For a long time, Newsies felt like a blip on the cultural radar of the 1990s. Coming in 1992, the movie fell right on the cusp of the studio’s Michael Eisner led resurgence. As such, years passed with only rare mentions of the little movie that could… then the older millennials started hitting middle school… and Kim discovered Christian Bale and fell hard into internet fandom.
For those who have been living under a rock, Newsies follows a group of newsboys who rebel against publishing titan Joseph Pulitzer during the newsboys strike of 1899. The movie starred a host of young, up-and-comers with Bill Pullman (squee!), Robert Duvall and Ann-Margret backing them up.
What is the appeal of Newsies, you ask? What isn’t the appeal? Period clothes! Christian Bale! Singing and dancing boys! Flips! Pelvic thrusts! Okay, this sounds relatively tame, but to a thirteen year old Kim, this stuff was positively earth shattering. Just humor me, here.
I did have obsessions before this, things like Little Women and The Beatles jump immediately to mind. However, Newsies is the first time I remember hard core crushing on something which I could find a like-minded fandom. (Kids, when the 1994 Little Women came out, the internet wasn’t a thing in its current form. Google, “dial-up”). When I discovered Newsies, I wandered into a newly forming digital landscape of fan-fiction (I may have even authored a few). Shhhh. Just keep that between us. We built fan pages (remember Angelfire?). There was Newsies role play…. All at once, and very much for the first time, I found a like minded community of something I was into. Largely, we were around the same age, just spread out around the world.
Thinking about it, Newsies is a positive gold-mine when marketing to teenage girls. The film presents dozens of different characters all meant to appeal to a variety of types of hormonal fans. Some girls were all about Jack Kelly (Christian Bale), others were completely into Spot Conlon (Gabriel Damon) or Racetrack (Max Casella). Heck, some were all about Dutchy (Ivan Dudynsky) and Specs (Mark David). I knew ‘um all! While not all the boys had lines and there were varying levels of screen presence, each had personality to go around.
Just watch this song and tell me there’s not an abundance of thirst moments for girls of any shape and size. I mean, Mush (Aaron Lohr) without his shirt? That cute, cute period underwear? (Like I said earlier, just humor me!). There’s lots of toweling off going on in this song. The movie comes out strong right out of the gate, introducing most of the varied characters right off the bat. It truly is a brilliant opening number, developing not only the boys, setting the environment, and ultimately establishing the tone of the film.
Now who did Kim like you ask? Which Newsie was this itty-bitty, pre-teen Dame all about? David! I’ll admit it. Sure, he was kinda the nerdy one, but he was also the sensitive one. He was the thinker. The brainy one. He wore a vest! Perhaps it was that pretty wavy hair? He might not have been the best dancer of the group (they seem to be dancing around him, actually)… but he sure could belt out a song.
Evidence below (on both counts). With a little bow-tie wearing Bill Pullman thrown in for good measure…
Personally, my nerdiness actually drew me a bit to this movie. I’ve long held a fascination with genealogy, and much of my family history dates to Manhattan and Brooklyn during this period. Is it some wish fulfillment of finally understanding the history I’ve spent 20 years trying to crack? Probably. Add in a good dose of hormones and you’ve got a movie Kim could sink her teeth into.
I think this movie speaks to teens (and pre-teens) on a deeper level. Could it be the sense of angst in these characters? Perhaps it is a desire to break away from the rigidity of a contemporary life for the sense of freedom in this world… conveniently forgetting the poverty, the starving, the illness and high mortality rates, but I digress. I think most of us spent those years of our lives questing for the romance of something… different. Just look at the wistful longing of Christian Bale in “Santa Fe” and tell me that doesn’t sum up the feelings of most of us as teenagers.
It is surprising just how popular Newsies is, even today. It is an unspoken bond for so many women around the world… especially those of us in and around a certain age. Do the kids like Newsies? Tell me you do! While critics largely panned the movie at the time of its 1992 release, Newsies grew into a powerful and representative film for children and teenagers around the world. Even those of us who were too young to appreciate the story during its original run (I was six in 1992) found plenty to appreciate in the period musical once they got to it.
Newsies is readily available on DVD.