The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Newsies’

This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, I picked “Newsies.”

The info:

The Movie: “Newsies”

Starring:  Christian Bale, Bill Pullman, Robert Duvall

Director: Kenny Ortega

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A musical based on the New York City newsboy strike of 1899. When young newspaper sellers are exploited beyond reason by their bosses they set out to enact change and are met by the ruthlessness of big business.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 39 percent

Our take:

Froemming: This week I decided to pick something a little different. I wanted the JOE-DOWN to review another musical. A musical that didn’t have bowling in it. A musical that also is about the profession both of us decided to go into, despite the desperate pleas from our college advisor not to. This week, I picked the 1992 Disney hit “Newsies.”

What I didn’t expect from this family film was the creeping dangers of its communist message of fair pay and treating employees with respect. Especially when said employees are snot-nosed children with no work ethic who’d rather sing and dance about their problems than ignore them and/or just put up with them like normal Americans.

But before I get too angry with this dangerous idea of collective bargaining to make working conditions better for everyone, Brown what’s your initial thoughts on this Karl Marx wet dream of a film?

Brown: Thanks to days in middle school and high school where teachers decided they didn’t want us to learn anything, I’ve seen this movie three or four times before this review. Thanks, public school system!

And, it’s a movie that seems to have a lot of nostalgia attached to it for folks. When I posted on Facebook that we were watching “Newsies,” I got a lot of comments about how great this movie was and how much they loved it (perhaps with nostalgia goggles on).

Meanwhile, because I’m 12 years removed from high school, all I could think of is “American Psycho” every time Christian Bale was on screen.

So, I’m going to go return some video tapes quick. Why don’t you get this plot rolling, Froemming.

Froemming: It is the 1890s in New York (when America was great) and we are introduced to a ragtag group of Newsies, who are kids who sell these weird things called newspapers (for you Millennials, they are like tablets, but made of paper).

One of these kids is a young Patrick Bateman (Brown’s theory) or Bruce Wayne after he left Gotham in “Batman Begins” (my theory) whose goes by the name Jack Kelly (no relation to Charlie Kelly’s pervy uncle Jack with the tiny hands on “It’s Always Sunny”). He is a 17-year-old jail escapee who is the somewhat leader of these kids.

Brown: OK, so the opening notes of this movie (because of course it starts in song) talks about how the newsies need a leader. Umm, no. You need to get your papers delivered so you can go back to playing stickball or marbles or whatever you kids did when Nintendo was just a card company (true fact).

And while I’m at it, after watching this movie, I’d rather have someone drill a hole in my temple like the movie “Pi” than listen to another phony over-the-top New York accent. Every bad imitation you’ve heard from your lame trying-to-be-funny friend saying New Yorker things like “Ey, I’m walken ‘ere,” that’s how everyone in “Newsies” talks.

Froemming: I have some bad news for you if you ever visit the Big Apple….

Brown: I will say though, I do enjoy the suspension of disbelief a movie like this takes, because you do get into the songs (this movie does have some catchy tunes). Like “West Side Story,” it’s like you can’t be a newsie in 1899 New York without five years of jazz and three years of tap dancing on your resume.

With our lack of rhythm, Froemming, I don’t think we could hack it as early 1900s journalists.

Froemming: Well, the one reporter in this film only sings, and it is as out of tune as we are when we sing, so I think we would be OK. Delivering papers? Nope, we would be (REDACTED).

We also meet Davey and Les, two kids who are new to the newspaper slinging world. Because Jack is a sociopath (both our “American Psycho” and “Batman” theories match this), he wants to use little Les as bait to lure in people, get their defenses down and sell them newspapers when they are emotionally vulnerable. Davey and Les are, at first, not really sure about this. But like screaming at the laundry lady to get blood out of his expensive sheets, Jack gets them in on his side.

Brown: Something that bears mentioning during Davey and Les’ intro to newsie life: How (REDACTED) up is it when Jack and some of the other newsies are singing about how lame the headlines are? They start saying they’re hoping for a massive tragedy, like an assassination or some killer force of nature would strike the world just so they can score a few extra pennies. Hold onto your blood money, you lunatics.

Also, while you’re at it, if you need some extra pennies, use the time you commit to your dance routines to sell more papers. Hell, you should probably get rid of the dance classes altogether.

Froemming: This movie just inspired kids to be lazy and complain all the time. Snowflakes with their Xboxes and phones and whatnot. I saw something like that on Brietbart, and that’s the real news, sheeple.

Anyway, Jack shows them the ropes and talks about his family looking for work and a home in Santa Fe — and we hear a lot about this because Jack never shuts up about it. They bring him home and their parents take a shine to Jack. This is merely Jack scamming a poor family out of their soup!

