So over at ferdyonfilms.com they’ve started what the kids are calling a “blogathon” buzzing around the “blogosphere.” The theme is dance movies, and I feel like it’s about time that we here at Dear Jesus peel ourselves off the wall and join the others out on the floor.
I’d like to contribute to this discussion with a little film that’s close to my heart (and I’m going to go ahead and assume that it’s close to every 22-25 year-old’s heart):
Here’s the plot: The Newsies are a bunch a fellas free as fishes, carrying the banner home-free all. Jack “Cowboy” Kelly needs a few more dollars than he’s out of New York to stay…in Santa Fe. Pulitzer and Hearst they think the newsies are nothin’, but are they nothin? No! Pulitzer and Hearst they think they’ve got them. Have they got them? No. These boys are gonna seize the day.
After I first saw this movie back in 1992 I immediately learned the dances, sang the songs, and wore the hats. My family was maybe just a little poor back then (how about dumpster diving at thrift stores for our clothing poor?) and we couldn’t afford the expensive VHS tape, so every time we went over to my cousin’s house to play, I would demand Newsies.
I think every kid around my age either wanted to be a newsie or be with a newsie. Playing on the boy’s team at recess, I definitely fell in the be a newsie camp. I don’t think I realized I was a girl back then (other popular pretend games were Tin Man, Brave Star (with my sister as Handle Bar), and Batman and Robin) and, as a poor kid with a paper route in Provo, UT, those characters spoke to me. I wore my dad’s cap to school everyday.
Plus, as I got a little older I realized that I loved greasy, Italian, cigar-smoking, gamblers:
And shirtless boys in overalls:
(Mush. Also featured in another childhood favorite: D2: The Mighty Ducks, though not nearly as good looking. That award went to Luis Mendoza OR (as some of you know him) Benny “The Jet” Rodriquez!
Newsies is one of those movies that, for my generation, comes up more than you would ever expect. A historical musical drama about little dancing boys became a bit of a phenomenon in the early 90s. Oozing with sap and cheap gags, the film got horrible reviews (scoring only a 29% on rottentomatoes.com), with Ebert writing “From what I could see and hear, the kids didn’t get much out of it. No wonder. Although the material does indeed involve young protagonists, no effort is made to show their lives in a way today’s kids can identify with. This movie must seem as odd to them as a foreign film.” How could a film this underwhelming to critics prove to be such a huge and lasting success? I suspect if any of us emerging “film scholars” went back to Newsies from a detached standpoint, we might be stumped by its popularity. It is, after all, directed by Kenny Ortega, the same guy who directs the High School Musical movies. It might even be possible to think of Newsies as the High School Musical of an older generation. So is it merely the catchy songs, cute boys, and great dance moves that pull us into Newsies and keep us returning to it again and again? My answer: yes. But, boy, are those dance moves great. “King of New York.” Enough said.
In a similar vein to Natsukashi’s blog, which discusses film from a nostalgic standpoint, I would like to extend a call/plea for comments on your own experiences with the beloved Newsies.