There's a great deal of nostalgia attached to 'Newsies.' Sometimes nostalgia clouds opinions about a movie and makes it difficult to write an honest review of the material. 'Newsies,' with its catchy tunes and baby-faced Christian Bale, instantly became a hit with young girls everywhere. Its plucky damn-the-man attitude, coupled with kitschy dance sequences and Broadway-style music, made it a movie that people watched over and over again without really knowing why. The simple answer was that it was 'Newsies.'
'Newsies' wasn't really a box office success, but it did find a huge audience when it came to home video. I'm sure my wife can attest to wearing out her VHS copy when she was young. It's a movie that has somehow lived on through 20 years of cinema, even though it produced lackluster box office results. Its songs have the ability to attach themselves to the brain like today's popular pop songs. As I write this review I have "King of New York" bouncing around in my noggin, derailing my train of thought time and again.
The beginning of 'Newsies' declares that the movie is based on actual events. Like most movies that make that claim, throwing it out the window is easy. What we're given here is the perfect formula. Greedy corporations, downtrodden common-folk, and a wise-cracking, tough-talking leader who brings the common-folk's problems public.
Jack Kelly (Christian Bale) one of New York's most famous newsboys. He sells a hundred papers a day, mostly by embellishing the headlines, but it's okay because not starving is his top priority. He soon meets David (David Moscow), who is a smart teenager who is simply down on his luck and has to work to support his family since his father got injured and can't work. Jack, David, and David's younger brother, Les (Luke Jacobs) form a partnership and become fast friends. There are other newsies in their group that more or less make up a rambunctious group of kids, much like 'The Sandlot.' Jack and David are the important ones though; the others are mainly around for comedic fodder and funny one-liners in the movie's numerous musical numbers.
One day big bad Mr. Pulitzer (Robert Duval) raises the price of his papers. Not for the public, but for the newsboys. Already hurting for money as it is, the newsboys go on strike, trying to sing and dance their way to toppling one of the most powerful men the country had ever seen. Much is made of them starving if they don't sell papers, and David's family being destitute without their father working, but during the big strike not much attention is paid to how much it actually affects anyone. The kids aren't working, but they aren't starving either. After the initial introduction to David's family we don't ever hear a peep from them once the strike starts wearing on. There are holes in the story for sure; mainly a romantic entanglement between Jack and David's sister, which the movie seems rather ho-hum about. At times the movie seems like it wants to make this romance a focal point, but then it's simply left to wither without much thought after a few scenes.
'Newsies' has always felt more like a stage performance than a cinematic one. Each character overacts just enough that you could picture the entire movie taking place on a Broadway stage rather than on the big screen. At two hours it's entirely too long, and ends up dragging once all the notable songs are used up during the beginning of the movie.
Nostalgia aside, 'Newsies' is a decent enough distraction. People will always love it no matter what though. It's a movie that has embedded itself into our culture and even 20 years later many people still remember it fondly. Does that make it a good movie? Not really. But it does illustrate just how powerful nostalgia can be.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a Disney/Buena Vista release. It even comes with a Disney Movie Rewards code. This is a single-disc release with a 50GB Blu-ray Disc. It's region free.
If you spent your younger years watching 'Newsies' over and over on VHS and then on DVD, many years later, you'll probably find that the Blu-ray is a huge step up, but that it retains the genuine feeling of the film. Disney has done a good job restoring this 20 year-old film, but didn't go overboard with making it looking overly worked on.
The first thing you'll notice is that even though the movie is presented in 1080p high definition, many scenes look a little soft. That's not to say they look like VHS or DVD quality, because they look much better than that. This simply isn't a crystal clear presentation, nor should it be. The movie retains much of its grainy cinematic structure, even though it does look like the grain has been tamped down by Disney in their restoration process. However, the movie doesn't look like it's taken any sort of huge DNR hit. Grain, while softened, stays consistent throughout the film lending it a genuine filmic feel.
Depending on the scene, colors tend to fluctuate. The beginning of the film has a more drab feeling to it. Colors are a tad muted. When the end comes though, colors seem more vibrant. As Jack rides away on Roosevelt's carriage, and the crowds surround them, you'll notice all sorts of colors vividly sticking out with striking emphasis. Shadows are also well done here. During Jack's solo dance routine the silhouettes around his face and body never have a crushing feel. Artifacts are left out. I didn't notice any banding, aliasing or other anomalies. Disney knows how to take care of their catalogue titles. Some may whine a little that the grain appears to have been altered somewhat, but on the whole this is a very competent transfer of an early 90s film.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is something that will keep fans happy for sure. The voices and songs have never been clearer than they are now. There are a few scenes, like where Jack is running away from Snyder for the first time, where off-hand comments like "Sleeper!" as they're running up the stairs, are much clearer this time around. Background noise, like when the newsies are complaining about the paper price hike, can be heard in the rear speakers nicely. As a matter of fact I thought the rears did a decent job pick up quite a bit of New York ambiance.
J.A.C. Redford's now famous original music is given ample room to impress as the newsies gather for song number after song number. Directionality plays along as different voices vocalize different parts of the same song as the group sings together. Panning effects work smoothly as the camera pans across a singing chorus of newsboys dancing in the street. LFE is light though, but there really isn't much needed from the low-end department anyway.
Fans will be pleased with this mix. The lossless audio really bolsters the movie's sing-along track and will provide rousing audio any time someone sticks it in just to sing along with it.
I like 'Newsies' enough to watch it every now and then. Is it the emotional tour-de-force that it has been made out to be over these 20 years as its stature has grown on the home video market? Not at all. Nostalgia has brought 'Newsies' a long way from the box office disappointment that it was. Still, it's a fun way to spend a couple hours even if you feel like laughing along with it. Disney has done a good job giving the movie good video and audio presentations. Any fans should be happy to own this. Recommended.