Movie Review: The Greatest Showman is colourful, exciting and fake as the real P.T. Barnum

A man is silhouetted against a circus background as hundreds of people start stamping their feet to the rhythm of a song while vocalizing “woah.” Music starts coming from everywhere, but I don’t see any musicians. A lion roars and I get really excited, maybe this is my moment. But then an elephant trumpets and I lose my mind, “This is it, they are finally going to tell my story,” I think. Then a spotlight shines on the man to reveal Hugh Jackman who teases “Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for.” I am beyond myself, and I prepare myself to step out of the shadows and greet the cheering audience, but then the screen goes black and we – for some reason – go back in time and they completely forget about me, Jumbo the elephant.

When I heard they were making a film about P.T. Barnum – the monster who bought me from the London zoo for £2,000 when I was just a 22-year-old elephant and tortured me for the amusement of people until I was hit by a locomotive and killed 3 years later – I was weary. When they announced it was going to be a colourful musical with songs by La La Land lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul my trunk rises in curiosity. The opening scene, while disappointing because they didn’t include me, was colourful and exciting enough to make me want to see the rest.

While everyone will point to Logan as Hugh Jackman’s best performance, P.T. Barnum feels like the role he was the most enthusiastic to play, and it shows. This human was made to perform in big musicals, if only he had lived in the time of the great MGM musicals. Whenever Jackman talked about following your dreams and about making his employees feel proud of themselves, my tail wagged in excitement and for a second, I forgot I was seeing the man who rented a blind, paralysed woman and exhibited her as the 161-year-old former nurse of George Washington, until the day she died, and he charged admission to her public autopsy. As soon as Jackman left a scene I would go back to being horrified by the “Disneyfication” of my and hundred other animals’ and peoples’ stories.

Even if the film was about my worst enemy, the music and choreography are incredible. I invited all my friends to watch the movie and the big musical number I was promised by the producers. First-time director Michael Gracey went from commercials and music videos to directing The Greatest Showman. Gracey knows how to make every musical number feel bigger-than-life, and he makes each song look like a music video, with great use of scenery for dramatic purposes and both colourful cinematography and impressive choreography worthy of a Barnum spectacle. There is enough stylistic variation in the original songs for everyone to have a favourite, from a classic movie musical song to more generic pop ballads to an inspirational tale of believing in yourself that’s magnificently sung by my favourite actor in the film, Keala Settle as the Bearded Lady – which I thought for sure was going to be the song to feature my acting debut.

Alas, the makers of The Greatest Showman had the nerve to use CGI elephants, erasing me and other aspiring actors from the movie just as they erased all the suffering Barnum caused. Imagine the horror in my eyes when I see a giant but fake elephant walking through the snowed streets of New York, and it is not me! Not since the days when I had rats chew my feet while on tour with Barnum had I felt so much anger and pain.

Despite completely erasing me, Joice Heth and countless others from history – and whitewashing Barnum into a hero who does care more for his family and workers than his fame, The Greatest Showman did make my tail wag with joy at all the songs and the performances. For a brief moment I was not the elephant who was taken from his mother as a baby and slaved for the amusement of the masses, I was just another member of the audience singing my lungs out during “This is Me” and wishing I could be singing “And we will come back home” in a New York bar with all the cheering circus workers.

Grade: Opening Night

How I grade films

 

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