The Greatest Showman – Episode #129 – February 18, 2021
JESS: Hello I'm Jesse McAnally.
ANDREW: And I am Andrew DeWolf.
BRIANNA: And I'm Brianna Jones.
JESS: And welcome to Musicals with Cheese, a podcast where I try to get Andrew and Bree to like musical theater. Andrew, how are you doing today?
ANDREW: I'm doing actually fantastically. I went down to the local market, okay? And I saw this person who just - they looked so crazy. And I was like, “You know it'd be great? What if I got a big tent and I got a bunch of people that look weird and I like to laugh at, and I got other people to pay me to come into the tent, so they can point and laugh at these freaks as well? Wouldn't it be a really swell idea?”
BRIANNA: Can I join?
ANDREW: Yeah, go ahead.
BRIANNA: Oh, great.
JESS: Wait, no, no, no. You guys are having an affair. I'm a publicity man. I took a picture of you and you kissed. And I’m gonna send it to your wife, you bastard.
ANDREW: Oh, like I give a shit. Just don't burn my building down.
JESS: And I'm also gonna burn down your building.
ANDREW: Oh, no.
JESS: And I’m also a critic. A big old theater critic. I'm a lot of things.
ANDREW: Oh my god, everything is out to get me. The whole world hates me and I'm a millionaire. This sucks.
JESS: (sings) Aaaah, boom. Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for.
ANDREW: He's doing it. He's going for it.
JESS: We're talking about The Greatest Showman, guys. Bree, cue the music.
(The Greatest Show plays)
JESS: The Greatest Showman is a movie musical with music by Pasek & Paul, and lyrics by Pasek & Paul. A script by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon, who you might know from the Twilight series or the horrible Beauty and the Beast remake. It was based on the life of P.T. Barnum. It opened in theaters on December 20, 2017. It was nominated for Best Original Song of the Oscars but lost to Remember Me from Coco – which, yeah, about right. The plot is: “Orphaned, penniless, but ambitious and with a mind crammed with imagination and fresh ideas, the American entertainer, Phineas Taylor Barnum, will always be remembered as the man with the gift to blur the line between reality and fiction. Thirsty for innovation and hungry for success, the son of a tailor manages to open a wax museum; however, he soon shifts focus to the unique and the peculiar, introducing extraordinary, never-seen-before live acts on the circus stage. Now, some people call Barnum's rich collection of oddities, an outright freak show; but, when Phineas, obsessed for cheers and respectability, gambles everything on the opera singer, Jenny Lind, to appeal to a high-brow audience, he will lose sight of the most crucial aspect of his life: his family. Will Barnum, the greatest showman, risk it all to be accepted?”
ANDREW: You already said yes. That was in the description.
JESS: (sings) This is the greatest show.
ANDREW: This show is a mess.
JESS: Andrew, what’d you think of The Greatest Showman?
ANDREW: Okay, well, I've heard some of these songs, you know, when I go out shopping at Target and, you know, I'm like, listening to the radio that they play and you hear the Million Dreams and I'm like, “Okay that's like a pop song.” Turns out it's from this. That's pretty sweet, I think.
JESS: Is it though?
ANDREW: No. The story of this is an absolute disaster. And I guess some people might have remembered when I talked about Evita being, you know - being historically accurate is usually something you'd want to be.
JESS: Yeah, or at least not like outright wrong.
ANDREW: Yeah. This is definitely outright wrong, I would say. Very, very solid whitewash of Phineas Taylor Barnum.
JESS: Yeah, they cut out all the parts where he dissected human beings - their corpses, former slaves. Yeah, they just didn't bring that up in this movie.
ANDREW: No. He also, in this, is very nice to his quote unquote freaks -
JESS: Great guy, great guy.
ANDREW: Which I don’t think is accurate. It feels like he was probably profiting off of them in the fact that society did not like them.
JESS: He was the first to accept them for who they were, Andrew.
ANDREW: Yeah, no, he was the first to make a million dollars off showing them off in a cage.
JESS: And they don't even talk about the animal abuse.
ANDREW: Oh no. I mean, there's elephants and they have him ride an elephant down the street of New York.