Brown: Back to my “American Psycho” theory, as Davey and Les say to Jack “Tell us about the papers,” I expected him to say “I like to dissect women. Did you know I’m utterly insane?”

Anywho, we are introduced to our villain of the movie: Joseph Pulitzer (Duvall). Because of course the publisher and titan of industry is going to be the bad guy here.

And right away, I’m mystified at Pulitzer because he needs a magnifying glass to read a newspaper headline. Folks, headlines exist so you DON’T need a magnifying glass. Maybe Pulitzer is legally blind and I’m a jerk, but I don’t think that’s the case.

Froemming: If Pulitzer was such a terrible man, why is there an award named after him? Check and mate, commies!

Anyway, Pulitzer is trying to find out a way to increase his revenue. And he gets an idea from an enterprising young man on his staff who suggests that they charge 10 cents more per bundle or whatever to the newsies. I mean, if those whiners don’t like it, they can just find a job that pays more in New York City for people under the age of 18 with no skills or education, right? Right.

Brown: Well, as we find out later in the movie, there are sweatshops all over New York at this time. So yes, they could find different jobs eventually. Again, child labor laws are ruining this country.

The same time the newsies’ struggles begin, there is another strike going on in town for the trolley workers. And because unions seem to be the hot ticket in 1899 New York, the newsies, led by a reluctant Jack serving as Davey’s mouthpiece, decide that they’re not gonna take it any more.

Because Jack is Patrick Bateman to me, the only reason I see Jack taking the leader role is to quench his insatiable blood lust in the name of beating up scabs that’ll eventually become the new newsies.

Froemming: My Batman theory suggests he wants to fight scabs to fine-tune his fighting skills, which we see later in that Chinese prison in “Batman Begins.”

In order to unite all of New York’s newsies, they need to get pre-hipster Brooklyn on board. To do that, they need to convince Spot Conlon (perfect name for a pet dog by the way) that their dirty socialist concept of fair wages and respect is somehow a good idea. Spot tells them they need to show him they won’t just run and pee their pants at the first sign of trouble before he is on board.

Brown: Well, yeah. Song and dance can only get you so far when you’re fighting for fairer wages. So, the next time the scabs try to deliver the papers, we get a brawl, with paper flying everywhere.

Then, the next day, the scabs got some backup in the form of toughs with bats and chains. All of this in the name of beating up teenagers. Between this scene and all the kids smoking in this movie, I feel like Disney is sending the wrong messages.

But as hope seems lost, the Brooklyn newsies show up, slingshots in hand (because Brooklyn is world renown for its slingshot enthusiasts) to help the motley crew get the upper-hand.

Knowing newspapers the way you and I do, the whole time I felt terrible for the people in the mail room that assembled the newspapers and put the ads in all day, just to see a bunch of poor hormone-driven teens destroy all of it.

Froemming: Yup, they destroy the papers and then the police show up to bring order to this chaos caused by the greedy newsies. As the kids are fleeing, Crutchy (yup, the kid with a physical disability is named “Crutchy”) gets caught by the toughs, who beat the importance of obedience into him.

But we are now introduced to the reformatory that Jack had escaped with the guidance of Teddy Roosevelt (this is a plot point). Jack and Davey scale to the roof of the building like Batman would, and Jack then scales to a window, again much like Batman, to talk to Crutchy. They want to break him out, because they are lawless maniacs with no respect for civilization. Crutchy refuses because of the beating he received.

Brown: The newsies do gain an insider that is sympathetic to their cause in Lonestar Bryan Denton, a reporter who tells the story of the newsies’ plight. After the fight with the toughs (led by the Delancy brothers), Denton takes a photo of our conquering heroes and runs a story in the paper. I guess I’m supposed to disregard my confusion about how the newsies are trying to stop paper delivery in New York, only to give their story to a newspaper that they want to prevent anyone from reading. But no, movie. That was a plot hole I could never excuse.

Getting into a seldom-read newspaper also creates problems for Jack, who is a fugitive.

Froemming: More overreach by the out-of-control liberal media making heroes of over-worked, under-paid children standing up for themselves. FAKE NEWS!

Now, Jack says earlier to Denton that he doesn’t want his photo in the paper. Denton is not about to let some punk tell him how to do his job and runs it anyway. And it would have gone unnoticed by Mr. Snyder, who is the warden of the kid jail, if it wasn’t for the bravery of Crutchy pointing out Jack in the photo. Snyder now has a lead on his White Whale!

But when he shows up at the housing place for New York newsies, everyone covers for Jack. Look, I know he is your friend and all, but he was in jail for a reason — murder? I don’t remember why he was imprisoned, but that is neither here nor there at this point.

Brown: He was imprisoned for stealing food because he was starving. But, Snyder becomes a manhunter because how dare Jack Kelly (real name Francis Sullivan) escape from his refuge home. HOW DARE HE!

