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Newsies: 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Disc Review

Newsies (1992) movie poster Newsies

Theatrical Release: April 10, 1992 / Running Time: 121 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Kenny Ortega / Writers: Bob Tzudiker, Noni White

Cast: Christian Bale (Jack "Cowboy" Kelly/Francis Sullivan), David Moscow (David Jacobs), Bill Pullman (Bryan Denton), Gabriel Damon (Spot Conlon), Luke Edwards (Les Jacobs), Max Casella (Racetrack Higgins), Michael Lerner (Weasel/Wiesel), Marty Belafsky (Crutchy), Aaron Lohr (Mush Meyers), Trey Parker (Kid Blink), Arvie Lowe, Jr. (Boots), Kevin Tighe (Mr. Snyder), Charles Cioffi (Seitz), Ele Keats (Sarah Jacobs), Jeffrey DeMunn (Mayer Jacobs), Deborra-Lee Furness (Esther Jacobs), Ann-Margret (Medda Larkson), Robert Duvall (Joseph Pulitzer), Dee Caspary (Snitch), Joseph Conrad (Jake), Dominic Maldonado (Itey), Matthew Fields (Snipeshooter), Mark David (Specs), Ivan Dudynsky (Dutchy), Robert Feeney (Snoddy), Michael A. Goorjian (Skittery), Dominic Lucero (Bumlets), David Sidoni (Pie Eater), Kevin Stea (Swifty), Marc Lawrence (Mr. Kloppman), Kevin Michaels (Ten-Pin), Shon Greenblatt (Oscar Delancey), David Sheinkopf (Morris Delancey), Mark Lowenthal (Jonathan), William Boyett (Judge Movealong Monahan), Ryan MacDonald (Mayor Van Wyck), David James Alexander (Teddy Roosevelt)

Songs: "Carrying the Banner", "My Lovey Dovey Baby", "Santa Fe", "The World Will Know", "Seize the Day", "Seize the Day (Chorale)", "King of New York", "High Times, Hard Times", "Santa Fe (Reprise)", "Once and For All", "The World Will Know (Reprise)", "Carrying the Banner (Finale)"

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Walt Disney Pictures had some strong performers in 1992. While not nearly as potent as its predecessor, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid grossed a respectable $59 million domestically. The Mighty Ducks was popular enough to spawn two sequels and an animated series, in addition to lending its name to an NHL team.
Then there was Aladdin, the year's #1 film by any measure and a $500 million worldwide blockbuster. Disney has opted to revisit none of those films this year; instead, the studio has issued a 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray for Newsies.

Drubbed by critics and avoided by the public, the period musical was an epic flop, its measly $2.8 million take less than any of the year's offerings released as wide. Though it had all the makings of a film destined to earn at least technical recognition from the Academy (especially if unleashed in the last weeks of the year, which this April release was not), the only major awards for which it competed were the infamous Razzies, receiving five nominations and "winning" Worst Original Song. By all accounts, Newsies was a disappointment and with a production budget of $15 M, a somewhat considerable one in the industry's more conservative times.

And yet, these days, those who know Newsies tend to love it. The movie was recently adapted into a stage musical, which featured prominently at this year's Tony Awards, winning two honors and vying for another six. The 1992 film can also now boast of star power. When released to DVD in 2002, Christian Bale didn't even elicit a mention outside the billing block. Now, Bale is given first placement above the title and celebrated for his supporting actor Oscar win for 2010's The Fighter. Perhaps more meaningful than that deservedly decorated turn is the fact that Bale is one of the industry's biggest movie stars today, if only due to his role as Batman in Christopher Nolan's esteemed, influential, and highly successful trilogy.

Teenaged Christian Bale stars as Jack Kelly, the fugitive leader of the 1899 New York City newspaper boy strikes. David (David Moscow) and other newsies hope that reporter Bryan Denton (Bill Pullman) will help their story spread.

While one can understand the commercial difficulties Newsies experienced, as once-dominant live-action musicals have long since had a spotty record at the box office, the critical dismissals are harder to make sense of. This is a spirited film with a worthwhile historical story to tell, its heart in the right place, and appealing songs composed by key Disney animation renaissance figure Alan Menken that gain value with every viewing.

Newsies is set in turn of the 20th Century New York City and centered on the teenaged and younger boys who sell newspapers. Primarily orphans and runaways, the newsies are also shrewd salesmen who, with some sensationalizing and sympathy ploys, know how to unload enough cheap dailies to turn a profit. This being a musical, the laborious and frankly inappropriate lifestyle is celebrated via song and dance. These tough, independent, street-smart kids have each other and the drive to get by.

Some, like protagonist Jack Kelly (Bale), dream of more. Jack is on the run from refuge ("prison for kids") and longs for a life in Santa Fe, a paradise he's built up based on a ripped out ad. Others, such as David Jacobs (Big's David Moscow), see selling papers as the means to an end; in his case, to make money while his injured father is out of work.

