Grade: A/A-
Entire family: Yes
2017, 105 min., Color
Musical drama
20th Century Fox
Rated PG for thematic elements including a brawl
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Trailer
Amazon link

Like Moulin Rouge! (2001) and La La Land (2016), The Greatest Showman is a musical that was written and produced especially for the big screen. It wasn’t adapted from a Broadway show nor based on a book. The lone inspiration was the curious life of P.T. Barnum, who is most famous for having founded the Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1871 and, through deft promotion, raising the status and popularity of the circus in America.

Barnum is erroneously credited with saying “There’s a sucker born every minute,” but a line that he was confirmed to have said as a member of the Connecticut House of Representatives in later life is more reflective of the positive direction that writers Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon took for this film: “A human soul, ‘that God has created and Christ died for,’ is not to be trifled with. It may tenant the body of a Chinaman, a Turk, an Arab, or a Hottentot—it is still an immortal spirit.”

Anyone who watched this year’s Oscar’s knows from watching the performance of Best Song nominee “This Is Me” (which earlier won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song) that one central message of The Greatest Showman is the unfair treatment of “freaks” and marginalized members of society.

As regular readers of Family Home Theater know, I am a Tomatometer Critic at RottenTomatoes.com, but I frankly don’t know what my fellow critics’ problems are with this rousing 2017 film. Only 113 out of 205 critics thought The Greatest Showman “fresh,” with the average rating just 6/10—a C+ or B- at best. Meanwhile, 88 percent of the 21,657 RottenTomatoes audience members who responded gave it an average score 4.4 out of 5—in the B+/A- range.

What more could these people want out of a musical?

No film is perfect, but The Greatest Showman grabs you from the beginning and holds you with high-energy choreography and singing, great cast performances, and a tent full of positive messages that stand in sharp contrast to what today’s children are reading in the newspapers. Our family loved it.

Hugh Jackman nails it as Barnum, but the surprises begin early when an adult Barnum looks at his reflection in a store window and what he sees is his childhood self. The person we meet (Ellis Rubin on camera, Ziv Zaifman in the sound booth) in that segue shot breaks into song, and that song carries through into a long montage that eventually brings us back to the adult Barnum and his great love, Charity (Michelle Williams, with Skylar Dunn playing young Charity). The rest of the film follows Barnum as he moves from unfulfilled New York City accountant to a scammer of loans and the proprietor of a museum of curiosities that will eventually become a museum of live “freaks,” including the famous little person Gen. Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey), a Bearded Lady (Keala Settle), The Huge Man (Daniel Everidge), The Dog Boy (Luciano Acuna Jr.), and an African-American acrobat (Zendaya) who will become the love interest of Barnum’s eventual partner, Philip Carlyle (Zac Effron).

I frankly don’t understand the criticism that The Greatest Showman isn’t deep enough. The accept-everyone-as-equals theme is reinforced in this PG film through a double romance in which one man is looked down upon because of his station in society (class), while another man is looked down upon because he is in love with an African American woman (race). Snobbery is reflected as well in the reviews that New York Herald editor-publisher James Gordon Bennett (Paul Sparks) uses to attack Barnum and his curiosities—though I’ll admit that the exchanges between Barnum and Bennett seem contrived and/or overly familiar, and the relationship between Barnum and Carlyle could have been teased out more.

The tipping point in the film derives from Barnum’s fascination with the “Swedish Nightingale,” European opera sensation Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson, with Loren Allred dubbing the singing). That part of this mostly fictional musical biopic is true. Barnum did indeed talk Lind out of retirement in order to sponsor a grand tour across America that paid her the unprecedented amount of $1000 per night plus expenses, and he did indeed stake a personal fortune on the tour. But while he was faithful to his wife of 44 years, there’s little potential in not having at least some innocent temptation, which, in the film, culminates in a surprise publicity kiss on the lips and nothing more. It’s that wholesome.

And the music? In the U.K., the soundtrack became only the second in 30 years to occupy the #1 slot for 11 straight weeks. But timing is everything. Though it was nominated for a Golden Globe Best Comedy-Musical award, The Greatest Showman lost to Lady Bird in a crowded field that also included The Disaster Artist, Get Out, and I, Tonya.

The bottom line for family viewing is that The Greatest Showman has a PG rating for “thematic elements including a brawl.” There are moments where street rabble protest and threaten the performers and at one point a fight breaks out, and there are also moments of peril associated with a fire. Aside from Barnum’s fascination with Lind that’s suggested by his enthralled expression as she performs, there really isn’t much here to keep younger family members from watching. Sensitive children will identify with the marginalized performers who just want to be treated like other human beings, but the entire story is told in such an uplifting manner and supported by dazzling visuals, dancing, and singing, that even those sad moments feel like triumphs rather than defeats. Yes, there’s a sad lull around the two-thirds mark, but The Greatest Showman finishes with a family-first bang.

Language: Just a few “damns”
Sex: Nothing here except a kiss onstage and a rather large-bosomed bearded lady doing nothing suggestive at all to draw attention to her cleavage
Violence: Other than the fistfight/brawl, with nothing very graphic shown, a boy is slapped hard but takes it without wincing
Adult situations: Drinking and some smoking, plus the aforementioned brawl and moments of social derision
Takeaway:  Forget the notion of a biopic, crank the sound up, and just enjoy this as a musical

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