Extra! Extra! Paperboys sing and dance while on strike!
Newsies is a film about New York newspaper carriers who, after having the cost of their papers raised by a tenth of a cent (the film is set in 1899), decide they are going to organize and go on strike. They go up against newspaper tycoon Joseph Pulitzer, and show the world what a bunch of boys can really do.
The opening credits claim this movie is inspired by a true story—and in fact a group of newspaper boys in New York did protest because the price of their papers were raised. (Click here to learn more about their plight). But one should be skeptical about how much historical accuracy you’ll find here. This movie does however provide a couple of hours of entertainment.
My main complaint is that these boys, who can’t go to school and are missing parental guidance, don’t seem to be suffering the expected consequences. With what feels like the wave of Disney’s magical wand, the orphanage and children’s penitentiary shown here are nicer than some motels I’ve stayed in. Even the old streets of New York are spotless. And these supposedly deprived kids look like they all wake up to a hot shower and a warm breakfast before they start their day.
Part of the problem is that this is a musical, not a serious drama. So, despite the fact that the story alludes to poverty, violence on the streets and children being forced to grow up before their time, the song and dance numbers distract from the desperateness of the situation. This diminishes the viewer’s understanding of why the small increase of a penny is such a big deal to these young entrepreneurs, as well as understates the courage it must have taken for such a ragtag group of juveniles to organize and stand up to the oppression they faced from the adult world.
Young Christian Bale and David Moscow give great performances in their lead roles as newsies. Other notables are Robert Duvall as the haughty Pulitzer, Bill Pullman as the sincere journalist and Ann-Margret as a provocative vaudeville starlet. (In a cast comprised almost entirely of males, I guess including her character was the only way to try and sneak some sex appeal into the script.)