Unless you’ve gone off the grid, you’ve heard of The Greatest Showman, released last month to much acclaim. You’ve probably seen it. If you haven’t, go. I can’t guarantee that you’ll love it, of course, as everyone has different tastes. Maybe you’re not into musicals. Maybe you just enjoy war movies where people get shot or dismembered. Maybe on principle you just don’t want something that everyone won’t shut up about. So is it overhyped?
Listen, no. No, it’s not. I don’t know what makes a movie Academy Award-worthy, but most of the time I don’t even recognize the names of the award winners so I can’t tell you if this is. Maybe this movie was made with the intention of snagging an award, but it doesn’t have to. This movie is not for Hollywood, it’s for everyone. As P.T. Barnum said, “The noblest art is that of making others happy.” And that’s exactly what this movie does. How? What’s so “great” about it? Here are a few things:
The PG rating. You might think this isn’t important, but on behalf of parents of tweens and teens everywhere, I say it is. Most PG movies are made for younger children. That doesn’t mean they are bad – on the contrary – I can name dozens of movies directed at children that are absolutely fantastic. Once you step out of the “children’s movie” category though, you find yourself planted pretty firmly in PG-13 and R territory. And today PG-13 allows for so much sex, swearing, and violence that we have made them off limits even to our 13+ kids (with some exceptions, like Star Wars movies, Harry Potter, some superhero movies). Maybe we’re being overprotective, but I really don’t enjoy watching a movie with my child if the movie is liberally peppered with sexual innuendos and penis jokes. So to have been offered a movie marketed to us as adults (and to older kids who want something more mature than Moana), but still safe enough for young eyes and ears, was so refreshing. How many times have you said of a kids’ movie “This movie is for children, but adults will enjoy it too”? The Greatest Showman is the opposite: made for adults and older kids, but able to entertain the younger crowds as well. Relax and breathe, it’s safe for all.
The story. I don’t know if there needs to be a spoiler alert here. There are no huge revelations during the movie, and you can gather most of the story from the trailer, but I’ll be vague just in case. There’s an underdog. There’s hard work and risk and reward. There’s romance. There’s friendship. There’s faithfulness. There’s family. There are wonderful, loveable, colorful, flawed characters. There’s redemption. And to top it all off, it’s all visually stunning.
The music. I know there are people who just don’t do musicals, but I think that to dislike this movie you’d have to hate music in general. Within the first minute I wanted to clap and cheer. When Ellis Rubin sang his first few notes, my daughter said “Whoa, I got goosebumps”. Me too, kid. And it gets better. Once the talented ensemble starts gathering, the energy builds and it. just. gets. better. I laughed and cried and and tap tap tapped my feet. I silently thanked Disney for discovering some of these kids (looking good, Troy Bolton). Hugh Jackman is at his best. At the end, I wanted to jump up and shout for an encore. It’s the definition of “feel-good”.
The message(s). This movie has many positive messages from which to choose. The power of family and love and resilience are highlighted. A movie about ‘the greatest show’ is also very much about seeing the value in the small, un-flashy, everyday parts of your life. At the crux of it, though, it is, to borrow a line from the movie, “a celebration of humanity”. It is about celebrating differences, about not judging based on appearance or social status. It is about transcending barriers. It is about finding the beauty in people, the beauty in their courage, their heart, their dreams. It is about bringing all of those differences together to create something spectacular.
“Every one of us is special – and no one is like anyone else.” – P.T. Barnum