It seems preposterous, but I had never seen Disney's 1992 live-action musical Newsies. What was I doing back then? I found time to see the animated musical Aladdin in the theater, which means I wasn't still banned from attending the cinema (movie theaters are dens of sin, don't you know?). I see why the film wasn't a commercial success, I guess... the kids in the movie, while lovable and fun are, well, they're not exactly the kinds of role models that good middle-class families want for their kids. They smoke cigarettes and resort to violence and (gasp!) question authority.
There are several fabulous things about Newsies. First, it's a real musical, by which I mean that this film does not couch its songs in any context other than the film's own musical context. These are not imaginary musical numbers in the head of our protagonist, and they aren't songs sung onstage by musical performers. Newsies knows it's a musical and is proud of it. They don't make films like this anymore. I can think of only two or three in the last fifteen years. (If you can think of more, leave me a comment.)
Another fabulous thing about the movie is its class consciousness. Here is a film with a vision of morality. Sure, it's set at the turn of the twentieth century but the implications for modern morality and the struggles of the working poor are evident. Newsies is a film about the working classes banding together against the capitalist oppressors. I know I sound like a crazy Marxist, but it's exciting!
The cast is fabulous, too. Christian Bale is a great actor, even as early as this film. He, of course, came to everyone's notice with Spielberg's 1987 film Empire of the Sun (my favorite of Spielberg's pictures), and now he's famous for all sorts of cool films, but he is wonderful in Newsies even at age eighteen.
Newsies was a huge flop in 1992. It received a critical bashing, even by Roger Ebert. And it even received a whole host of Razzie nominations. None of this makes any sense. Newsies is a film with a heart, a message, at least five really good songs, imaginative choreography, clever performances and charm to burn.