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Quite Possibly the Greatest Disney Family Film of the 90's
on February 5, 2014
I saw this film in the theater. I loved it. I was 10. And before I could see it again, it was gone. I swear this movie was out less than a month. Trashed by the critics, ignored by the populace. The world moved on. But then we got the soundtrack on tape, and listened to it over...and over...and over... And then we got the VHS, and watched it over, and over, and over...
Looking at Christian Bale now it's crazy to think about the kind of awesome family films he was in as a kid. The awesome Australian version of Treasure Island, the insane fairy tale (with Christopher Lee!) Milo in the Land Far Away, Empire of the Sun, and THIS movie. Back then Disney was concentrating full-on on producing great live-action family films. We got Wild Hearts can't be broken, The Rocketeer, Shipwrecked, and a whole slew of TV films that have never come out on DVD (I'm looking at you Bejewelled). Looking back on it now though, this may very well be the pinnacle of Disney family-film making. It's the crown jewel of the era before Hanna Montana, Shia LaBeouf, and High School Musical.
Watching this one on pan-and-scan VHS, or even on DVD, it's easy to forget the theater experience. Having gone to the Universal Backlot many times and seeing the sets in Disney World where a lot of productions are made, re-used sets are obvious to me now (yeah, Captain America probably gets beat up in the same alley as one of the characters in this movie). In a world of CGI-crazy film-makers, hand-painted backgrounds area amazing to behold. Everything that dates this movie, just makes it more awesome to me. Hallmarks of a by-gone era of entertaining film-making without all the modern trappings.
And yes, those authentic costumes, kids who REALLY got into character (I'm pretty sure one the newsies started carrying a staff when he saw a newsie carrying one in an old photograph), and good old-fashioned film-making ability make this film different from the average film.It's a beautiful movie. More beautiful on Blu Ray in high definition in glorious widescreen (for once Disney wasn't using Academy Flat, probably so you could see everyone in the dance sequences.
This film is a blend of drama and musical, and the drama side very well done. Excellent (possibly superb) acting all-around. And the story is a good one. The characters are archetypes but loaded with character, to the point where many people watching the film as kids had a favorite character who's name was only mentioned once or twice (or possibly not at all!). It's THAT kind of movie. But undoubtedly the leads carry the film, and do a stupendous job. As a kid, I thought Christian Bale was awesome. I still do. But even the characters who are just there to further the plot seemingly (Sarah) very quickly make you like them, and have strong personalities.
It's a Musical!
Lately people seem to do nothing but hate on musicals. And that is a sad, sad thing. Musicals were my childhood, and I will always love. Good musicals are hard to make, and this film is a GREAT musical. The songs stand on their own, and while the dance sequences are a bit simplistic and dated by today's standards, I have to say they are still great today because of their charm.
There's a lot of depth hidden beneath the surface of this film and I find it fascinating that as an adult, many things that went over my head as a child (in the songs!) resonate with me now.
If you are a fan of musicals, and Disney musicals in particular, you should own this film. If you have a Blu Ray player...that's the way to own it. The picture quality is excellent, and sound quality is marvelous, and it will make you feel like a 10 year old watching this film in the 90's. If you were a kid who grew up on Disney like me that is.