The Gospel Of “Newsies”

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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:



Narnia in Three Dimensions

Okay, it’s time for a little Narina nerd talk. Last night Jen and I saw The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and since I know that everyone cares so much about my opinion, I thought I’d share it. So, in no particular order, here are my thoughts on the movie.

First, it was the first 3D movie that I’ve seen, and I was thoroughly unimpressed. I paid $23 dollars for us to see the movie, and for that price I was expecting a live centaur to be in the audience. Not so much. I had to wear those bulky, dorky 3D glasses over my glasses, which wasn’t especially fun, and the picture quality wasn’t all that much better. I probably won’t pay to see a 3D movie again. It just wasn’t worth it. However, if you want to pay for me, I would be glad to go.

Second, I thought Eustace was a fantastic character. Will Poulter played the role of Eustace really well. He was obnoxious, hilarious, arrogant. Overall he was pretty close to the Eustace found in the book. He was probably the highlight of the movie for me.

Third, I was really disappointed by the way the original plot was distorted in order to turn the book into a movie. The whole idea of the evil mist just seemed…well kind of lame. It changed the whole feel of the story from a rip-roaring, high-seas, exploring unknown worlds adventure, into a battle against an unknown evil mist that did unnamed bad things. The mist became the unifying element of the story, rather than exploration and discovery. The anonymity of the mist was also a weakness. The movie never identified who or what the mist really was, and by the end, I didn’t really care if they defeated the mist or not.

Fourth, as other have pointed out, the movie totally missed it when it came to Eustace becoming a dragon. In the book, the whole point of Eustace becoming a dragon is that Eustace needed Aslan to save him, NOT that Eustace had a hero inside of him. Eustace’s need for Aslan was almost entirely written out of the movie, except for one brief clip toward the end.

Finally, is it just me or is Aslan slowly getting written out of the movies? I think that Aslan was in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader for a grand total of five minutes. It’s so disappointing.

Overall, I thought that Voyage of the Dawn Treader was a good movie, but bad adaptation of the book. Yes, I realize that I’m being a total Narnia dork, but that’s just who I am. As a movie, I thought it was actually pretty good, but it just wasn’t the Narnia that I know, which was disappointing.

So should you see it? Yes. Just have reasonable expectations.

What about you? What was your impression of the movie?

Avatar and Homesick for Heaven

I’m one of three people left in the world who hasn’t seen the movie Avatar. The other two are Himalayan cave dwellers and have more important things to do, like climb Mount Everest and raise llamas.

From everything I hear, the movie is incredible. The special effects are absolutely mind-blowing. People say it’s like being transported into another world. And William Shatner does an incredible job as commander of the “U.S.S. Titanic”. Or something like that.

But the movie is also having a strange effect on thousands of viewers: depression.

CNN recently released an article stating that after seeing the movie, many viewers have become seriously depressed. After seeing the beauty and stunning majesty of the world in Avatar, people feel disillusioned with this life.

After seeing the movie, one young man said:

When I woke up this morning after watching Avatar for the first time yesterday, the world seemed … gray. It was like my whole life, everything I’ve done and worked for, lost its meaning. It just seems so … meaningless. I still don’t really see any reason to keep … doing things at all. I live in a dying world.

When I read the article and saw the above quote, I couldn’t help but think of these words by Randy Alcorn:

Nothing is more often misdiagnosed than our homesickness for Heaven. We think that what we want is sex, drugs, alcohol, a new job, a raise, a doctorate, a spouse, a large-screen television, a new car, a cabin in the woods, a condo in Hawaii. What we really want is the person we were made for, Jesus, and the place we were made for, Heaven. Nothing less can satisfy.

I haven’t seen Avatar, but if I did I think it would make me homesick for Heaven.

Have you seen Avatar?

Wall*E: The Definitive Review

Several weeks ago I called upon faithful and sagacious readers to provide me with their opinion of the latest Pixar film Wall*E. The responses were mixed, some joyfully raving about the movie, others harshly criticizing it. This past Friday I decided to find out for myself. It was time for a definitive review (okay, maybe the word ‘definitive’ is a bit strong, but I’ve always wanted to say that something I did was definitive).

Now the moment you’ve all been waiting for. After seeing Wall*E with my own eyes, I came away…insert long extended drum roll and 21 gun salute…distinctly DISAPPOINTED. I was disappointed for several reasons.

As a general rule of thumb, Pixar movies are a glorious combination of humorous dialog, hilarious sight gags, and a moderate dose of cuteness. Wall*E however, relied primarily on what I call ‘The Cute Factor’. For example:

  • For a significant portion of the movie there was zero dialog, focusing instead on the silly/cute antics of a robot named Wall*E. Some of it was mildly amusing, such as when Wall*E watches something on a video iPod, but not nearly as funny as the one-liners delivered by Billy Crystal in ‘Monsters Inc.’
  • Partway into the movie a ‘female’ robot named Eve arrives on the scene. Wall*E desperately wants to hold Eve’s hand – a theme that gets repeated approximately 497 times in the movie. Cute, but nothing compared to Frozone in ‘The Incredibles’.
  • Wall*E and Eve say each other’s names in cute robot voices again and again, which was kind of amusing the first fifty times, but lost a bit of ‘oomph’ after that.

I will admit, there were some humorous moments when Wall*E was aboard the space station, but these didn’t carry me through the movie.

There you have it folks, the definitive review. A cartoon movie critically reviewed by a grown man…my parents would be proud.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I’d like to hear where you agree or disagree.

Calling Movie Reviewers: Wall-E

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I haven’t yet seen the Pixar movie Wall-E but I’m hearing rumors that it’s the best movie Pixar has ever made. I’m even hearing whispers of an Academy Award for “Best Picture”.

I love Pixar movies and intend to see Wall-E, but I wanted to hear from you guys as well. Have you seen the movie? Is it really as good as everyone says? How can it possibly be better than “The Incredibles?”