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Film / Newsies

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"Pulitzer may own the World, but he don't own us!"

Newsies is a 1992 live-action Disney musical film with a screenplay by Bob Tzudiker and Nomi White and songs by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman ("Copacabana") It is a Period Piece which follows the story of a group of newsboys in New York City in 1899, who strike against the city's biggest newspapers and their publishers after the price of newspapers goes up.

It was a box office bomb when it was first released and severely mocked by critics (Leonard Maltin went as far as calling it "Howard the Newsboy"), but a combination of releases on home video and DVD, airings on the Disney Channel, the Internet, and word of mouth has given it a monster-sized cult following. Swing and a miss, Maltin. A Broadway adaptation debuted in 2012 and was promptly sold out and showered in Tony nominations. It won two, for Best Choreography and Best Score, winning Menken his first Tony.

It should also be noted that the film was directed by choreographer Kenny Ortega, who would go on to direct the High School Musical films. The cast includes Christian Bale, David Moscow, Bill Pullman, Max Casella, Robert Duvall, and Ann-Margret.

The horror-comedy film Blood Drips Heavily on Newsies Square was made on the set of this film.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adrenaline Makeover: At the start of the movie, David is well-dressed and his hair is neat, setting him apart from the other street kid newsies. By the epilogue, he's as scruffy as Jack or Crutchy, solidifying his transformation into a true newsie.
  • Adults Are Useless: Though only partially, since Denton does help the newsies by getting their story out. Similarly, the old man running the home where the newsies live refuses to give Jack up to Snyder.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Both Pulitzer and Weasel (and by extension, Morris and Oscar), David's full name is "David Jacobs", his sister is named Sarah, and his parents are called Esther and Meyer, all Jewish names. (Pulitzer, of course, was Jewish in real life.)
  • Angry Mob Song: "The World Will Know."
  • Badass Boast: From "Seize The Day": Proud and defiant, we'll slay the giant!
  • Berserk Button: For Jack, seeing David hurt or threatened.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: David is the most calm and level-headed of the group for the most part but when he thinks Jack has betrayed them, he furiously chews the guy out and almost physically attacks him.
  • Big Applesauce: Turn-of-the-century applesauce, no less.
  • Big Brother Instinct: David to his brother Les. Jack is quite protective of him as well.
  • Big Damn Kiss: Jack gets one with Sarah in the finale.
  • Brats with Slingshots: Most of the kids use these with marbles.
    "And we got a ton of rotten fruit and perfect aim!"
  • Brooklyn Rage: Spot Conlon.
  • The Cavalry: Spot Conlon and his gang.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: By default.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Pulitzer is the pre-20th-century-Robber-Baron variety of this.
  • Da Editor: Pulitzer.
  • Dark Reprise: Jack sings a melancholy reprise of "Santa Fé" after he has been taken to the juvenile detention centre.
  • David Versus Goliath: The premise; the original legend is referenced explicitly twice in the film: in dialogue ("What's your name?" "David." "As in David and Goliath?"), and in the song "Seize the Day": "Proud and defiant/We'll slay the giant!"
  • Deliberately Cute Child: Jack teaches Les how to use his cute-little-boy charm to sell more papers.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Crutchy rejects Jack's offer to carry him out of the Refuge after he admits to Jack that he can't walk after being beaten up.
  • Face–Heel Turn: When the strike looks like it's succeeding, Pulitzer hauls Jack in and offers him money in exchange for him giving up on the strike. Jack's not interested until Pulitzer threatens Jack's friend and co-leader, David, and David's family; then he caves, and is later seen wearing new clothes and selling Pulitzer's papers. It doesn't last. (This is one aspect of the story that comes more or less straight from the historical record.)
  • A Friend in Need
  • The Gambling Addict: The aptly nicknamed "Racetrack" Higgins is unashamedly addicted to gambling.
    Racetrack: Remember that hot tip I told you about?
    Jack: Yeah?
    Racetrack: Nobody told the horse.
  • He's Back!: Jack briefly agrees to work for Pulitzer in order to protect David and his family, but as soon as he sees them attacked in the street, he's right back to leading the strike and sabotaging his former boss.
