Updated: Nov 23, 2018
I just recently sat with my wife and watched this film. Fair warning for those like my wife who are picky about such things... It is a modern musical set in the past. First, the positives:
First, let me say that it was nice to see a film with a distinct lack of vulgar language in it. Look, I'm no prude. I am all for the contextual use of F bombs and adult references. But, sometimes, it is nice to simply watch a story without it.
The film itself was big, colorful, and had that pseudo-Disney quality of making the scenes play out much larger than reality. Now, some of those scenes were clearly impossible without today's current CGI techniques. Which, in this film, played out fairly well. There are a couple of obvious spots on that front. But those, I think, were well balanced by simple moments like the wishing lamp scene on the roof of the old apartment building.
I think it captured the adventure of Barnum but not the spirit of the man himself. Hugh Jackman makes a huge leap from Wolverine/Logan, to song and dance man. And, frankly, I have to say that as shocking a shift as it was for my superhero fandom to accept; Jackman has talent in this arena.
Now, the negatives:
If you were looking for a historically acurate portrayal of the man, you were running through the wrong woods long before barking up the wrong tree. It was clearly not meant to be a documentary. Purists looking for an in depth look at the private life or the public life of the man himself, will be deeply disappointed.
It only covers about the first fifteen or so years of an almost 50 year career. And even that is covered sparsely. The events depicted are slightly out of sequence. Some of the performers that ended up in the troupe were not actually there until the second attempt at the sideshow museum.
They left out the long term business relationship with "Tom Thumb," the story of Joyce Heth the supposed housekeeper of AincLinAbAincLinAbnGeAincLinAbAincLinAbnGenorge nn, and Barnum's relationship with the Native Americans and Old West performers like John "Grizzly" Adams, one of the few performers Barnum regarded as a direct equal to himself in the humbug department. All of those are key points in his career that are missed by the musical.
I think they left it out because they wanted to focus on the love story with his apprentice and the trapeze artist. They also overplayed the Jenny Lind story a little. Okay... I get it .. that part wasn't was for the 20-something fan girls. As was the soundtrack. Don't get me wrong, the music is good (for pop style tunes that don't fit the era.)
Now, there was a moral to story that I didn't miss. The moral of this telling, was that we have to stick to our roots. Or, as an old showman I once knew who went by the name of Philip The Great once said, "You gotta sing the song that's in yer soul kid... Pretending to sing anyone else's song will get you nowhere." Barnum figures that out after trying to go "legit" and appeal to high society. (Not quite what actually happened, but it makes a good story.)
Now, we kinda get beat over the head with the moral in the whole "freaks meet high society" sequence. But, there were good story moments. Again.. if you just want to watch a cute, family friendly story with big visuals, good acting, and fun modern music and you have the time to kill... Go for it. But don't expect it to get any deeper than that.
Overall, on the level that it was a larger than life, humbug filled depiction, of a man that already stretched the bounds of suspension of disbelief; I think Barnum would have suggested a few minor edits, insisted on arranging the press releases himself, then approved.