Giants and Newsies

Years ago my siblings and I listened to a collection of Disney songs we rented from the library. There was one song I always liked – “Seize the Day”. I had no idea where the song came from, what story it belonged to, but it sounded like a fairytale. A man sang about opening the gates, raising up torches and leading the way, slaying the giant. He ended with a rousing call: “Neighbor to neighbor – father to son – one for all and all for one!”

I could see it in my mind: the brave villagers gathering in the night, lighting their torches, throwing open the gates, and marching out to slay the giant. Neighbors, fathers, sons – everyone, saving themselves and each other.

We rented that tape again and again. Eventually we couldn’t find it anymore. Years passed without hearing that song, and then a few months ago someone found it on YouTube. There was no video, just the music and a picture that said “Newsies”. Recently, though, I did see video with it – the video, clipped from the movie.

So I discovered that rather than villagers singing about killing a giant, it was really newsboys singing about going on strike. It was New York City rather than a village, 1899 rather than the elusive fairytale era, daytime rather than night. There were no torches, let alone an honest-to-goodness, I-smell-the-blood-of-an-Englishman giant.

And I loved it, I really did. The dancing was terrific stuff. I saw a couple other songs on YouTube and, curious about the movie, began looking for reviews. I found one that made this criticism:

Then there are the lively production numbers, which are among the best in any recent live-action musical. Sure, they’re over-amped and filled with anachronistic dance moves (break-dancing in 1899?), but the enthusiasm and energy are hard to deny.

I have so little familiarity with break-dancing I had to look it up. It doesn’t raise any distracting associations for me. For some – probably this author among them – it does. Still, if you can accept newsies spontaneously bursting into highly choreographed song-and-dance numbers, it seems to me you shouldn’t be worried about the historicity of break-dancing in 1899,

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