  • Historical Domain Character: Most of the boys are loosely or directly based on actual newsboys involved in the strike. Racetrack Higgins, Spot Conlon, Mush Meyers, Crutchy Morris, Kid Blink (the leader of the strike in real life), and several others are explicitly named in newspaper articles from the strike, and David is clearly based on a strike leader named Dave Simons. There was also a newsboy named Jack Sullivan who probably provided some inspiration for Jack Kelly. Not to mention, of course, Joseph Pulitzer and Theodore Roosevelt, Governor of the State of New York.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Medda is a showgirl singer who helps the newsies throughout the strike.
  • "I Am Great!" Song: "King of New York", where the newsies revel in the face their strike has made the papers.
    I gotta be either dead or dreamin'
    'Cause look at that pape with my face beamin'
    Tomorrow they may wrap fishes in it
    But I was a star for one whole minute
  • "I Am" Song: The newsies collectively get one in the opening number, "Carrying the Banner", which explains their working life:
    Every morning
    We goes where we wishes
    We's as free as fishes
    Sure beats washing dishes
    What a fine life
    Carrying the banner home-free all!
  • I Choose to Stay: Jack has always dreamed of going to Santa Fe, but with a little off-screen persuasion by Governor Roosevelt, he decides to go back to his Newsie family.
  • Idiot Ball: Jack specifically tells Denton not to put his picture in the paper, but later when he whips his camera out and takes a picture of all the newsies, Jack doesn't duck down or cover his face or even move so as to make it blur. This leads to trouble when Warden Snyder sees the picture and figures out that "Francis Sullivan" is now using the name "Jack Kelly". Of course, the subsequent plot is dependent on this happening, but why didn't they just have Jack be taken by surprise? Instead, he sees the camera and even points it out to the others.
  • If I Were a Rich Man: The song "King of New York" has shades of this, with the newsies imagining the extravagant things their fame will get them.
    • Slightly averted, because they aren't even imagining anything truly expensive. The most expensive thing any of them want is a movie ticket and a private box at Sheepshead Races. Although one does hope for a Saturday night with the Mayor's daughter.
  • It's the Principle of the Thing: David asks Pulitzer why he's forcing the newsboy to strike and risking bad press over a small amount of money that's chump change to a man like him. Jack spells out that a man like Pulitzer can't be seen as weak or giving in.
  • "I Want" Song: Jack's solo "Santa Fé":
    Santa Fé, are you there?
    Do you swear you won't forget me?
    If I found you, would you let me come and stay?
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Denton and the boys.
  • Kid Hero: Also by default.
  • King of the Homeless
  • Large Ham: Pulitzer, especially his rant about when he created The World.
  • The Leader: Jack, without question. The strike almost falls apart after his brief Face-Heel turn.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Most of the strike songs have a chaotic, cheerfully defiant tone. Near the very end of the musical, however, with Pulitzer and Hearst having escalated over and over again and the situation having grown dark and nearly deadly, "Once And For All" has lost any hint of playfulness.
    This is to even the score;
    This ain't just newsies no more;
    This ain't just kids with some pie-in-the-sky,
    This is "do it or die,"
    This is WAR.
  • Literal Soapbox Speech: During "The World Will Know", Jack hops on the pedestal of a statue of Joseph Pulitzer to start rallying the newsies for a strike against Pulitzer and Hearst.
  • Market-Based Title: Released in Britain as The News Boys.
  • Meaningful Echo: "Headlines don't sell papes. Newsies sell papes."
  • Mouthy Kid: The cast is made of these.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: And the World Will Know! And the Journal too!
  • Named After the Injury: Crutchy was given his nickname due to his 'bum leg', which he uses a crutch to ease.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Pulitzer's hanging threat against David and his family puts Jack in a position where he could have remained a scab under Pulizer's thumb indefinitely, but then the Delancey brothers go one step further and just plain attack Sarah, which pushes Jack's aforementioned Berserk Button and gets him right back to leading the strike.
  • No Song for the Wicked: None of the antagonists sing.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Many of the newsies.
  • Orphanage of Fear: The Refuge, an orphanage/juvenile prison that Jack escaped from, where the corrupt Warden Snyder mistreats his charges while embezzling the money meant for their care.
  • Out-of-Character Moment: One of the Delanceys initially acts offended by his brother threatening to beat up David, indicating that he has Hidden Depths (or at least standards). Within minutes though, he helps harass David and his family along with his brother and not seeming the least bit conflicted or hesitant about it.
