Newsies: 20th Anniversary Edition (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
July 1, 2012 by Dennis Amith
“Newsies: 20th Anniversary Edition” is a good musical film but not as exciting as other Kenny Ortega and Disney music-related films. But for fans of this Disney musical (especially those who owned the original 2002 DVD release), will definitely want to upgrade to Blu-ray for its better video quality and lossless audio soundtrack.
TITLE: Newsies: 20th Anniversary Edition
FILM RELEASE: 1992
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:35:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital, Subtitles:English SDH, French and Spanish
RATED: PG (For Mild Violence)
Release Date: July 3, 2012
Directed by Kenny Ortega
Written by Bot Tzudiker, Noni White
Produced by Michael Finnell
Associate Producer: Ira Shuman, Marianne Sweeny
Music by J.A.C. Redford
Cinematography by Andrew Laszlo
Edited by William Reynolds
Casting by Elisabeth Leustig
Production Design by William Sandell
Art Direction by Nancy Patton
Set Decoration by Robert Gould
Costume Design by May Routh
Christian Bale as Jack Kelly
David Moscow as David Jacobs
Bill Pullman as Bryan Denton
Ann-Margret as Medd Larkson
Robert Duvall as Joseph Pulitzaer
Michael Lerner as Weasel
Kevin Tighe as Snyder
Luke Edwards as Les Jacobs
Ele Keats as Sarah Jacobs
Max Cassella as Racetrack Higgins
Gabriel Damon as Spot Conlon
Marty Belafsky as Crutchy
Arvie Low Jr. as Boots
Aaorn Lohr as Mush
Starring Academy Award® winners Christian Bale (Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, The Fighter, 2010), and Robert Duvall (Best Actor in a Leading Role, Tender Mercies, 1983) and screen favorite Ann-Margaret, Newsies tells the true tale of a courageous group of newsboys in a classic musical style. Enjoy incredible dance sequences brilliantly choreographed by Kenny Ortega (High School Musical) and a riveting story produced by Hollywood legend Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast). Experience this critically acclaimed film – bursting with unforgettable songs.
Back in late 1800’s, newspaper publishing magnates Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst relied on the services of the thousands of orphans in the streets to purchase newspaper bundles, sell and distribute their newspapers. These orphans relied on the money to survive and typically, leftover newspapers were a loss for the newspaper boys.
With the Spanish-American War of 1898, newspaper sales in New York increased and the publishers increased the cost of the bundle of newspapers for newspaper boys from 65 cents to 85 cents (which was a large increase for that time period).
A major threat to the already difficult and challenging livelihood for orphans, over 5,000 newsboys (a.k.a. “newsies”) went on strike and in the process, reduced the circulation dramatically for the “New York World” and “New York Morning Journal”.
In 1992, Walt Disney Pictures would release a film titled “Newsies” inspired by the “Newsboys Strike of 1899”. The musical drama would be the feature film debut of Kenny Ortega (“High School Musical” films, “Ally McBeal”, “Gilmore Girls”, “Michael Jackson’s This Is It”) and a screenplay byBob Tzudiker and Noni White (both wrote screenplays for “Anastasia”, “Tarzan”, “102 Dalmatians”).
The film would also star a young Christian Bale (“The Dark Knight”, “Batman Begins”, “The Machinist”, “The Prestige”) in his first feature film lead role, Robert Duvall (“The Godfather” films, “Apocalypse Now”, “Deep Impact”), Bill Pullman (“Independence Day”, “While You Were Sleeping”, “Spaceballs”) and David Moscow (“Living Dolls”, Live-In”).
While “Newsies” did not make much money in the box office (among the lowest grossing films from Disney), the film did inspire Disney Theatrical Productions to produce a stage musical which would be nominated for eight Tony Awards and winning three including “Best Musical”.
But with the success of the careers of Kenny Ortega and Christian Bale, what best time than now to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of “Newsies” for its release on Blu-ray.
“Newsies” takes place in New York City and thousands of orphans take to the streets each day to sell newspapers for Joseph Pulitzer (as portrayed by Robert Duvall). Among the newspaper boys (newsies) are 17-year-old Jack “Cowboy” Kelly (as portrayed by Christian Bale) who purchases bundles of “The New York World” and resells it to make a living.
Meanwhile, David Jacobs (as portrayed by David Moscow) and his younger brother Les (as portrayed by Luke Edwards), have no decision but to become a newsie because their father is out of work with a broken arm and because there were no union during that time, he was fired with no severance pay.
Jack eventually meets with the Jacobs brothers and both learn from Jack of how to sell newspapers. And in the process, Jack introduces the brothers to Medda “Swedish Meadowlark” Larson (as portrayed by Ann-Margret), a vaudeville star who performs at Irving Hall. While there, the boys watch a trolley strike and afterward, the brothers take Jack home for dinner (as appreciation for helping them become newsies) to meet the Jacobs family including David’s sister Sarah (as portrayed by Ele Keats).
Jack tells the brothers that he wants to escape to Santa Fe, where there are jobs. And from this point on, the Jacobs brothers and Jack become great friends.
