The Greatest Showman Parent Guide
This fanciful reinvention of the life of Phineas Taylor Barnum is brimming with modern music and clever choreography. So who cares if it dances around the facts?
Parent Movie Review
The Greatest Showman is a fanciful reinvention of the life of Phineas Taylor Barnum, a 19th Century businessman who defined the entertainment industry, and whose influence survives to this day. I say fanciful because this film is not committed to historical accuracy—and doesn’t even want to be. Instead it relishes the anachronisms. It’s full to the brim with modern music and clever choreography that adds a playfulness that’s very fitting. Barnum himself was never shy about taking liberties with the truth.
After a childhood of poverty, P.T. Barnum, (played by Hugh Jackman,) is anxious to provide the comforts of life to his wife Charity (Michelle Williams) and their two daughters (Austyn Johnson and Cameron Seely). Motivated by love for his family, and his need to prove himself to Charity’s wealthy parents, Barnum buys a rundown museum in New York City and transforms it into a lively circus. Yet making any kind of profit on this massive investment will require good attendance from the crowds.
To attract the masses, Barnum collects an array of unusual performers, including bearded woman Lettie Lutz, (Keala Settle,) the dwarf Charles Stratton, (Sam Humphrey,) and Anne and W.D. Wheeler, a pair of sibling trapeze artists (Zendaya and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.) They, and a dozen other misfits, are charmed by Barnum’s magnetic personality. More importantly, they appreciate his willingness to treat them with respect. But even with the circus as a haven, the outside world shuns Barnum’s performers and scoffs at his attempts to fit in with high society.
This musical takes a sympathetic look at the universal longing for acceptance, despite underprivileged backgrounds or the limitations of physical appearance. And these themes stay strong in a screenplay that avoids most content concerns. There are several depictions of drinking in bars and a lot of champagne sipping with the upper crust, yet no smoking. Violence is limited to some fistfights, threats, and shouted insults.
Viewers may notice New York City is a lot cleaner and more orderly than one would expect from this time-period. And so are the people with their hair dye and glowing smiles. It’s not too surprising that most of the story is fictional as well. While Barnum’s wife and daughters, Charles Stratton, Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) and journalist James Gordon Bennett (Paul Sparks) are actual people, Lettie Lutz, the Wheeler Siblings, and even Barnum’s assistant Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), are inventions. Still, their presence pays homage to the many individuals who saw a future for themselves in Barnum’s vision.
The filmmakers clearly did their research, and their choice to tell this tale unbounded by the constraints of facts may be a way of avoiding the more complicated side of Barnum’s career choice. Was the ring master really ahead of his time in offering a working partnership to people who were so visibly different, or was he exploiting their abnormalities for personal gain? That Barnum’s circus provided a substantial income to people like Charles Stratton is not debated. However, Barnum’s true motives are. The movie dutifully touches on some of these issues, although it avoids delving into the moral dilemmas that trouble those who study the legacy of the real Barnum.
If you don’t go in expecting a documentary, then you’ll find The Greatest Showman to be a vibrant, entertaining spectacle that carries its message of tolerance, kindness, and self-acceptance with sincerity. Historically speaking, it’s a lot of humbug, but the real P.T. Barnum once declared himself the prince of humbug. I get the feeling he would approve.Directed by Michael Gracey. Starring Hugh Jackman . Running time: 115 minutes. Theatrical release December 22, 2017. Updated June 13, 2019
Watch the trailer for The Greatest Showman
The Greatest Showman
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Greatest Showman rated PG? The Greatest Showman is rated PG by the MPAA for thematic elements including a brawl.
Violence: People make threats (verbal and physical) against a small group of persons who exhibit unusual physical characteristics (dwarfism, a female with facial hair, etc.). At one point, characters are seen brawling and fist-fighting. A married couple briefly argues. A character lies to a bank to gain a loan. Animals are briefly seen in performance situations.
Sexual Content: Women are seen in revealing performance costumes. A woman forcibly kisses a married man.
Language: A racial slur and an archaic crude anatomical term are heard.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Alcohol is consumed in social settings. Characters are seen drinking hard liquor on multiple occasions. Some scenes take place in bars.
Page last updated June 13, 2019
The Greatest Showman Parents' Guide
P.T. Barnum profited by hiring people who had atypical physical characteristics. How do you feel about this? Did it matter that these individuals made the choice to work for him, and they were paid? Considering the time-period (early 1840s), what other alternatives would they have had? What might their lives have been like if they had not worked for Barnum?
In this movie, PT Barnum meets and contracts the services of Charles Stratton, a man of restricted height, when he is a young adult. In reality, Barnum met the person he would later rename “Tom Thumb” in 1842 when he was only four years old. Stratton’s parents allowed Barnum to use their son as a performer in exchange for $3 a week wages. Stratton went on to have a wealthy life as an adult and continued to perform. Do these historical facts influence the way you feel about Barnum’s actions? Why do you think the movie depicted Stratton as being older when he met the circus owner? Is Stratton’s real story different than child stars today who are allowed to “perform” in public through the consent of their parents? What are the risks of being a celebrity – especially at an early age.
Loved this movie? Try these books…
Looking for an accurate biography of P.T. Barnum that is satisfying for adults but accessible to children? You should enjoy Candace Fleming’s The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum.
Younger children enjoy the visual feast of a circus. For an elaborate picture book about circuses, take a look at Peter Spier’s Circus! Dr. Seuss’s If I Ran the Circus allows children to imagine themselves running the whole fantastical show. And in Ian Falconer’s Olivia Saves the Circus, everyone’s favorite pig comes to the rescue.
Kids who are fascinated by the aerial acts in the circus will get a kick out of Emma Carroll’s The Girl Who Walked on Air, about Louie, a girl who longs to walk the tightrope.
Adults looking for a story about the most enchanting, most immersive, most magical circus, should read Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus. This spellbinding novel contains non-explicit sexual material and is only suitable for older teens.
News About "The Greatest Showman"
The movie The Greatest Showman was formerly called The Greatest Showman on Earth.
The film is based on the life of Phineas Taylor Barnum, a man who came to fame by starting the Barnum American Museum (a collection of the weird curiosities) and later the P.T. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Circus -- billed as the "Greatest Show on Earth".
Due to his persuasive promotional skills, he convinced the public to believe (or at least come and see) the Feejee Mermaid, General Tom Thumb, and, more credibly, Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale. Although he won and lost his fortune more than once, it is still hard to dispute his claim as "The Greatest Showman".
The most recent home video release of The Greatest Showman movie is April 10, 2018. Here are some details…
Home Video Notes: The Greatest Showman
Release Date: 10 April 2018
The Greatest Showman releases to home video (Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy) with the following bonus extras:
- Two hours of behind the scenes footage
- Sing-along edition and music machine “jukebox” features