18 Things You Never Knew About Disney's 'Newsies'
The cult of "Newsies" is so passionate that it's hard to believe the Disney musical was a colossal flop when it was released 25 years ago this week, on April 10, 1992.
Nonetheless, home video made a favorite of the film that provided an early starring role for Christian Bale, launched the directing career of future "High School Musical" trilogy director Kenny Ortega, and spawned a hit Broadway musical.
Still, there's plenty that even hardcore "Fansies" may not know about their favorite film, including why the non-singing, non-dancing Bale took the role, or how he landed cameos for his sister and his girlfriend.
1. Aside from newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer (played by Robert Duvall in the movie), most of the characters in "Newsies" are made up. But there really was a newsboy strike in New York in 1899. One of the strike's leaders was known as Kid Blink, a name given to a lesser character in the movie.
2. When he was cast in "Newsies," Bale was 16 and best known as the star of Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun," another movie that flopped in theaters but gained a cult following later.
3. Bale had no musical or dance background, which wasn't an issue at the time, since "Newsies" was initially conceived as a straight drama.
4. It was Disney's then-studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg who decided, in the wake of the smash success of the studio's "The Little Mermaid," to turn "Newsies" into a musical. He even hired "Mermaid" composer Alan Menken to craft the songs for "Newsies." The result would be Disney's first live-action musical in 15 years, since 1977's "Pete's Dragon."
5. Director Kenny Ortega was then best known as the choreographer behind the hit "Dirty Dancing." Not only did "Newsies" mark his directing debut, but he choreographed the film as well.
6. Ortega put Bale and the rest of the cast through two months of musical boot camp, where they spent hours each day learning singing, dancing, gymnastics, martial arts, and speaking in New York dialects, on top of their regular schooling. "I don't know what kind of dance you would call the 'Newsies' training," the Method-loving Bale recalled later, "but we got very fit, jumped around a lot, and I got very dizzy."
7. Bale helped get two of the young women closest to him cast as extras. His girlfriend, Natalie, was the schoolgirl in the hat whom the newsies leer at during the film's opening. His sister, Louise, played the maid to Ann-Margret's character.
8.Milla Jovovich auditioned for the role of Bale's love interest, Sarah. The future "Resident Evil" star was a talented singer, but the filmmakers found her chemistry with Bale "abrasive." Instead, the role went to Ele Keats, who could not sing, leading to a planned song for Sarah being axed from the film.
9. Disney rented the New York street set on the Universal Studios lot for the production. On the day before new set construction was to begin, the New York set was devastated by a fire, later ruled to be arson. For the "Newsies" team, the fire turned out to be a blessing, since they were able to rebuild according to their own production designs.
10. One visitor to the "Newsies" set was Gene Kelly. The "Singin' in the Rain" legend's last musical had been 1980's "Xanadu," on which he served as a mentor to then-newbie choreographer Ortega. Visiting the "Newsies" cast's dance training sessions, he reportedly complimented the kids on their progress.
11. Another visitor was Francis Ford Coppola (above), who was about to film "Bram Stoker's Dracula." He wanted to use the studio's New York streets for the vampire movie's 1897 London scenes, but was told the sets belonged to Disney, not Universal.
12. Future "Party of Five" regular and indie filmmaker Michael Goorjian, who played Skittery, directed his castmates in his own 26-minute horror spoof shot on the "Newsies" set, called, "Blood Drips Heavily on Newsie Square." Mark David, who played Specs, starred as veteran comic actor Don Knotts, who starts stalking and killing "Newsies" actors when he fails to land a role in the musical.
13. The young cast also bonded through pranks -- shooting Ortega with squirt guns or filling his trailer with newspapers -- pizza parties, and sporting competitions. On one such evening, a party at a bowling alley, Duvall joined the youngsters. Bale's dad asked the Oscar-winner for advice on how his son could achieve career longevity as an actor. Duvall urged David Bale to send his son to college, advice the Bales did not follow.
14. "Newsies" cost at least $15 million to make (some sources said as much as $25 million), but it returned only $2.8 million at the box office. It was one of the lowest-grossing movies Disney ever released. Yet it was nearly matched the following year by "Swing Kids," another historical-drama musical that required Bale to show off his reluctant dance moves.
15. "Newsies" was nominated for five Razzie awards, including Worst Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Duvall), and Supporting Actress (Ann-Margret). It won Worst Song for Menken's "High Times, Hard Times" -- this at a time when Menken had recently won four Oscars for "Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast" and was one day away from winning two more for "Aladdin."
16. It took a while for "Newsies" to become a cult hit on home video. One of the movie's ardent fans was Winona Ryder, who helped Bale turn his career around by getting him cast as boy-next-door Laurie in her successful 1994 adaptation of "Little Women."
17. "Newsies" became a professional stage musical in 2011, in part because, as Ortega learned, high schools all over America had been producing their own unsanctioned stage versions of the film, without paying Disney any royalties. The musical moved to Broadway in 2012, where it ran for two years and was nominated for eight Tonys. It won two, for Menken's score and for choreography.
18. "Newsies" fans have long moaned over Bale's own disdain for the movie. "At 17, you want to be taken very seriously -- you don't want to be doing a musical," the "Dark Knight" star told Entertainment Weekly in 2007. He added that he ultimately made peace with his dancing-newsboy past. "Time healed those wounds. But it took a while."