But as the brothers prepare to sell newspapers and make some money, the newsies respond to the raise of price from Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst of the newspaper bundles. And the newsies feel it is unfair as they don’t make that much money now, especially when they are stuck with newspapers that don’t sell. And aren’t sure what to do.
But since Jack is seen as a leader and David is quite smart, both team up and organize a union with other newsies throughout New York to plan on a strike against the publisher. With the help of journalist Bryan Denton (as portrayed by Bill Pullman) and Medda, the newsies try to find a way to bring all newsies together and form a strike against the wealthy and powerful newspaper publishers.
“Newsies” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1) and features the final film by cinematographer Andrew Laszlo (“First Blood”, “The Warriors”, “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”). The film has a soft look at times and while scenes such as the Irving Theater tend to showcase more color, there is clarity when it comes to the costumes and production design. The film does look good and considering it was released in 1992, I have seen many films that look it has went through excessive DNR, but for the most part, I felt “Newsies” looked very good on Blu-ray.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Newsies” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The film is primarily a dialogue driven film and as expected with a musical, a good number of music-driven scenes. It’s not an immersive soundtrack and felt it was more front-channel driven and dialogue/music is crystal clear. Considering the age of this film, the lossless soundtrack was what I was expecting.
Subtitles are in English SDH, French and Spanish.
“Newsies: 20th Anniversary Edition” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary with Filmmakers – Featuring audio commentary with director and co-choreographer Kenny Ortega, co-writers Bob Tzudiker and Noni-White, producer Michael Finnell and co-choreographer Peggy Holmes.
- Newsies, Newsies, See All About It– (21:44) A featurette featuring Max Cassella, Aaron Lohr and Arvie Lowe Jr. who take the viewers on the set to see the making of the film.
- Newsies: The Inside Story – (19:28) Featurette featuring the cast and crew about the making of the film from costume, set design and more.
- The Strike! The True Story – (18:54) The crew plus historians and writers talk about the “Newsboy Strike of 1899”.
- Storyboard-to-Screen Comparison – (6:12) Featuring optional audio commentary with production designer William Sandell, we get to see the storyboard and final cut versions together and observations from Sandell on the making of those scenes.
- Sing-Along Feature – You can sing along to “Newsies” ala karaoke style (for those familiar with Kenny Ortega “High School Musical” films, similar style of sing-along).
- Trailers – Featuring two “Newsies” trailers
Back in 1992, I actually watched “Newsies” in the theater because of Ann-Margaret and the fact that I was a fan of “Doogie Howser” and wanted to support Max Cassella’s transition from television to film. Also, because the concept of the film reminded me of another child-driven musical “Bugsy Malone”, a film that I grew up watching dozens and dozens of time during my childhood.
So, when I watched the film in theaters, I did enjoy it but at the same time, I recall me feeling that it wasn’t as good as “Bugsy Malone” but OK. Especially how it delves into the strike of the young newspaper orphans of New York City. For me, being a history buff, it was the third reason of why I wanted to see this film.
Where “Bugsy Malone” was a film that utilized its supporting cast really well, for “Newsies”, I would say that the film was a great launching platform for the young Christian Bale but storywise, I felt it was weak on how it brought together the supporting cast. I expected to see more of Max Cassella, but his role was sporadic. David Moscow was good as Jack’s best friend David Jacobs but we are introduced to so many supporting characters that there was not enough character development involved to even get into their characters.
But both young men at the time were able to pull off their characters during the dramatic moments of the film and also the musical sequences.
I can understand as “Newsies” revolved around two young men trying to establish a huge union but aside from the main two, aside from Ele Keats as David’s sister Sarah and his younger brother Luke, most of the younger cast members were forgetful.
Robert Duvall, Bill Pullman and Ann-Margret were major talents that make this film much more appealing but I felt the balance of drama and musical was not well-done. Granted, it was Kenny Ortega’s film debut and a film created over a decade before he had successfully crafted the popular “High School Musical” films. Personally, I wonder how Ortega would have changed the film if he had to make it today as opposed to 1992. What would he had done differently?
As for the Blu-ray release of “Newsies: 20th Anniversary Edition”, there is nothing new added to this Blu-ray release. But for those who love the film, will want to upgrade to Blu-ray for the better clarity and lossless soundtrack.
Overall, “Newsies” was a film that I enjoyed more for its historical aspect and take on an actual strike that took place back in the late 1890’s. Although the film did have musical moments, it is not a 100% musical film, if compared to other musicals. There are long stretches of dialogue before you get to the next musical moment in the film. And once you get into the more dramatic, dialogue-driven moments, you are then taken out of it because of the music. The music portions of the film should have been much more consistent and flowed throughout the film much better than it was.
But by no means did I dislike the film. I enjoyed it. I felt the costume and set design was well-done, Robert Duvall was excellent as Joseph Pulitzer, a young Christian Bale showed promise as a young actor at the time and it was great to see a sexy Ann-Margret as well!
Overall, “Newsies: 20th Anniversary Edition” is a good musical film but not as exciting as other Kenny Ortega and Disney music-related films. But for fans of this Disney musical (especially those who owned the original 2002 DVD release), will definitely want to upgrade to Blu-ray for its better video quality and lossless audio soundtrack.
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