After hearing so much about this movie, I was intrigued. Once my student told me I needed to see it, I decided to just go.
I was not disappointed.
The movie is a historical period drama musical staring Hugh Jackman as the famous P.T. Barnum, the instigator of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. The story opens on the circus at its height with Barnum as the ring-leader. The music is entertaining, starting with a stomp chorus that gets the blood pumping. Then all of the sudden, the lights, the colors fade leaving Barnum standing alone in the dark singing “It’s everything you ever want, It’s everything you ever need . . .” (Great moment of foreshadowing!)
Cue flashback to a young boy (our young Barnum) who is the son of a poor tailor. As a boy, he accompanies his father on his jobs. On one such job for the Hallet family (rich, white, snobby, first-class, cruel father), young Barnum meets young Charity (the daughter of Mr. Hallet). Naturally the two fall in love. The young actor and actress playing Young Barnum and Young Charity do a wonderful job with the sweet song “A Million Dreams.”
Time flies through the song as children grow into adults and marry (despite her family’s objections) and end up with two children of their own. When Barnum loses his job, he is inspired by a myriad of events to open up his own museum. The Barnum Wax museum, needless to say, it does not go well. However, when he listens to his adorable daughters who convince him that he needs something “alive” in his museum, his luck begins to turn.
Barnum begins collecting people who are “curious and abnormal” including: the African-American brother/sister duo acrobats, the dog-boy, the bearded lady, the tallest man alive, the heaviest man alive, and the smallest man alive.
Barnum is a success! At last, he can afford the large mansion and ballet lessons for his eldest daughter. At last, he is accepted into society. Except… he isn’t.
His “circus” brings joy and entertainment to some, and for others it brings out anger and hate. People protest the show and Barnum is not quite satisfied . . .
But I’ll leave the rest for you to see!
There have been mixed reviews of the musical. Rotten Tomatoes gives it an average rating of 55%, and yet, 90% of audiences LOVED IT! That should give a pretty clear message. Perhaps “professional critics” have the right to critique what they see as baseless entertainment; however, this movie was not meant to be “highbrow.” Much like Barnum in the movie who must deal with highbrow critics demeaning his work, this movie is an entertaining delight for people who want to be delighted. The movie celebrates unique individuality and cautions against extreme hubris and insatiable desire for MORE.
Some critics have said that Barnum’s success comes too quickly. I thought that at first too, until I realized that this movie is NOT about his success, it is about his failures as a man, a ring leader, and a father. It is a movie, with a subtle warning, about what happens after success!
Overall, I give it 5 out of 5 stars!
If you love musicals, please go see this movie.