JESS: That's the climax of movie. That's the final bit of the movie.
ANDREW: Yeah, he rides an elephant on the street of New York in the winter. It's snowing. An elephant. Elephants, usually you see in the desert, or somewhere like that. The jungle. Hot places, places that are hot, not the city where it is cold. You usually don't see elephants there.
JESS: But there's nowhere hotter than the greatest show on earth, Andrew.
ANDREW: Oh man.
JESS: I feel like there's no way to properly talk about this musical without memeing on it, is the thing.
ANDREW: Okay. Well, I think –
JESS: It's become so popular that it has become a meme, I think is the best way to say it.
ANDREW: So, I have told some people that I do a podcast where I talk about musicals, right? And I think at least two of those people I have told have retorted to me, like, “Oh, yeah. I love musicals. My favorite one is The Greatest Showman.” And now that I've seen it I'm like, “Wait. This isn't even a musical.” It's not even like a movie version of a musical where it has less songs but it's still kind of a musical - like a Disney movie or something like that. Like, this just isn't a musical. The songs don't have anything to do with the story. Most of the songs are just cutouts to do dance numbers. I mean, if you're gonna compare it to anything, it's like Cats.
JESS: Yes. I'm gonna have the hashtag controversial opinion here. I don't think it's directed poorly. I don't think this is a badly directed movie. I think this director is very passionate about shooting musical numbers, but as soon as we're not in a musical number, my god, this film is unwatchable.
ANDREW: It's a good thing there is a lot of musical numbers, though.
JESS: I mean, there's nine, which is pretty good for an hour and 45-minute movie. Like, this is shorter than most musicals, I guess it makes sense. And also, on top of that, I think this director could have made Cats work as a film.
ANDREW: I mean he probably could have done better. I mean, the songs they did produce - I think they overproduced the songs for my taste. They sound very poppy because they're so produced, but you know what? It's better to overproduce a song and have it sound good, but not natural, than it is to do what Cats did, where it's just - I mean - Go watch Sideways’ video about Cats, I mean, just if you haven't seen that - Like, the rhythm is everywhere. They don't care. Like, they just do not care. They cut out harmonies. They do everything with the Cats music. It's awful.
JESS: I also - The fact is two of the most highest grossing movie musicals of all time both star Hugh Jackman. And their approaches to the actual music in it are so insanely different.
JESS: Like, this and Les Mis are like night and day, despite being a big budget musical starring Hugh Jackman.
ANDREW: I think I prefer this.
JESS: As a film, yes.
ANDREW: Yeah, no. I mean, I again have already said I don't think it counts as a musical. It is a musical movie, which I think - I have in the past said that there's a distinction. I believe that was my argument in the La La Land episode against Brent ranting about how La La Land doesn't follow musical theater structure.
JESS: It doesn’t.
ANDREW: Yeah. But again, I think there is a distinction between a musical and a movie that has music in it. You know? I think the problem with this is that it kind of tries to follow the musical theater format, but doesn't really. I don't know.
JESS: I think if they had two songwriters - because we've talked about the guys that did this before, on three or four separate occasions. Pasek & Paul - I think this is our fifth show by them. Let's jump through them. We did La La Land, we did Dear Evan Hansen, we did Dogfight, we did A Christmas Story, and that would bring us to five.
ANDREW: Very hit or miss track record for me so far.
JESS: I mean, more hits than not, I feel like in that list. Like, Dear Evan Hansen is the big like no no no no no no no no no.
ANDREW: Dear Evan Hansen was a miss, I liked La La Land enough, especially the music. Dogfight was okay.
JESS: It was fine.
ANDREW: Christmas Story was okay. And this is okay. So, I feel like they're just kind of - one terrible one and then all mediocre outside of that.
JESS: But Andrew - Don't forget before the year’s out, we're gonna have to revisit the terrible one. So, the reason why The Greatest Showman got bumped up into our schedule - because we don't tend to do shows like this. We don't tend to do movie musicals very often - is because I really want to cover all Pasek & Paul's shows before the Dear Evan Hansen movie comes out in 2021, September. In theory. Maybe, maybe it won't. We'll see. Thanks, COVID.
