Mission Lab 2018

REVIEW: ‘The Greatest Showman’ is toe-tapping fun … and family-friendly

January 5th, 2018 / By: Michael Foust / comments

REVIEW: ‘The Greatest Showman’ is toe-tapping fun … and family-friendly

Phineas is a hard-working husband and father who has a flare for creativity and innovation. Right now, though, he’s unemployed and just needs a job to feed his two daughters in 1800s America.

Desperate, he risks everything and borrows $10,000 to open a downtown museum of “oddities.” It’ll have everything not seen in other museums – even wax figures and the world’s tallest giraffe (stuffed, of course).

Sadly, though, no one comes. His young daughters think they know the problem.

“You have too many dead things in your museum,” one says. The museum, they tell him, needs “something sensational.”

So Phineas hangs posters up throughout the city searching for “Unique Persons and Curiosities.” He soon finds them: a bearded woman with an incredible singing voice, a man with hair all over his face, an obese person dubbed the “world’s heaviest man,” and a short man the size of a child. Soon, they’re part of a circus-like show that is drawing thousands of fans. Phineas, also known as P.T. Barnum, is now world famous.

It’s all part of The Greatest Showman (PG), a musical now in theaters that is loosely based on the life and career of Barnum. It stars Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables, Logan) as Barnum; Michelle Williams (Manchester By The Sea) as his wife Charity; and Zac Efron (the High School Musical series) as his business partner Phillip Carlyle.

Movie buffs who enjoy history and musicals – like me – will fall for The Greatest Showman. I did. The music is a different genre than what was featured in the 2016 hit La La Land, although it and the choreography are just as catchy. Perhaps that’s not surprising, as two of the men who wrote the music for The Greatest Showman (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) also worked on La La Land.

The Greatest Showman also features a solid pro-family message as well as plenty of fodder for a worldview discussion.

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

Violence/Disturbing

Minimal. We see a couple of fights, including a brawl between a drunk mob and the circus performers. We also see a man slap a teen boy.

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity/Romance

Minimal. The movie begins with a courtship of a teen boy and girl; they eventually marry. The bearded woman wears several low-cut dresses that exhibit a significant amount of cleavage. An opera singer named Jenny Lind puts her head on Barnum’s shoulder in a train scene and they seem destined for an adulterous affair, but he rebuffs her advances. Later, we see an unmarried couple kiss a couple of times.  

Coarse Language

Minimal. Misuse of “God” (3), the word “d—n” is heard several times in a song, although it’s easily missed.

Other Positive Elements

Barnum’s love for his wife and daughters is admirable. He takes his show on the road and misses several important family moments – such as his daughter’s ballet performances – but repents by the movie’s end. The family-like bond among the circus performers also is inspiring. (See below.)  A white man and black woman fall for one another, despite society’s negative reaction.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Barnum stretches the truth in his marketing. People also protest his show as “indecent.”

Two of the lengthy musical numbers take place in bars, with patrons/performers continuously drinking.

An unforgiving Barnum rudely tells his in-laws to leave a post-performance party because his father-in-law never wanted Barnum to marry his daughter.   

Also, this is another “follow your dreams” movie. I’d rather follow God’s will.

Life Lessons

The Greatest Showman gives us lessons on overcoming bullying/stigmatizations (the circus performers), standing up for the downtrodden (as did Barnum, Carlyle), doing what is right – in love and business (Barnum, Carlyle) and prioritizing your family (Barnum).

Worldview

Lettie Lutz, the bearded woman in the film, summarizes the movie’s theme when she tells Barnum: “Our own mothers were ashamed of us [and] hid us our entire lives. … You gave us a family.” The Lutz character is based on a real-life bearded woman, Annie Jones, who had a condition that caused her to be born with facial hair and then progress to a mustache and sideburns at age five. She soon had a beard.

It’s easy to feel sorry for many of the movie’s so-called “freaks” (as they’re labeled in the film). Due solely to genetics, many of them were born with something that would make them societal outcasts. Barnum – in his strange way – gave them companionship and hope.

God’s intent, though, isn’t to send society’s outcasts to a circus. His desire is to see them loved within the body of Christ, and within a church.

No doubt, The Greatest Showman’s theme will be interpreted differently by others. It’s not hard to imagine lyrics such as “I make no apologies … this is me” being borrowed by the LGBT movement.  

Christian families, though, should know that the film contains no gay characters. The movie’s catchy music and solid lessons make this one worth watching with children – especially older ones.  

What I Liked

The music. No, the genres don’t fit the historical era, but that’s OK. When the credits began rolling, I was ready to watch the film again.

What I Didn’t Like

I would be nitpicking to include anything.

Thumbs Up … Or Down?

Thumbs up.

Discussion Questions

  1. Which of the circus performers would make you most uncomfortable if you were around him/her? Does your stance align with what Scripture requires?
  2. Do you agree with Barnum’s mode of making money off the performers?
  3. Compare and contrast a church and a circus in how they reach out to the downtrodden. Which is more successful?
  4. Have you ever seen someone making fun of or bullying someone else? What did you do? What should you have done?

Entertainment rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

The Greatest Showman is rated PG for thematic elements, including a brawl.