Although the film was not originally intended to be a musical, it contains twelve songs and multiple dance sequences (for which the young cast trained for approximately 10 weeks). Musical highlights include "Carrying the Banner," "Santa Fe," "Seize The Day," and "King of New York."
Newsies was not a commercial success when first released; in fact, it ranked among the highest-costing and lowest-grossing Disney live-action films in the studio's history (due to it being released on the same day as FernGully: The Last Rainforest which also failed). Movie critic/historian Leonard Maltin even christened it "Howard the Paperboy" (in reference to another infamous box-office flop, Howard the Duck).
However, the picture gained fans when it was released on VHS and was played on the Disney Channel. After much petitioning, Newsies was released on DVD in 2002. It has since gained a modest yet enthusiastic cult following.
Newsies is based on the true story of the Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City. Thousands of homeless children are living in Newsboys Lodging Houses, including Manhattan newsboy Jack "Cowboy" Kelly (Christian Bale), who is a regular newsboy selling newspapers for Joseph Pulitzer (Robert Duvall) and his paper, the New York World. Jack "Cowboy" Kelly has a dream of escaping NYC to go to Santa Fe, NM. David Jacobs (David Moscow) leaves school temporarily and joins the newsies along with his little brother Les (Luke Edwards) to help his family while his father is out of work because of a broken arm. Soon, Jack and David become good friends, David introduces Jack to his family, and Jack falls in love with Sarah, David's sister. Shortly afterward, the price of newspapers for purchase by the newsboys is raised 10 cents per 100 papers, decided by joint decision of Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.
Feeling they will be unable to bear the added cost, Jack Kelly organizes a strike with the aid of David Jacobs. As the protagonist, Jack Kelly struggles with his past as he forms an important friendship with David and his family. Between his dream of one day going to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and currently wanting to help his friends, he faces many difficult decisions involving money and loyalty. Along the way, the boys are aided by newspaper reporter Bryan Denton (Bill Pullman) and vaudeville performer Medda "Swedish Meadowlark" Larkson (Ann-Margret), as well as being hindered by Snyder, warden of "The Refuge" juvenile detention facility (Kevin Tighe). Jack and the newsies gain the cooperation of every newsie from New York and Brooklyn to team up and strike against the big-shot newspapermen.
Newsies received harsh reviews from most critics and audiences and made $2,819,485 at the U.S. box office, becoming a box office bomb. On Rotten Tomatoes, its average score was 29%. However, Newsies has gained a considerable cult fanbase. Christian Bale is reportedly not a fan of the film. He said: "Time healed those wounds. But it took a while.