The News Boys Review

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1899, New York City: Before the turn of the century New Yorkers got their papers from ragged orphans and runaways known as newsies. When news barons Pulitzer and Heart raise the prices at the newsboys' expense they find a cause to fight for.


It’s easy to sneer at Disney’s expensive bid to revive the musical, not least for the irony in a totalitarian studio making a song and dance celebrating organised labour and working class solidarity.

The News Boys does come off very poorly if compared to the great MGM Gene Kelly musicals it so obviously tries to emulate. But considered against many other live action musicals of the last 25 years — Disney’s own The Happiest Millionaire, say, or the dreaded Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or awful Annie, it’s really not so bad.

Drawing its story from a real child labour revolt in New York in 1899 — when newspaper boys struck against the press barons Pulitzer and Hearst, inspiring a citywide children’s walk-out from the sweatshops and factories — the plot has everything to engage schoolchildren. There are Oliver-like urchins, Les Miserablesesque mob confrontations, lively ensemble hoofing numbers and eccentric oldsters like Ann-Marget and Robert Duvall, hamming extravagantly as a Grinch-like Pulitzer. Unfortunately choreographer-turned-director Kenny Ortega’s aims exceed his grasp, with the confused, corny script’s drawbacks highlighted by poor pacing and some curious editing that suggests chunks of footage eliminated.

The attractive, exuberant young principals, led by Britains Christian Bale as strike leader Jack, are just dandy but for the insoluble problem that they are not trained dancers, Bale’s awkwardness in his big solo or at the fore in chorus stampedes painful ot behold. On the bright side, the variable Alan Menken — Jack Feldman score has a couple of decidedly catchy tunes like “I’m The King Of New York”.

One suspects that 9-year-old girls will love it.