After all, I’m obsessed with animation, Disney, and Pixar, so those are usually pretty easy winners for me (we’re all ignoring Cars 2 still, right?).
I’ve always loved musicals (that Disney childhood!), and as a former aerialist, I was constantly being asked if I’d seen The Greatest Showman yet. Until last weekend, the answer was no.
My husband and I got to go on a rare date to see The Greatest Showman. As we settled in our seats and the lights went down, I jokingly leaned over and whispered, “Thanks for coming to see a circus musical with me.” He laughed and said, “Wait, this isn’t Star Wars?” before he narrowed his eyes and said, “wait, this is a musical?!”
Y’all, I showed him the trailer. I honestly don’t know how he didn’t realize it was a musical! But thankfully he enjoyed it too, though I spent the entire two hours glancing sideways to try and gauge if he was having a good time.
The whole film was lovely. The music was just wonderful, with songs providing exposition and condensing a long story into a reasonable length for a film. I keep finding myself singing random songs throughout the day today, and I’m buying the soundtrack as soon as I’m able. There isn’t a single song I’d skip! The music is truly exceptional, with songs making you want to dance, sing along, and with heartfelt lyrics. It was also kind of special to see Zac Efron singing and dancing again.
After seeing the movie, of course I wondered if it stayed true to the life its based on. The short answer is no. Although Barnum did begin with a museum, had a wife named Charity, and ultimately crafted a traveling tent-based circus, the details in the film are almost entirely fictional. Carlyle and Anne don’t have real life counterparts, and Barnum’s personal history teeters perilously towards him being a con man who degraded others. His actions towards people in general, and especially those who performed in his circus, is patently wrong. The only way I can reconcile the truth with the film is to view them independently, and view the film as a fictionalized account. So this review is entirely representative of the film with no ties to the man who shared the same name.
The story was surprising; there were several twists I didn’t see coming. The characters were well developed; they felt real, and they had real flaws, but were overall likable. I especially loved the childhood love story between Phineas and Charity and the story between investor Carlyle and trapeze artist Anne. The story was engaging and moved at a nice pace.
One of my favorite underrated characters is the theater critic, who has a wonderful character arc as he discovers his own prejudice and privilege coloring his reviews. I liked seeing Anne and Carlyle grow beyond their limited mindsets, and thought the protesters spoke not only to issues during the time the film is set in (after the Civil War but before 1900 is my best guess) but also spoke to current issues without being overbearing.
How we treat people is deeply important. The outcasts and forgotten treat the young Barnum with kindness, and he later finds a way to not only give them a platform and help light their way out of the darkness, but also tests his own character and how far he’s willing to push reality and societal limits.
Additionally, as someone who has belonged to a circus, the feeling of belonging and family is well portrayed. The nature of living a whimsical and magical life is encouraging to those dreamers who have maybe gotten caught up in making a living instead of a life. I left the theater encouraged, inspired, and ready to dance. In the week since I’ve seen it, I’m looking for ways to bring a little magic back into our lives. Whether it’s random dance parties in the kitchen with my little boys, or playing shadow puppets, or bursting into song randomly, I’m trying to move beyond just living day to day and move into thriving.
Overall, I loved the movie. It was visually stunning, with a great plot, interesting characters, and music I have yet to tire of. I definitely recommend it, and I know I’ll be seeing it again when it releases to Blu-ray and digital.