I love a good musical film. I’ll admit there are several musicals I favor over others, with three of my favorites being “Hairspray”, “Burlesque” and “Rock of Ages”. I have probably seen “The Sound of Music” more times than any musical, with “The Wizard of OZ” running a close second.
Adding to the list of musicals I admire is the new film “The Greatest Showman”, starring Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, the founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. The film is inspired by Barnum’s life, and does not claim to be a totally accurate in all aspects of life. The film begins with the depiction of the young Barnum’s life with his tailor father. After a family tragedy, Barnum is left homeless to wonder the streets, until he eventually finds a job with a shipping company. During his teens, Barnum meets Charity, the daughter of the man Barnum’s father works for.
It’s love at first sight for the duo, and years later they are married and live in a humble New York City apartment, quite a come down for the wealthy Charity (Michelle Williams). After Barnum is laid off from his job with the shipping company, he eventually has the bright idea to open Barnum’s American Museum in downtown Manhattan, but after the museum fails to attract crowds, Barnum is forced to come up with a new idea for his museum, and thanks to an idea from his daughters to have “alive” attractions, he begins a search for “freaks” (those with abnormalities or special abilities) to showcase. He is successful in rounding up his special people, and changes the name of his museum to Barnum’s Circus, after a harsh critic calls the show as such.
In an effort to improve his reputation with the upper class, he manages to recruit playwright Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) to join his business. After the team up, the cast of Barnum’s Circus is able to meet Queen Victoria in England, and while there Barnum recruits European singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) to tour America with him. As the film progresses, there are conflicts in Barnum’s marriage, a romance between Carlyle and troupe performer Anne Wheeler (Zendaya), the circus tents which replaced the museum, and threats from certain groups of citizens who want the ‘freak” show shut down.
In between all the action and drama, plenty of splendid songs are featured, including my personal favorites “This Is Me” and “From Now On.” All the numbers, except the ballads, are toe tapping, and I found myself tapping my foot in time with many of the songs. The performers are all wonderful, and Jackman, as usual, is a powerful lead. However, Efron, no stranger to musicals himself (the aforementioned “Hairspray”) more than holds his own along side his powerhouse co-star. Williams is also effective and sweet in her role as Barnum’s wife, which I’m sure was no easy task for his real life wife. With all the star power on hand, the supporting cast is still able to shine, and Zendaya is perfectly cast as a circus acrobat.
Many critics have slammed the film for taking too much artistic license, but to me that is being a bit nit picky for a film that simply wants to entertain us and leave a smile on our face just like the real Barnum wanted for his audiences. If you desire to see a feel good movie filled with wonderful songs and sets, then “The Greatest Showman” is your ticket to an enjoyable time at the theater.
Rated PG, 3 1/2 Circus Rents (out of 4)