In the summer of 1993, a young girl came across a VHS tape that would bring her pure joy and her family pure misery.
When I first watched Newsies, I fell in love. I fell in love with the music, the dance, and…the BOYS (Spot Conlon, I’m looking at you). I would watch this movie on repeat, driving everyone in my family crazy. And when it would get to that magical musical number, “Seize the Day,” I had to rewind, re-play, repeat.
I recently decided to put on my dancing feet and see if this movie held up to the shrine that I had made for it in my youth.
When Newsies was released in 1992, it was gifted with a $15 million budget. Yet, only brought in $2.8 million. The film was panned by critics and was even the recipient of its very own Razzie award. Was this movie truly horrible? Had I romanticized this film in the same fashion that Disney had romanticized the newsboys’ turn of the century plight?
For those of you who have never seen the film or musical, here is a brief synopsis of the story. It’s 1899 and the giant newspaper tycoons have decided to charge the newspaper boys more to buy their papers. David Jacobs, who is new to the newsie scene, befriends Jack Kelly the self-proclaimed “Cowboy” and unofficial leader of the newsies. This unlikely pair decide to unite the boroughs in a raucous strike. When it just about seems like they are fighting a battle that cannot be won, the day is saved by an extravagant Deus Ex Machina.
Upon re-watching the film as an adult, I had to face the harsh reality that the plot of the film is incredibly weak and uninspiring. It has an unnecessary love story and an unbelievable ending. Despite the neglected narration, I still enjoyed the film. The heart and soul of Newsies is in its music (with the exception of “Hard Times, Hard Times,” which rightfully earned that Razzie) and ambitious dance numbers.
It’s no surprise that the major strength in Newsies is in its musical numbers. The film was directed by Kenny Ortega. The famed choreographer of Xanadu and Dirty Dancing. You have to recognize what a magnificent feat it was to work with these boys on some pretty impressive dance numbers. Sometimes I wonder how much patience was needed to be on that set with a bunch of teenage boys.
The film may not be a beloved classic by all, but it is still one by me. I would still recommend the film to those who have not seen it. Yet, I would make it very clear that the strength in the film is in its musical numbers and NOT the story. Over time, Newsies has come to develop a bit of a cult following, which might have led to the success of the musical version. The musical has basked in the light of success where the film did not. It makes me happy that these songs live on and are enjoyed by future generations. There will never be a moment in my life when I will only listen to “Seize the Day” just once.