Best part of Snyder’s interaction with these kids is how one of them tells Snyder that Jack “Put an egg in his shoe and beat it.” I think that was a young Frank Reynolds from “It’s Always Sunny.” After a while, Davey started looking like Dennis Reynolds and that made the movie pretty weird for me.

And now, we get the most shoehorned thing in this entire movie: The love story.

NEWSIES, Christian Bale, Ele Keats, 1992. ©Buena Vista Pictures

Froemming: I was under the assumption we would skip this, but fine! OK, Brown, we’ll do it your way.

Jack is smitten with Davey’s sister. And she is smitten with him. And if your “American Psycho” theory is right, this woman is in danger of a nail gun, sulphuric acid and a rat.

Brown: She’s named Sarah, but because “American Psycho,” I imagined Jack telling her “You will respond only to Christy.” OK, the “American Psycho” comparisons need to stop. This is a Disney film.

At this point, all we see is a quaint smile between Jack and Sarah when he’s introduced to the family at the beginning. Then all of a sudden, Jack is sleeping outside her window, she makes him breakfast on the rooftop and Jack is asking her if he should stay in New York for her instead of his Santa Fe dream.

It’s just so out of nowhere because there was literally no interaction between these two characters for a good hour. Honestly, Froemming and I put more thought into this love story than the writers did.

That’s all I want to say about it. Bring us back to the singing and the Communist commentary, Froemming.

Froemming: Well, the newsies host a yuge rally supporting their commie cause that reeks of unpatriotism. But, Snyder knows this is where he can find Jack. So, after a song-and-dance number by a commie sympathizer, Snyder and law enforcement break it up and they capture Jack!

And it doesn’t even show up in the newspapers! Because Pulitzer and the other barons of print media have colluded over a game of poker to stop this mess. Denton is reassigned to the war front for having the gall to report on things that are happening in the city for a city newspaper.

Brown: I just had to Google what wars were actually going on during 1899. Again, probably put more thought into this plot point than the writers did. Enjoy covering the Philippine-American War, Denton.

So, Jack is headed back to the refuge house. Or is he?!

After Jack is apprehended, he is given an offer from Pulitzer: Cross over, get your sentence waived and earn a substantial pay raise to get to Santa Fe. Or, go to the refuge house and watch as all the other newsies get arrested, notably Davey.

And like any good capitalist, Jack gets himself a new suit and sells out.

Froemming: He didn’t sell out, Brown, he bought in. And he now is a productive member of society while the newsies are causing trouble and being lazy. Newsies are obviously violent by nature, what with the newsie-on-newsie crime we have seen so far with the soaking of scabs. And that is their first instinct with Jack, to soak him. Davey, though, cautions against that and now has assumed the leader role.

The Delancy brothers, now free from an ass-whoopin from Jack under the agreement with Pulitzer, now target Davey and his sister, Sarah.

Brown: One of the Delancy brothers start punching Davey with brass knuckles. I got a little giddy there. You don’t see brass knuckles enough in media anymore.

I don’t even think Jack delivered one paper before sayin’ nuts to scabbin’ and rescuing his friends from the Delancys.

With nowhere else to turn, Jack, Davey, Sarah and Les go to Denton’s apartment and convince him that they need to get the story he wrote about the newsies’ rally to the people. Not only the reading public, but specifically the other children in the labor force across New York. Look comrades, kids gotta eat. Quit interfering.

Denton buys into the plan and they just so happen to know where Pulitzer keeps an old printing press where the kids print their communist newsletter anti-child labor article. And they literally litter New York with these things, with kids standing on roof tops and making it rain their doctrine. They are doing the newsie thing incorrectly.

Froemming: Somebody has to clean up all that mess, and I am guessing it isn’t the free-loading newsies. SAD!!!!

Well, Gov. Teddy Roosevelt has caught wind of this protest and shows up in support. And once again he saves Jack, if we are to believe that yarn of Jack’s first escape. But instead of going to his non-existent family in Santa Fe, Jack decides to stay in New York! As a newsie! He is literally back to square one in life.

Brown: Well, Jack learned he does have a family… in the newsies and in Davey, Les and Sarah, who he kisses at the end because we needed that Disney ending.

Jack will live on the street the rest of his life.

Well, I think it’s time we jump on Roosevelt’s horse and carriage and get to recommendations.


Froemming: I actually enjoyed this movie. I had seen it when I was little, but didn’t have the fond nostalgia of it to cloud my experience here. There are also some decent ear worms on the soundtrack. It is fun, so I would recommend.

Brown: This is a fun, harmless movie. The only harm it does is from me thinking Jack (and possibly Davey, if he is a young Dennis Reynolds) grew up to be serial killers. The songs are good and Duvall plays a great bad guy. Give it a shot and remember your childhood in the process.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:

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