Newsies: 20th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray)
Directed by Kenny Ortega
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 121 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 26.50
Release Date: June 19, 2012
Review Date: June 29, 2012
With his newspaper’s circulation down due to a slowdown in news in 1899, Joseph Pulitzer (Robert Duvall) decides to up the price of newspapers which are being peddled by street newsboys. Outraged that their small profits are being cut into further by the fat cats who run the business, head newsie Jack Kelly (Christian Bale) decides their only response is to strike, and in order for that to work (since they have no union), every newsie across New York City must support them. With earnest reporter for The New York Sun (not owned by Pulitzer or William Randolph Hurst) Bryan Denton (Bill Pullman) giving them his paper’s support, the newsboys' strike does succeed in cutting circulation by 70%, but Pulitzer, not used to being on the losing side, brings in his own scabs, toughs, and eventually the police in order to bring the momentum the boys had gained to a screeching halt.
The screenplay by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White is based on actual turn of the century events, and while on the surface the story doesn’t seem particularly musical in nature, composer Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman have found spots where music does heighten the emotions and thus justifies the song and dance. Production numbers abound, full of director/choreographer Kenny Ortega’s spirited dance and flashy leaps and thrusts, but three of them in the film’s first half are a bit too similar in pace and tone to warrant their lengths. The opening “It’s a Fine Life” will remind you of a male-based “It’s a Hard-Knock Life” from Annie, and the later “The World Will Know” and the triumphant “Seize the Day” (with its Irish jigs and more acrobatics) are energetic and toe-tapping if a bit redundant. “Sante Fe” is a beautiful ballad which Jack sings and dances expressing his desire for a family and a settled life, and “King of New York” which is the last taste of victory for the boys before a series of defeats makes splendid use of interiors instead of the street dances of the previous numbers. “Once and for All” brings the movie to a fitting if predictable conclusion.
But for all its catchy song and dance interludes (and that doesn’t include two brief numbers with music hall star Medda Larkson (Ann-Margret) in Floradora finery which are both unnecessary intrusions into the story), the music and dance seem forgotten about for much of the film’s second half when it could have used some additional ballads to express characters’ feelings of betrayal or hopelessness. There’s a half-hearted romantic interest for Jack with the sister (Ele Keats) of his best friend David (David Moscow) that is pitifully underwritten, and Jack’s last act changes of heart aren’t explored nearly as much as they should have been.
Christian Bale, sixteen at the time of filming, is not a natural song and dance man (he did his own singing and dancing in the movie), and one can see his intense concentration (almost to the point of counting the beats of his steps) in his big dance solo during “Santa Fe,” but his acting is so real and honest that his inexperience with the musical moments is easily overlooked, and he does a credible Bronx accent. David Moscow makes a lively friend for Jack, and he’s equally hard-working with the singing and dancing pulling both off quite impressively. Among the other street kids, Max Casella as streetwise Racetrack steals all of his scenes, and Marty Belafsky as Cruchy is likewise heartwarming and funny with his spotlight moments. Gabriel Damon may be short of stature, but he dominates all of his scenes as Spot Conlon, head of the Brooklyn newsies. Robert Duvall and Bill Pullman do their usual solid, professional jobs in their roles, and Michael Lerner as circulation manager Weasel and Kevin Tighe as the head of the boys’ reformatory make excellent secondary villains for the film without overdoing the rancor.
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is faithfully presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The film’s first half is spotless and sensational in its color saturation levels, contrast, and sharpness, but the second half seems a bit less impressive with milky black levels, average shadow detail, some variations in contrast levels, and occasionally pinkish or overly rosy skin tones. The film has been divided into 22 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is impressive in almost all aspects of its presentation. The glorious music score, both songs and underscore (by J.A.C. Redford), gets expansive spread through the fronts and rears giving a real heft to the immersive feel of the piece. The orchestrations are never overpowering, however, so the singers can be heard clearly and cleanly in the center channel. There are some nice panning effects and good use of the rears for ambient sounds when they’re present. No age-related artifacts spoil the aural presentation of this first-rate soundtrack of its era.
[Reviewer’s note: the opening Disney Blu-ray logo on the disc is presented in system-threatening levels of volume. One is cautioned when loading the disc to mute your sound until that introduction passes.]
The audio commentary is a joint effort by director Kenny Ortega, producer Michael Finnell, writers Bob Tzudiker and Noni White, and co-choreographer Peggy Holmes. It’s a lively remembrance of making the movie, and it’s most impressive with a crowd of this size that no one person dominates the discussion. Each has something important to contribute. Fans of the film will enjoy hearing what its creators had to say ten years after its making. (Amusingly, they mention their desire to see the show brought to Broadway, something that finally happened a decade after these comments were recorded but not by them.)
All of the video supplements are presented in 480i.
“Newsies, Newsies, See All About It” is a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s production hosted by actor Max Casella. Among those giving brief sound bites are Christian Bale and Kenny Ortega in this 21 ¾-minute piece.
“Newsies: The Inside Story” offers more behind-the-scenes glimpses of the film’s production with comments from actors Michael Lerner, Christian Bale, Bill Pullman, and David Moscow, among others, Kenny Ortega, Alan Menken, stunt coordinator Mike Vendrell, cinematographer Andrew Laszlo, and film editor William Reynolds. It runs 19 ½ minutes.
"The Strike! The True Story" offers 19 minutes of background history on the real strike between the newsies and Pulitzer/Hurst. Writers Bob Tzudiker and Noni White relate the true story not just of the strike but its aftermath and the lessening of the importance of the newsies over the next couple of decades.
A montage of scenes showing storyboard-to-filmed scene comparisons can be viewed with or without audio commentary by production designer William Sandell. It runs 6 ¼ minutes.
Two theatrical trailers (both pan and scanned and very soft) run 2 ¼ and 1 ¾ minutes respectively.
There is a promo trailer for The Odd Life of Timothy Green.
4/5 (not an average)
Not a great film musical but an entertaining one nevertheless, Newsies was one of the live action musicals of the 1990s which despite its being a box-office disappointment kept the genre alive for future filmmakers to take advantage of. The presentation of it in this new Blu-ray edition is a worthy one, and one many who love musicals will enjoy revisiting.