s trying for verisimilitude. It’s trying to give a little bit of a history lesson, dressed up with song and dance. And some cute male leads. The acting isn’t fantastic and the script is somewhat predictable. But the songs are catchy (I’ve had King of New York in my head since watching it) and the dancing is fun to watch and really, it is a time period and subject I’m interested in. I still think it was an odd choice for Disney to make a movie for but it’s become a favorite of mine. And judging by the response I got from every friend I mentioned it to online, I’m not alone.

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July 22, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , ,

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