Just within the realm of Disney movies, children who are either already orphaned or go through the loss of a parent offer moments of deep and profound recognition, insight, and immediacy to kids. Think of Snow White, Bambi, Peter Pan, Cinderella, Aladdin, Simba, or Penny of the Rescuers. The list of orphaned characters that tug at our kids’ heartstrings is literally too long to complete here.
Being the huge fans of Disney movies that we are in my house, my daughter Emma has experienced nearly all of these endearing and courageous orphan characters, and she has felt and expressed sympathy for each and every one. Perhaps the most moving for her, however, of all of Disney’s orphan-themed movies, is Newsies because it was based on a real event. It was Newsies that inspired her to gather all of her loose change to start a fund to help orphans everywhere one penny at a time. As a father (and as a minister), it puts a smile on my face to know that the power of a movie can literally move us into action for the benefit of others.
Newsies is a 1992 Disney movie inspired by the 1899 Newsboys Strike in New York City. A fictional rendition of actual events, Newsies is a musical (with music by the inimitable Alan Menken) with such rousing songs as “Seize the Day,” “The World Will Know,” and the inspiring “Santa Fe.” Directed by Kenny Ortega, now best known for his “High School Musical” trilogy, Newsies also boasts an amazing cast including Christian Bale, Ann-Margret, Bill Pullman, Bryan Denton and Robert Duvall.
Originally considered a flop in theaters some 20 years ago for reasons that will undoubtedly elude you as they did me, the movie has since gained steam and developed a dedicated following of fans. Today, you can find Newsies as a Tony-award winning musical that opened on Broadway in 2012.
The central character of Newsies is Jack Kelly (Christian Bale,) an orphan who works as a newspaper boy. Jack’s dream is to one day move to Santa Fe where he believes he can make a new life. Even though he is considered the best “newsie” in town, Jack is eking out a meager living with barely two cents in his pocket. The conflict in the movie is between Jack and his fellow hard-knocks newsies and their “Goliath,” Joseph Pulitzer (Robert Duvall,) the famous newspaper man. Pulitzer conspires with his exceedingly rich fellow newspaper entrepreneurs and raises the price of “papes” — essentially looking to get richer on the backs of the children selling them in the streets. The newsies, who are looked down upon by society and have no voice, decide to rise up together and organize a strike.
Similar to Annie, also an orphan musical with a must-see Disney version, Newsies delivers a powerful message about which riches in life truly matter. Jack comes to realize, as Annie does from the start, that having a family and meaningful connections with others easily trumps class, wealth, power, and status. In the end, each does find their dream family. As a father I can appreciate any movie that helps bring that lesson home.