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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was to write a call-and-response poem, with a repeated refrain or chorus. I applied such a refrain to a news crier like those in a certain musical.)

 

Read all about it: the latest taboos!
-I’ll buy a paper; I do love the news.

Read all about it: new victims accuse!
-I’ll buy a paper; I do love the news.

Read all about it: strike workers refuse!
-I’ll buy a paper; I do love the news.

Read all about it: new game with horseshoes!
-I’ll buy a paper; I do love the news.

Read all about it: the war was a ruse!
-I’ll buy a paper: I do love the news.

Read all about it: your favorite teams lose!
-I’ll buy a paper: I do love the news.

Read all about it: erased interviews!
-I’ll buy a paper: I do love the news.

Read all about it: a new witness sues!
-I’ll buy a paper: I do love the news.

Read all about it: a brave few refuse
To stand by and watch those in power abuse
Their privilege and threaten the rights and the views
Of people whose justice nobody pursues!
-. . . Where’s the Enquirer? I want real news.
___________________________

MPAA rating: PG

Despite all the bad reviews and Razzie nominations it garnered upon release, I watched Newsies expecting and hoping to like it, both because I enjoy musicals and because it was the directorial debut of Kenny Ortega, who helmed my beloved teenage High School Musical films. Unfortunately, Newsies did not live up to my hopes, but neither was it as awful as the 39% Rotten Tomatoes score indicates. It was trying to be a grand, heartwarming musical but didn’t succeed, and I can’t even put my finger on why.

Set in 1890s New York, Newsies fictionalizes the real-life story of the newsboys who began their own strike when Joseph Pulitzer (an overwrought Robert Duvall) increased the cost of the papers that provided their meager income. Leading the charge against Pulitzer is a very young Christian Bale as Jack “Cowboy” Kelly, whose Brooklyn accent covers up Bale’s British accent with panache. Accompanied by new friend David (David Moscow, the young Josh Baskin in Big) and a single ally from a rival newspaper (Bill Pullman), Kelly unites the newsies of New York while trying to stay ahead of the corrupt orphanage keeper (Lost alert for Kevin Tighe, who does play a good meanie).

Newsies is at its best when the limber cast are belting out Alan Menken’s songs and performing Ortega’s remarkable choreography. The opening anthem “Carrying the Banner” and the now semi-classic “King of New York” are the high points, but Bale also gets a solo in the wishful “Santa Fe,” and none of the songs are what I would call bad. Sadly, there’s not enough of them, and long stretches of unengaging drama in between the musical numbers made much of the film unfortunately boring. I could tell that both the writers and the young actors were trying to create something potentially classic, but the necessary level of interest just wasn’t there. Not to mention, the strike scenes included some of the aspects that bug me about unions, such as the persecution of “scabs” who can’t afford not to do their job.

While it might be considered a misfire for Disney, I do admire Newsies for being one of the few non-animated musicals to be entirely original without being based on an earlier Broadway play. In fact, more songs were added to a stage production in 2011, and it later became a hugely popular, Tony-winning Broadway musical. That musical has its roots in this film, so I believe everyone involved in it can still be proud. Newsies does have something of a cult following, and I wonder now whether I would enjoy it more if it had been a mainstay of my childhood. Plenty of people hate the High School Musical films, but my nostalgia helps me forgive whatever they criticize. Perhaps if I’d seen Newsies at a much younger age, I would have enjoyed it more.

Best line: (Crutchy, one of the boys) “It’s this brain of mine; it’s always makin’ mistakes. It’s got a mind of its own.”

 

Rank: Honorable Mention

 

© 2016 S. G. Liput

384 Followers and Counting

 

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