Walt Disney Pictures has recently revived “Newsies” as a smash success Broadway musical but it’s the original cult classic film that remains special for its loyal fans. Now “Newsies” is available in high-defintion for the first time on a Blu-ray 20th anniversary release that will entertain those wanting to relive the movie memories, but leave all wanting more “Extra! Extra!” features.
“Newsies” is a love it or hate it type of film, following a tight-knit group of newspaper-selling boys on the streets of New York in the late 1800s as they struggle with publishers over their wages. Directed and choreographed by Kenny Ortega, today of “High School Musical” fame, “Newsies” features catchy music that softens the serious and somewhat historically accurate issue of child labor that becomes especially apparent by the film’s end. But the movie is entirely lighthearted and full of comedy, aided by the musical talents of Disney veteran Alan Menken, fresh off of working on “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast.” The peppy music and invasive choreography isn’t for everyone, but fans of musical theater or Disney’s animated musicals will feel a connection to this film. And those familiar with newest incarnation of “Batman” at the box office will immediately recognize a young Christian Bale as the lead newsboy role of Jack Kelly in his first and last musical, one which he’s too embarrassed to talk much about today.
But there’s little embarrassing about “Newsies,” as it’s everything one would expect from a live action Disney musical. From the moment viewers first hear the newsboys ask for a bundle of “papes” in a thick New York accent to go out and sell on the street using cleverly embellished headlines, the audience is drawn into a world that’s filled with more humor than drama, though both are present. And while it’s a happy Disney ending for all, it’s not clear until the film’s final moments just where each of the movie’s many likable characters will end up, holding attention until the credits roll.
Though the film still entertains fans today, its new Blu-ray presentation is nothing special. Crisp high-definition shots are few and far between, with many appearing soft and often grainy. No signs of the “state-of-the-art digital restoration” touted on the release’s cover are noticeable. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track sounds great during musical numbers, properly utilizing surround channels to envelop viewers in the songs, but relies almost exclusively on the center channel throughout the dialogue-driven portions of the film, offering little ambient sound.
Bonus features are presented in an even worse format than the film as direct standard definition transfers of old extras from years ago. These extras include two extremely similar “behind the scenes” featurettes, another offering the “true story” of the real newsies as told by historians, a sing-along feature, and a comparison of storyboards to the movie’s scenes. But it’s tough to accept that any of these extras are appearing on a Blu-ray release, instead appearing like they’ve been pulled off an old VHS tape.
Despite visual issues showing the film’s age, “Newsies” is still enjoyable on Blu-ray, which is likely the best format in which fans can watch it today.
The “Newsies” 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray is available on Amazon and stores everywhere.