A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this Disney production features a tough, New York street-level milieu, in which confrontations frequently threaten to culminate in fist-fighting, and often do. There are menacing scenes of adults threatening to beat children using clubs and chains, and a rivalry between different subsets of kids looks somewhat like street gangs. One boy smokes cigarettes. There is a strong pro-union (and anti-management) sentiment throughout.
What's the story?
Loosely based on actual incidents, NEWSIES casts New York City daily-newspaper tycoon Joseph Pulitzer ( Robert Duvall) in a most villainous light. Engaged in a circulation war with rival William Randolph Hearst, the greedy Pulitzer raises the rates at which the "newsies" buy the "papes" every morning. The street-savvy kids decide to form a union of all newsboys in the city, to defy not just Pulitzer but also Hearst and anyone who pushes them around. Leading the strike is orphan Jack (Christian Bale), and David (David Moscow), who works to help support his family. Pulitzer refuses to negotiate. He fights back viciously, with hired muscle, "scabs," and, finally, blackmailing Jack. David and his household also become targets, in between the singing.
Is it any good?
Newsies, with its energetic score and large-scale dance gymnastics, hits a note lost between the pop-fantasy and ragtime of Bugsy Malone and the R-rated realism of Gangs of New York. Dramatically there is some surprisingly strong stuff here, and perhaps Newsies would have come across better without the tunes.
Even with an upbeat finale, most grownups come across as the worst kind of abusive authority-figures, domineering and brute-force guardians, although a few adults support the boys. There is pretty strong Goliath-vs.-David sense of injustice and helplessness, with police and hired thugs against the kids. Ruthless, immoral corporations control everything, and mainstream media is not to be trusted -- especially when its own investments are threatened.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the history of labor movements and strikes, plus the larger-than-life characters of Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, and a certain U.S. president who makes a cameo at the end. There really was a newsboys' strike, and you could fact-check the parts about it this movie gets wrong. Newsies also proposes, loud and clear, that despite its supposed watchdog role, the media is just as corporate as any other business -- and just as nasty and unethical when its interests are threatened. Of course, unions can misbehave as well, for the same reasons, but you don't see that here. How do we look at the media and at unions today?
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