Nobody gets the newsboys' hearts racing quite like middle-aged songbird Medda Larkson (Ann-Margret), the Swedish Meadowlark. Powerful publisher Joseph Pulitzer (Robert Duvall) holds his ground in the face of newsie revolt.

After publishers including Joseph Pulitzer (Robert Duvall) decide to raise their papers' cost to newsboys a fraction of a cent, the young street vendors see their livelihoods threatened and strike back. With David as the brains and Jack as the bold leader, the newsies go on strike, refusing to sell papers at the minimally higher price.
Helping their cause is sympathetic newspaper reporter Bryan Denton (a slick Bill Pullman), who writes on the youths' decision to unionize and immediately catches the public's attention. The issue is not easily resolved and the work stoppage is further complicated by Jack and friends' legal troubles.

It's easy to imagine Newsies falling in between demographics, its mature story and characters' questionable morals beyond youngsters' grasps, and yet the singing and dancing kids looking too childish for anyone older. Time certainly eliminates such concerns. Nowadays, Newsies seems awfully appealing to anyone who was a kid at any point in the '90s as well as anyone of any age drawn to musicals.

Along with copious amounts of fun and consistently infectious musical numbers (whose creative and well-distributed lyrics are the work of Jack Feldman, one of Barry Manilow's "Copacabana" co-writers whose resume is clearly shorter than it should be), the movie boasts a suitable amount of artistry in the directing debut of longtime film and music tour choreographer Kenny Ortega, who reascended to relevance midway into last decade with the High School Musical trilogy and Michael Jackson's posthumous concert rehearsal film This Is It. Meanwhile, the flavorful underdog story is impossible not to get behind whole-heartedly. Even if the credits emphasize that this is a fictional interpretation, the real 1899 Newsboys Strike dramatized continues to hold interest today, when child welfare is taken far more seriously.

There seems to be little doubt that today, Newsies is one of the better remembered and most beloved films of 1992. Even before its jump to Broadway, its fans were more vocal and passionate than virtually any comparable contemporary (sorry, 3 Ninjas). Thus, Disney's Blu-ray release makes sense and it's one of the rare cases where the studio's home video timing appears to be just right (not to mention, mathematically accurate).

Newsies: 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: June 19, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $20.00 (Reduced from $26.50)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Still available on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released as Collector's Edition DVD (January 15, 2002),
VHS (January 15, 2002), and VHS (January 8, 1997)

VIDEO and AUDIO

This year's increase in Disney catalog Blu-ray output has come with a decrease in the predictable polish of said output. Back when the studio was only bothering with about one live-action film a year, the results were satisfying. Now, some are good and some are much less so. Newsies lands in the middle. For the most part, this 2.35:1 presentation pleases. But at times, it is plagued by grain, lacking focus, somewhat drab colors, and loss of detail. At its best, the movie is never mistakable for a brand new studio production. But the element itself is clean and void of any minor intrusions. It's just too bad that the picture varies in consistency and quality, in a way it didn't noticeably on DVD. It's probably partly because the highs are so much higher, but it's frustrating that the whole movie couldn't look as great, because this film is sure not to be revisited anytime soon.

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is much harder to find fault with. This is a lively mix, full of character and atmosphere. The dialogue and music that drive the film are especially robust and crisp, commanding notice with no evident aging or distortion. Where the video leaves room for improvement, the sound does not, providing absolutely everything that it should.

Max Casella rocks a fashionably large denim coat as one of the hosts of the 1992 Disney Channel making-of special "Newsies, Newsies: See All About It." Kenny Ortega and his regal mane discuss their directorial debut in "The Inside Story."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Newsies' Collector's Edition DVD was one of Disney's rare live-action catalog titles to provide any bonus features of note. This 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray gladly retains nearly all of the excellent supplemental material of that out of print and now pricey DVD, presenting video features once again in standard definition.

First up but hidden in the setup listings is an audio commentary by director Kenny Ortega, writers Bob Tzudiker and Noni White, producer Michael Finnell, and co-choreographer Peggy Holmes. It's a good track, fueled by warm memories and strong camaraderie. Full of information and absent of lulls, the discussion touches on many interesting subjects, including the project's transformation from the drama it was conceived as to a musical, a deleted girl newsie, pitching the film to Disney, having to say no to Steven Spielberg (who wanted Luke Edwards for the Hook role that presumably went to Charlie Korsmo),
tensions rising in Duvall and Bale's shared scenes, the film's enduring and unexpected popularity, the young actors' willingness to sing and dance, the atmosphere on set, research that shaped the film, and hopes for both a Broadway adaptation (done!) and a cast reunion (we're still waiting!). The decade elapsed and scarcity of family film commentaries render this lively one quite special.

