Rated PG, 121 min. Directed by Kenny Ortega. Starring Christian Bale, Bill Pullman, Ann-Margret, Robert Duvall, David Moscow, Luke Edwards, Max Casella, Marty Belafsky, Gabriel Damon.
How did this movie get made? I can't even imagine the pitch meeting at which someone tries to sell the movie moguls over at Disney a Dickensian musical about turn-of-the-century newsboys exploited, striking and organizing. Organizing!? Based on a real event, the newspaperboys' strike of 1899, this is a movie in cultural free fall. Hardly anyone makes musicals anymore, and certainly no one makes them about the labor movement. I'm not even too sure how many people even read the paper these days. However, Christian Bale and David Moscow are charming in this baby buddy film. They lead a huge chorus of ragtag boys in large production numbers that could have, with the exception of a cute but weird Michael Jackson number, come straight from the head of Stanley Donen or Vincente Minnelli. The kids are great and it's hard to believe that few of them are trained dancers. Director Ortega is a choreographer in love with the Forties musical and he also choreographed Dirty Dancing, which certainly owes much of its success to the dancing. Equal parts Battleship Potemkin and Oliver!, Newsies pits an army of scruffy boys against Duvall who's cheerfully over-the-top as evil capitalist Joseph Pulitzer. This is primarily a children's movie and I have a hard time working up much rancor against a movie as campily perverse as this one is. I sat through the whole thing in open-mouthed wonder. It even has Ann-Margret in a role just too strange to describe. Academy Award nominee, now winner, Alan Menken (who with lyricist Howard Ashman wrote the music for Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid) here teams up with Jack Feldman to write a very good, traditional and charming score. I can't imagine that this movie will do well, but the kids will love it if you can get them to go.
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