April 10, 2018


Starring Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Keala Settle, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sam Humphrey, Paul Sparks, Austyn Johnson, Cameron Seely, Eric Anderson. Directed by Michael Gracey. (2017/105 min).

My wife, Francie, took our two daughters to see this in theaters, and it was all they talked about after returning home. Since then, they each play the soundtrack incessantly on their phones. So when this Blu-Ray arrived for me to review, Francie was excited to notice a sing-along option listed among the many bonus features. When she told our older daughter about it, Natalie shrugged and said, "I already know all the songs by heart."

My girls aren't alone, of course. A lot of folks seem to know them by heart...already. And The Greatest Showman isn't just a musical. It's a !!MUSICAL!! in the classic tradition...big & bright, colorful & catchy, flashy & fun. Cynics might have to accept The Little Sleeper That Could is shaping up to be one of those musicals that transcends its decade, much like Grease did in the 70s. Critical consensus notwithstanding, the general public will probably still be singing along to "This is Me" and tapping their toes to "From Now On" long after they've forgotten La La Land.

"Here's to swimmin' with bow-legged women."
I had two takeaways after finally watching the film myself. First, I get the feeling Hugh Jackman (as P.T. Barnum) would be perfectly happy doing musicals for the rest of his career. His enthusiasm is infectious, too. Not only does the sincerity of his performance effortlessly manipulate the audience, the entire supporting cast rises to the occasion. Second, while I'd never presume to declare anyone's opinion wrong, I do believe some critics missed the point of the film.

Hugh loves to catch snowflakes with his tongue.
Loosely based of the rise of P.T. Barnum, The Greatest Showman makes no pretenses of being biographical, nor should anyone look for much depth or substance. On the surface, the movie might even seem narratively slight, just an excuse to link numerous flashy musical numbers. Sure, that's one way to look at it. Another way is to look at the music as the narrative. There isn't a single song that doesn't advance the plot or embellish a particular character. One of the disc's bonus features allows access to the musical numbers only; viewed in sequence, I would argue that you'd still be able to follow most of the story.

And fortunately, it is a good story, albeit a familiar and predictable one, told with a lot of panache. Despite some modern trappings, the film's ultimate intent is obvious: the kind of pure, old school musical Hollywood used to make before we all became too jaded for our own good. There may not be a lot of depth, but with deliberately artificial production design, insanely-catchy songs, a consistently upbeat tone and stunning choreography, you'd have to work real hard not to be swept along.

FEATURETTES: "The Family Behind The Greatest Showman"; "The Spectacle"
"THE SONGS" - Though listed as a featurette, at 70 minutes, it's practically its own feature-length documentary.
MUSIC MACHINE - Access the songs directly in sing-along mode
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Director Michael Gracey

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