MOVIE REVIEW: A big hoopla over not much
HUGH Jackman's version of legendary American showman P.T. Barnum dances around the darker aspects of the 19th Century impresario's famous sideshow.
And of course, he does it well - fancy footwork is one of the award-winning triple threat's fortes.
But there's something deeply disturbing about a musical that purports to celebrate diversity while simultaneously airbrushing the rougher edges of its "freak story" to ensure it does nothing to offend its audience's delicate sensibilities.
One might argue that even Barnum himself - a man closely associated with the phrase "there's a sucker born every minute" - was more honest.
At least he embraced the term humbug.
Although let's not forget the extremes this "visionary" was capable of. After the death of the African-American slave Joice Heth - exhibited under the false claim she was 161 years old - Barnum held a public autopsy, charging 50 cents admission.
Keala Settle delivers a soulful performance as the bearded woman Lettie Lutz, and the Broadway star's rendition of This is Me is a genuine showstopper.
And Melbourne-based actor Sam Humphrey, who stands just 127 centimetres tall, lends a welcome note of naturalism to Barnum's troupe in the role of Tom Thumb.
But the wolf man looks a little like Chewbacca and the filmmakers aren't quite sure what to do with their tall man, who is perched awkwardly to the side of the frame, like an afterthought.
The Greatest Showman, a PG-rated version of events, tells the rags-to-riches story of a wide-eyed son of a poor tailor (Ellis Rubin) who falls in love with the daughter of one of his father's wealthy clients.
When his Dad dies, the orphan falls upon even harder times. (Barnum's empathy for outsiders is explained by a scene in which he is handed an apple, as a starving child, by a woman with a disfigured face.)
Destitute, Barnum joins the railway on the promise of three square meals a day, returning as an adult (Jackman) to wed the woman of his dreams (Michelle Williams) with whom he has two beautiful daughters.
When the shipping company Barnum is working for goes broke, he hoodwinks the bank into giving him a loan that allows him to buy a rundown museum.
Its stuffed curiosities fail to attract an audience so he hires the real thing instead.
In a carefully-choreographed dance routine, Barnum persuades upper class playwright Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) to join him.
And this is how Barnum makes his first fortune.
Money, however, doesn't buy him respect.
When Barnum and his troupe are invited to Buckingham Palace, he encounters the beautiful European opera singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson).
She has what it takes to impress the snobby establishment and Barnum risks everything to finance her US tour.
When that venture ends in tears, he goes back to where he belongs - the ragtag bunch of misfits that have become his second family.
The Greatest Showman's floorboard-shaking, Broadway-belting song and dance routines can't cover for its flat-footed screenplay.
Behind the smoke and mirrors lies an empty-hearted whitewash of history.
The Greatest Showman opens on Boxing Day.
THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (PG)
Two and a half stars
Director: Michael Gracey
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams
Verdict: The razzle fails to dazzle