If you haven’t seen the movie Newsies, it is quite possible you aren’t a Christian. Just kidding. Sort of.
Next time you go to church, ask five people if they have seen the movie. I guarantee that at least one of those people will respond by saying, “Oh my gosh! I LOVE THAT MOVIE!”. Then they will begin singing and possibly dance-fighting, because Newsies is a musical. If you’re unfamiliar with Newsies, the basic plot (supposedly based on a true story) goes something like this.
The Newsies are a rag tag army of young boys who sell newspapers for a penny a pape (street lingo for paper). Jack Kelly (played by a young Christian Bale), is the defacto leader of the Newsies. Kelly is a street smart kid who is always outrunning the cops and outfighting the local bullies, all while performing spectacular dance moves and speaking in a quaint New York accent, which is pretty good, considering that Christian Bale was actually born in Wales (as we all know, those folks can’t dance or speak in New York accents).
One day, the rich and powerful Joseph Pullitzer (played by Robert Duvall) decides that he wants to make more money and become even more rich and powerful. The way he is going to make more money is by paying the Newsies less. The Newsies, who are already struggling to make enough money, are going to have work twice as hard just to put food in their stomach. It’s a classic example of the rich oppressing the poor.
But then something amazing happens. Jack Kelly, along with his shy friend David, decide that they’re not going to take it anymore. Together, they lead the Newsies to go on strike against Pullitzer. This strike is the central theme of the movie, and it creates tension that lasts until the final moments.
Why does Newsies have such a cult, underground following? Why do so many people (myself included) love the movie so much?
Because Newsies contains all the elements of the gospel.
Any truly good story contains at least some elements of the greatest story. That’s why Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Harry Potter are all so immensely popular. Each of these stories contains elements of God’s great story. What are these elements?
A Great Enemy Who Seeks To Destroy Others
In Newsies, Joseph Pullitzer is the great enemy. He does not care about the well-being of his newspaper boys, all he cares about is making money. When I watch the movie, I feel angry at the injustices perpetrated against the newspaper boys. I want someone to rescue them, to deliver them, to break the chains of oppression which bind them. The song “Once and for All” captures the coldness and badness of Joseph Pullitzer, as well as the desire to break free from his oppression.
Joseph Pullitzer, Sauron, Saruman, the White Witch, and Voldemort are small pictures of our great enemy, Satan. Satan and sin have conspired together to ruin this world. Satan takes great delight in the sadness and wickedness and brokenness which have invaded our world. We need someone to rescue us from the Evil One. We need someone to deliver us. We need a hero.
A Leader To Stand Against Injustice and Right Every Wrong
Newsies is interesting in that it features several semi-messianic figures. Jack and David start out as the leaders of the group. David is the brains and Jack is the brawn. Together they inform Pullitzer that they’re not going to take it anymore. They unite the Newsies together in an effort to right wrongs and conquer injustice. The song “Seize the Day” shows the Newsies following Jack and David in the fight against Pullitzer. The song even contains references to David and Goliath.
We too need someone to lead us. We need a founder and pioneer of our faith who will blaze the trail ahead of us. Jesus is that leader. He is the glorious founder of our faith who has taken all of Satan’s best shots and come out victorious in the end. Through Christ, we actually can seize each day for the glory of God.
A Redemption Story
Jack Kelly, the leader of the Newsies, is very similar to the Apostle Peter. He is loud and brash, always throwing punches and taking names. He doesn’t back down from a fight and isn’t scared of Joseph Pullitzer. But in a moment of weakness, Jack betrays the Newsies. He sells them out and deserts them. Just like Peter and just like us, Jack Kelly needs redemption. He needs someone to step in and take his place. In the movie, David becomes the one who steps in and takes Jack’s place. David succeeds where Jack failed. In real life, Christ is our redeemer. He is the one who forgives our failings and extends grace to us. He is the one who succeeds where we failed.
The Point of Every Story
Every good story should contain at least bits and pieces of the gospel story. Sometimes a story will only portray the darkness of man apart from Christ, such as the book No Country For Old Men. Sometimes a story will only be about a hero who rescues the weak and needy, like so many of our superhero stories.
The reason Newsies is such a great story is because it contains all the elements of the gospel. I think the picture and quote below, (drawn by KaraLee Reinke), captures the heart of what I’m trying to say: