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The Greatest Showman

posted 8 Jan 2018, 05:04 by Scene Alba Magazine

2017, PG

4 stars

The show gets underway immediately with a wildly colorful and entertaining song and dance number (The Greatest Show) under the big top – complete with elephants and acrobats, clowns and equine ballet, and overall spectacle. Then we pull back into Barnum’s bleak childhood, years before. He grew up poor but plucky, and was always a romantic – he’s in love with his wealthy neighbor, Charity (Michelle Williams). Eventually, the two marry (in spite of protests from her snobbish dad), start a family, and follow their dreams.

Barnum’s American Museum on Broadway in New York City – jam-packed with dioramas, scary scientific instruments, bizarre artifacts, a menagerie of exotic animals, a marine aquarium, theatrical performances, and an array of living “attractions” (General Tom Thumb, Siamese twins Chang and Eng, giants, and bearded ladies, to name just a few) – provides the main backdrop for the story, and it’s a dazzling place to be. Here’s where Barnum takes on a partner, Philip Carlyle (Zac Efron), and where forbidden love blooms. (Don’t worry; the “forbidden love” is all very rated G… though the film itself is rated PG for its depictions of mild violence and some drinking.)

First and foremost, The Greatest Showman is a musical reverie – an ode to dreams – not a biopic. At its heart is Barnum’s conviction that the drudgery of everyday life is something we can all leave behind and enter into a realm of wonder, curiosity, and the joy of being wonderfully different and unique. That’s the strongest, and most important, lesson for the little ones: Be who you are and be happy about it.

Jackman is well-known for his singing and dancing chops – he’s performed on Broadway numerous times – and he doesn’t disappoint here. He’s just one of those eternally likable guys, no matter what kind of role he’s playing. But that quality is especially essential here, since Barnum’s powers of persuasion remain legendary. He gets everyone to “step right up” quite easily, but getting them to stay there proves more difficult. When the chips are down, Jackman really makes us enjoy rooting for the hero.

Aside from the ever-amazing Jackman and a brilliant ensemble cast, this film works so well because it’s clearly made with love. Director Michael Gracey personally relates to Barnum’s belief in attempting to squeeze as much excitement out of life as possible. “I always say that to me one of the saddest moments in any child’s life is when they learn the word ‘impossible.’ Barnum’s story is about not limiting your imagination, about using what’s in your head to create new worlds – and that’s also what directors do.”

The charming message of the movie is that everyone, no matter how maligned or invisible, has a story worthy of a world-class premiere in which they are the star. That sentiment is brought home, quite handily, when Barnum is rounding up the so-called Oddities for his new revue, and Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey) asks, “But what if they laugh at me?” Barnum quips, “Well, they’re laughing at you anyway, might as well get paid for it.” Then he realizes the gravity of the question, and tells the young man that this is his chance to celebrate uniqueness and to show folks that although the book’s cover may be small, the story inside is vaster than the universe.

If you’re looking for something fun, inspiring, and just plain “feel good”  to start the year, you absolutely must go to see The Greatest Showman on the big screen.


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