Singing, dancing, laughing—these actions generally put audiences in a good mood. However, Michael Gracy’s “The Greatest Showman” proves otherwise. Unfortunately, this PG-13 musical loosely based on the life of P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and the creation of the first circus lives up neither to its hype nor its star cast. Zac Efron, Zendaya and Jackman bring in the box office sales, but the film leaves a significant portion of its audience underwhelmed.
Although the musical is an overall disappointment, it holds a strong visual appeal. Bright colors and coordinated choreography make a forceful visual impact on the audience, especially in the opening performance of “The Greatest Show.” The cheesy plot, pop songs and colorful scenes make the movie entertaining for a younger, smaller audience.
“The Greatest Showman” could have easily appealed to a larger audience if the plot had not dramatized the wrong parts of the storyline. Rather than centering on Barnum’s personal conflict, the movie should have exposed the racism, gender inequality and exploitation of the 1800s industry which it only lightly touches upon with the happy-ending relationship between white Phillip Bailey (Efron) and African American Anne Wheeler (Zendaya).
Already a fairly long movie at 105 minutes, “The Greatest Showman” feels strikingly slow due to its predictable plot. Pivotal moments can be seen from miles away. The scene in which Barnum reunites with his wife after losing everything he holds dear is a cookie-cutter moment that hardly reflects the complexities of Barnum’s actual relationship. Even though the musical numbers should make up for the slow plot, the songs do not compensate for the heaviness of the characters’ dull dialogue.
Although they do not strengthen the storyline, the songs in “The Greatest Showman” are indeed well written and catchy. “This is Me” won the Best Original Song – Motion Picture award at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards. The song pairs an upbeat melody with powerful lyrics in an attempt to support the musical’s weak plot.
Although they sound good, the musical numbers in “The Greatest Showman” have little to no introduction. “The Other Side” feels like it begins midsong, as no instrumental music precedes the first lyrics. This lack of instrumental lead-ins makes the songs in “The Greatest Showman” feel awkward and choppy. Additionally, the songs feel out of place due to their pop melodies, although movie is set in America in the 1800s. The old-fashioned costumes clash with the modern beats of the songs.
Rather than serving as an entertaining portrayal of the complex life of Barnum and the creation of the first circus, “The Greatest Showman” is a fluffy feel-good piece for a small, young audience. Where the musical should focus on the social themes of its setting, it instead idealizes a controversial figure through song and dance. “The Greatest Showman” has potential, but fails to fulfill it.