The Greatest Showman

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
The Greatest Showman Movie Poster Image
Jackman and Zendaya entertain in musical Barnum biopic.
  • PG
  • 2017
  • 105 minutes
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 128 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 140 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Encourages tolerance and acceptance of race, class, physical disabilities, and differences. Diversity and uniqueness are championed within the world of the circus, even as others consider it a "freak" show. Barnum is a purveyor and defender of mass/broad entertainment, which he believes has value, even though cultural critics prefer highbrow/fine arts.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The circus performers bond together and help one another feel accepted and at home in their community. Barnum is a showman who needs more and more fans, particularly rich ones, to feel validated, despite having an adoring and loyal wife, children, and close friends. Barnum's wife, Charity, is steadfast, loyal, and kind. Phillip and Anne fall in love across the racial divide of the era.

Violence

A rich man slaps a tradesman's son for making his daughter laugh. A young man steals bread and is later smacked for doing so. Angry protesters threaten the circus performers and later set the circus on fire. The fire leads to a supporting character being severely injured, but he survives.

Sex

Longing looks and a few passionate kisses between a married couple and another couple in love. A married man spends a lot of time with an unmarried woman; she kisses him in public, even though he doesn't reciprocate. A couple holds hands and eventually kisses and declares their love, even though they know their interracial relationship is considered taboo by others.

Language

Insults/threatening language: "freaks," "abominations," "stay away from my daughter," etc. A white couple tells their son not to go around "with the help" when they see he's taken a black woman on a date. The racial slur "spooks" is used once, as is the word "damn." A couple exclamations of "God!"

Consumerism

Barnum is its own brand.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink champagne at receptions and privately to toast good news; two men drink shot after shot in a pub; a man takes a swig of liquor from a personal flask. The circus performers drink beer and ask to be allowed into a reception to have champagne.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Greatest Showman is a biographical musical from the songwriters of La La Land that stars Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, who starts out as a penniless orphan but becomes the world-renowned creator of the circus. There's a bit of language ("damn," the racial slur "spooks," "oh God!," etc.) and violence (protesters burn down the circus, a man slaps a young boy), as well as some drama surrounding the movie's interracial romance, which was taboo at the time. But overall the plot and songs are easy enough for tweens to follow -- and with Zendaya and Zac Efron co-starring, the movie is likely to appeal to them. Although it's based on factual events, the movie only covers a short period in Barnum's life and glosses over certain aspects of his career. It's not garnering the same kind of acclaim as La La Land, but The Greatest Showman's charming leads and circus scenes should make it a fun pick for families who enjoy history, musical theater, and, of course, the circus.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 6, 10, and 13 year old Written byChristy C. December 21, 2017

Mostly clean, just above little kid's interest level

We've been looking forward to this movie since we saw the preview. We downloaded the soundtrack and have been listening to it nonstop and we absolutely lov... Continue reading
Parent of a 9, 12, and 15 year old Written byJulie W. December 20, 2017

Good message but some questionable themes

This movie has a good message of acceptance and valuing ones family but there’s lots of drinking to excess (though no drunkenness), but what disturbed me the mo... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byPugsrlife December 27, 2017

The Greatest Movie Musical of 2017

I have waited patiently for this movie to come out for a long time and want to go back to the movie theater to see it again! Of course preteens are begging to... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old January 2, 2018

People, Don't Listen to the Critics...

The Greatest Showman was the greatest movie I saw in 2017, and the greatest musical I've ever seen! I watched this movie because the trailers made it seem... Continue reading

What's the story?

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN is a biographical musical about young Phineas T. Barnum's life as a child, entrepreneur, museum owner, circus producer, and entertainment producer. As a young boy, Phineas "Finn" (Ellis Rubin), the son of a tailor, meets Charity (Skylar Dunn), the daughter of one of his father's wealthy clients. He makes her laugh and earns a slap from her father for it, but the spark between them lasts throughout their adolescence, even while she's away at boarding school and he's an orphan in the streets. Years later, Finn and Charity (now played by Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams) marry and have two girls. He manages to secure a loan to open up a museum of oddities, and when that starts to fail, he's inspired by a brief encounter with a little person to invite unusual-looking folks -- including bearded lady Letty Lutz (Keala Settle), Tom Thumb (Sean Humphrey), and black brother-and-sister trapeze artists W.D. Wheeler (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Anne Wheeler (Zendaya) -- to join a show focused around them. With a little embellishment from costumes and makeup, he opens what will become the first circus. Although Barnum's show is critically panned, the masses love it. He earns a fortune, but Barnum can't stop looking for approval from the upper crust.

Is it any good?

Exuberant performances propel this musical biopic, which isn't perfect but does occasionally delight thanks to its stellar cast, led by the inimitable Jackman. There's inherent value in watching the talented Jackman sing and dance, and he's an ideal fit for playing the titular "greatest showman" on earth. The Greatest Showman doesn't delve into some of the uglier aspects of Barnum's life (like all the hoaxes he was accused of committing), but it does manage to entertain audiences with catchy original songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the award-winning lyricists for La La Land and the Tony-winning Broadway sensation Dear Evan Hansen.

The soundtrack is in many ways more remarkable than the movie itself, with showstopping anthems like Jackman's "The Greatest Show" and "A Million Dreams" and the romantic "Rewrite the Stars" -- a lovely duet by Efron and Zendaya. The songs will stay in your head long after the credits roll, but the plot is unevenly paced. It rushes through the buildup of the Barnums' love story and sugarcoats seedy 19th-century New York to the point that it's not really recognizable as Manhattan. It's best to appreciate the film as a flashy, colorful Broadway show, where the "book" is less important than the musical numbers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about telling a fact-based biographical story as a musical. What makes this approach appealing? Who do you think the target audience is?

  • What do you think of the Barnum quote used in The Greatest Showman: "The noblest art is that of making others happy"? Do you think Barnum accomplished that?

  • How do you think Barnum treated his performers? Was it fair? Is he a role model? Why has the circus become a controversial form of entertainment in more recent decades?

  • How accurate do you think the movie is? Why might filmmakers change the facts in movies that are based on real events? How could you find out more about Barnum's life?

  • Why is Anne and Phillip's relationship controversial? How have things changed since the time the movie takes place?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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