“Newsies” is a mess.

A story focusing on the real-life story of 19th-century kids banding together to fight newspaper barons isn’t a horrible idea for a film. But a musical? That’s an odd choice.

Filling the cast with actors with dubious singing and dancing talent is another odd choice. I understand musicals don’t always cast folks with exceptional voices, but many of the actors in this film struggle to warble let alone hold a strong note.

And the dancing … well, some of it’s good, but that’s mostly limited to the background dancers. The lead characters rely upon an unusual amount of sliding in their dance numbers.

Kenny Ortega, the man behind “High School Musical,” “Descendants,” and the recent (and delightful) “Julie and the Phantoms,” directed this film. Like his other work, the energy in “Newsies” is high and you can see all the effort that went into the big numbers. But you can also tell this is Ortega’s first time directing because nothing is connected. It’s a mess of scenes and performances and motivations that don’t coalesce.

The weirdest work comes from Robert Duvall–Oscar-winner and acting legend Robert Duvall–who plays Joseph Pulitzer as a mustache-twirling villain full of verbal tics and capitalistic malice. His performance is ham incarnate.

Why did this become a cult classic? “Newsies” bombed in theaters but later found cult-level popularity. I understand the attraction to films like “Heathers” and “Office Space” that got a second life in the home video market, but with “Newsies” I don’t get it. Is this one of those films that resonated with young kids who then grew up with a fondness for “Newsies” that doesn’t match reality? Did the success of the “Newsies” musical redefine the film? Is the following GIF so good that it transcended the film’s failings?

Newsies GIF

(“Newsies” GIF via