Out of the Disney Vault: Newsies
Carry the banner.
Earlier this year, my wife and I were fortunate enough to see Alan Menken perform a one-man show about his life in musical theater and Hollywood here in Arizona. (I gather that he’s toured this show across the country, and y’know, if you can see a living, breathing EGOT winner in person, you really should.) This mixed-media show ran through a lot of the obvious titles you associate with Menken as composer, from The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast to Little Shop of Horrors and the cult TV show Galavant. (Is Galavant not an obvious title? Well, you should know the show and if you don’t, you’re missing out.)
Perhaps naturally, Menken did more than just hit on the obvious titles. He highlighted some of his earliest off-Broadway work with the late songwriter Howard Ashman, in part so he could memorialize the brilliant lyricist who we lost too soon. But he also clearly was not immune to the sense that each of the films and shows he worked on weren’t all instant successes. It didn’t come as a huge surprise to me, as I heard a slight touch of soreness when interviewing Menken for this oral history of Disney’s underrated The Hunchback of Notre Dame and he noted that the film didn’t get any Original Song nominations at the Oscars. (Its score was nominated but lost.)
So in the same vein, it did not surprise me when Menken noted with a mix of self-deprecating humor and, again, a slight touch of soreness that the 1992 film Newsies netted him a Razzie Award for Worst Original Song the same year that he would win Oscars for Best Original Score and Song, and a couple decades before a stage-musical version of Newsies would win the Tony. In the end, everything worked out for him but you can tell that he had not…exactly forgotten the Razzie or what it meant. Now, arguably, winning a Razzie is the height of meaninglessness, because the Razzies are a ridiculous joke. It’s not that there aren’t bad films or performances or songs out there, but the Razzies rarely have a point when they mock widely derided films.
At this point, I could tell you that as an Elder Millennial, part of the generational group that glommed onto Newsies as a cult favorite and helped propel it to eventual stage success, people were too hard on this movie. I could say that.
But I would be lying.