Well I got my "Newsies" DVD the other day, and watched it last night. Overall, I thought it was very good – certainly much better than it's (lack of) reputation would indicate. But I did find certain aspects of the musical numbers disappointing.
It's not that I'm against Musicals – far from it. But as was said on one of the supplements making a musical is the hardest genre to make on film.
Why? Because even though the vast bulk of musicals are very obviously fantasy – they have to have one foot firmly in 'reality'. What do I mean by this? Well, the songs and dances have to exist in the context of the musical for a reason. Most times, this is an audio and visual presentation of the emotions of the characters.
Look at the zenith of this thinking in the "Your Song" number in "Moulin Rouge!". Obviously a fantasy with the two leads dancing on air… literally but utterly believable in the context of the film – the characters' feelings for each other build to a crescendo as the music swells. Their dance movements broaden out from small and intimate to wide and expansive, while at the same time their world changes from the small room and balcony to they end up dancing over the whole of Paris. Then as the music fades, they return (in a transition) back to the room in the Stone Elephant. A visually, aurally and emotionally stunning moment. (how Baz Luhrmann didn't win the Oscar for best director, let alone wasn't even nominated for best director frightens me – I've certainly no faith in the Academy anymore).
But other successful musicals employ the same rules: Look at the musical numbers in "Grease", "West Side Story" and "The Sound of Music". Look at the musical moments in Disney's animated films – the joyful, colourful, Caribbean "Under The Sea". The old fashioned 50's musical staging of "Be Our Guest", or the slow moving, romantic "Beauty and the Beast". The majestic and powerful "Circle of Life"… the list goes on and on.
All are true not only to the characters and moments, but also have a staging true to the overall "truth" of the story.
Now "Newsies" did this well a number of times – I liked the "King of New York", "Santa Fe" and to a certain extent "Carrying the Banner" numbers. All of them had staging that made sense in the context of the story and characters.
However other numbers disappointed me. Nothing against the songs ("Seize the Day" is still my favourite) but I did have problems with the choreography. To cut a long story short, I don't feel the fast, high kicking and jumping choreography chosen fitted either the characters or the story at the time. Listening to "Seize the Day" it's certainly not how I imagined it. Of course, this doesn't make it wrong as such – my option is only that an option – but I do feel the staging was, for want of a better description, fighting against the emotional "truth" of the film at times.
Enough about my musical theories! I'm sure I've probably already alienated a few people already!
As for the film on the whole it more than matched my other expectations – wonderful Cinemascope cinematography. An excellent realisation of the period. Christian Bale is superb, as are most of the cast. Bill Pullman shows he's one of the best 'low key' actors in America today, and as a result continues to be criminally overlooked by his peers. Alan Menken's songs are as good as we're used to from his more popular animated work.
I was surprised that the film was released under the Disney name, rather than something like Touchstone. At times the film was more violent than I associate with the Disney branding.
I'll certainly be watching this again a few more times. Who knows, perhaps my appreciation will grow with each viewing.
As for the disc itself, it's probably one of the most loaded Single Disc releases I've ever seen from Disney. As well as the 2 hour film (with commentary) there's three twenty minute documentaries, including a fascinating description of the real "Newsies" strike, plus two trailers (You remember them Disney – trailers?).
Recommended for anyone (unless, you really, really, really, don't like musicals. But if so, what are you doing on a Disney forum?)
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