On the video side, things begin with "Newsies, Newsies: See All About It" (21:44), the Disney Channel's 1992 half-hour making-of special. It's hosted by three of the film's young cast members: Max Casella (then of "Doogie Howser, M.D." fame and unbelievably 24 years old), Aaron Lohr, and Arvie Lowe, Jr. Though obviously promotional, it is also a substantial look at the film's creation with plenty of cast/crew interviews and loads of behind-the-scenes footage. It's vastly more entertaining than the standard made-for-DVD pieces put together these days. Most of Disney Channel's specials have eluded home video, which makes this one all the more appreciated.

"Newsies: The Inside Story" (19:28) makes further use of production footage and interviews, leaning a little more to cast and crew comments on the mechanics of it all without repeating the previous piece's information.

A real turn-of-the-century newsie is pictured in "Strike! The True Story." This storyboard is compared to the corresponding clip from the final film.

"Strike! The True Story" (18:54) gives us a more historical take on the 1899 Newsboys Strike. Various authors and Newsies crew members paint a picture of New York City and child labor in the time dramatized.

A "Storyboard to Scene Comparison Sequence" (6:12) is what it sounds like, only it pulls clips from a variety of places and doesn't use split screens but dissolves to compare the film with pre-production drawings. A separate listing treats you to the same montage with audio commentary by production designer William Sandell.

Finally, we get not one but two original Newsies theatrical trailers, one (2:07) aiming for general audiences appeal and the other (1:43) placing this in the tradition of modern Disney hits. They're a rare treat and also offer a case study for a seemingly ineffective marketing campaign.

Classified as a special feature on the package (but simply listed in Set Up on the menus) is a sing-along subtitle track, which turns the white song lyrics yellow as words are sung and disappear for non-musical parts. It's a no-brainer inclusion which ensures that nearly everything from the DVD is retained.

Ariel makes an appearance in the theatrical trailer establishing "Newsies" as part of a modern uptick in Disney family entertainment. Ain't it pretty, it's the menu of Newsies!

The one exception is "Talkin' Newsies", an interactive guide to the turn-of-the-century slang heard in the film. It was simple and most of few dozen definitions self-explanatory,
but that hardly seems sufficient reason to drop it and lose the uncredited narrator's fine old-timey New York accent work.

As fine and comprehensive as this 10-year-old slate of extras is, it's a shame that we don't get anything new here. This is the type of movie that practically screams for an all-grown-up cast reunion, one which most of the former child actors (read: everyone but Bale) should be available for. Since it hasn't happened already, though, I wouldn't hold my breath for such a thing, although the stage musical and the 20-year anniversary present awfully opportune timing.

The simple menu places a static image among newsprint while a short, looped excerpt of instrumental score plays.

The Blu-ray opens with a trailer for The Odd Life of Timothy Green and TheTruth.com's New York cowboy anti-smoking promo (more relevant here than perhaps on any other disc ever). As on the DVD, no Sneak Peeks menu or listing is provided here.

The unslipcovered Blu-ray case holds inserts for Disney Movie Rewards and for the Broadway musical, the former offering a $5 download of the film soundtrack with this purchase.

New York's newsies wait to see if the world will know and care about their plight.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Twenty years later, Newsies is still a lot of fun, with some of the appeal no doubt stemming from its fitting underdog status. Had the world embraced this movie with acclaim, awards, box office success, and sequels, its faults might be more glaring and bothersome. As is, though, it is a sweet and scrappy production, oozing with charm, heart, and toe-tapping music. Sure, it's a little cheesy in the way that all early '90s family films are, but it still stands strongly as one of modern cinema's best musicals.

Disney's Blu-ray is a simple conversion from their solid DVD, retaining almost all supplements and thus delivering many more extras than the typical catalog family film. The main attraction is the hi-def feature presentation, which offers adequate picture and strong sound. At the same time, this anniversary edition marks a missed opportunity to dig up deleted scenes, take us inside the decorated musical currently playing on Broadway, or reunite the cast. Nonetheless, if this movie is a favorite of yours and Blu-ray is a format you're collecting, then this is an easy upgrade to recommend.

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Kenny Ortega: High School Musical High School Musical 2 High School Musical 3: Senior Year The Cheetah Girls 2
Music by Alan Menken: Enchanted Home on the Range Mirror Mirror Beauty and the Beast Tangled Aladdin
Live-Action Musicals: The Muppets Across the Universe Mary Poppins Dreamgirls Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Christian Bale: The Fighter The Prestige Howl's Moving Castle | David Moscow: Big | Choreographed by Kenny Ortega: Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Robert Duvall: Phenomenon Four Christmases The Godfather Trilogy | Ann-Margret: The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause Old Dogs
Early '90s Disney: The Rocketeer The Muppet Christmas Carol Perfect Harmony Dinosaurs: The Complete First and Second Seasons

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Reviewed July 19, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1992 Walt Disney Pictures and 2002-2012 Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
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