    • It's actually far more likely that Morris just didn't want Oscar telling Jack about their plans, as it would up the odds of Jack getting in their way.
  • Parental Abandonment: All of the newsies except David and his little brother, Les, are either orphans or otherwise effectively parentless.
  • Police Are Useless: Right up until the very end of the film.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: "Poor orphans and runaways, the newsies were a ragged army, without a leader, until one day all of that changed..."
  • Refuge in Audacity: When they realize they need to print their own paper if they want to rally all of the child laborers in the city, the heroes make use of one of Pullitzer's own printing presses, stored in his basement.
    • When Snyder goes to the Newsies home looking for Jack, he just happens to walk right into the room while Snyders back is to him and begins to mock Snyder (whom he has spent most of the film running from) feet away from him.
  • Refuge in the West: Discussed in the song "Santa Fe", Jack's "I Want" Song about his dream to move out to Santa Fe, which he sees as an escape from his current life of drudgery which has no future. Subverted in that he ultimately gives it up to stay in New York and help his friends.
  • Running Gag: For poetic reasons, the characters continually say that they will talk to the World, run by Pulitzer. It sounds like they're talking about the actual world, but every now and then they'll throw in "and the Journal" as a side note.
    • The newspaper heading reads: "Children's Crusade: Newsies stop World." (The sub-heading says "and the Journal.")
  • Satellite Love Interest: David and Les' sister, Sarah, for Jack.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • The novelization of the film included several historical facts and references about life at the time, including information on other strikes of the time period and what child laborers had to deal with, and spent several pages after the story to separate fact from fiction.
    • Teddy Roosevelt was in fact New York's Governor in 1899.
  • "Somewhere" Song: "Santa Fé".
  • The Smart Guy: David is "the brains" of the strike. Makes sense considering he's a student who's temporarily dropped out to sell newspapers until his father is healthy enough to return to his factory job. He lacks Jack's charisma and speaking skill, at least initially, but is better at organizing talking points and working the political side of the strike
  • Stealth Pun: Evil Old Pulitzer's newspaper is named The World. They milk the hell out of this ("and the world will know! And the Journal, too!") (also see the page quote).
    • There's also a part where Pulitzer is on a rant about the good old days and says, "Now when I created the World—" Even his cronies snicker.
  • Strike Episode: Most of the plot involves the newsboys’ union going on strike when the newspaper companies refuse to give them a fair wage adjustment.
  • That Reminds Me of a Song: Ann-Margret's solo is seemingly included, as Roger Ebert quipped, "just so that they could say there's an Ann-Margret number in the movie."
  • That Was Objectionable: Spot Conlon attempts this when the Newsies are taken to court for holding a protest rally.
    Spot: Your Honour, I object.
    Judge: On what grounds?
    Spot: On the grounds of Brooklyn.
  • The Theme Park Version: Of the late-19th-century labor movement. The real thing involved a lot more violence, a lot more theory connecting strikes to the state of society, and not quite as many musical numbers.
  • Triumphant Reprise: The World Will Know!
  • True Companions: A major theme; all the newsies are these.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: There really was a newsboys' strike in 1899, and most of the newsies' nicknames are taken from contemporary records. History has been mute on the amount of singing and dancing involved, so it would be best to take that with a grain of salt.
  • Wardens Are Evil: Warden Snyder, the head of the New York "refuge", where boys and young men convicted of crimes are sent to be "re-socialized" and turned into productive members of society. In reality Snyder pockets most of the money intended to be used for the boys' upkeep, leaving them living in basically a poorhouse. He also seems to use his charges as his personal servants.
  • Weird Trade Union: An union for newsboys seems an unlikely choice, but gets good results.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • We never find out if Dave and Les's father ever gets his job back at the factory so Dave can go back to school
    • We never find out what happens with the trolley strike.


Video Example(s):


"Seize the Day"

"Seize the Day" depicts the newsboys resolving to strike against Pulitzer and Hearst for fairer treatment.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / WorkingClassAnthem

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