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.
Here’s what parents should know:
1. It’s mostly clean. The violence, romance and coarse language are all 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. The movie has a couple of bar scenes. The bearded woman wears several low-cut dresses that exhibit 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. In the language realm, there are about three misuses of “God,” and a few examples of “d—n” in a song (although it’s easily missed).
2. It has a pro-family element. 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. A white man and black woman fall for one another, despite society’s negative reaction.
3. It’s wonderful. Especially for fans of musicals. I walked out of the theater wanting to watch it again. 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. As musicals go, it just might be better than La La Land.
4. It has several solid 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).
5. It has a message for the church. 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.
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.
Michael Foust is the father of four small children.