ANDREW: Yeah, I mean, we've never been afraid to cover musical adjacent content before. I mean, we've done Muppets stuff, we’ve done Disney stuff, I mean, it's okay.
JESS: But this is one of those rare - This film is just a strange anomaly. Like, it was a huge success. On an $86 million budget, it made $400 million. It was a huge financial success, and it was good counterprogramming. It opened against Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which was the big sci-fi tentpole for gender based, aimed at young boys and all that. Whereas this was more aimed at families and parents and older folks. And people kept coming back because they really liked the songs.
ANDREW: Yeah, I mean people still like the songs. They're some of the biggest pop hits of the last couple years. I'm still hearing them. I mean -
JESS: This is the first musical to have original songs that chart the top five. Like, even Hamilton didn't really have that. They did their famous Hamilton mixtape and all that with famous people and it still really didn't crack the big hits.
ANDREW: I kind of feel like it's because this isn't a musical, though. And I'm sure you're gonna want to get into this - None of the songs have any lyrical content that has anything to do – Like, Hamilton is extremely well-written, lyric-wise.
ANDREW: Yes, probably the best thing about Hamilton is how lyrically written it is and how well they do that. And this is like the exact opposite. Like, if you just released this album, and it was Lady Gaga or something or Pink - somebody puts this out, some pop artist puts this out, it would be totally normal and no one would ever think there was a story attached to any of it. Like, it's not even a concept album. Like, I don't even think you can call it that it, none of it has any plot. If you just listen to the songs all in a row, you would have no fucking clue what this is about.
JESS: So, let's talk a bit about the history of the film. So, this film has been in production for years and years and years. It has been like this ever development hell thing, this baby of Hugh Jackman and the director Michael Gracey. And there's been writers in and out. And in fact, at a certain point, Michael Arndt who did Little Miss Sunshine and Star Wars: The Force Awakens rewrites and Toy Story 3 - he wrote a draft of it. And he just couldn't figure out a way to integrate the songs that were brought to the table, and Pasek & Paul are constantly rewriting songs and trying to make them work. And by the end of it we have like five different scripts shoved together to make this one, and you feel it. You feel like there's like nine different plot lines and if we had focused on any one of them, we might have a functioning story. But we did all of them and none of them work.
ANDREW: And it doesn't really help that the plot is constantly interrupted with dance scenes that really don't progress the plot in any way.
JESS: Well the thing is, those are the only things that gives you energy, like -
ANDREW: They are the best - Yeah, we can break down the plot.
JESS: No, the plots. Multiple.
ANDREW: Okay, yeah. The first plot is that he wants to be with his wife, or whatever –
JESS: Yes. He is a penniless boy that wants to be with the high aristocrat girl.
ANDREW: Which, this actually gets resolved very quickly.
JESS: Five-minute mark.
ANDREW: He is loaded and living in a mansion, like not even –
JESS: 20 minutes in, he is living in a mansion. 10 minutes in, he got the girl that he was separated from. 12 minutes in, he loses his job. 15 minutes and he starts the Barnum place.
ANDREW: I mean, you can say that this is like a rags to riches story, but the rags part is the first five minutes and the richest part is like the last hour and a half. So -
JESS: Yeah, you’re not wrong.
ANDREW: So, you know, there you go.
JESS: Alright, so he gets the girl, he has the kids, and then he's like, “Alright, I lose my job and I'm going to con my way into making a fortune through wax figures.” And then the wax figures falls apart. “Oh no, what am I gonna do? Freaks.”
ANDREW: Yeah, so he hires a bunch of - I mean, I don't want to - They call them freaks in the show. I mean, I wouldn't refer to these people as freaks if I met them in real life. But we will call them freaks here because that's what they refer to in the majority of the show. So, the freaks that he hires and he has to gather them up and they have like this empowerment arc in a way, where they're empowered -
JESS: That doesn't come until later. Hold on, we still got plot to go.
ANDREW: You're right, you're right, what do you have - what's next?
JESS: Okay so that goes in, and he has this consistent fight with a critic throughout about how he is not making real art. Well, we're gonna put a pin in that and we're gonna come back to that later. All right? So, he does this and he's like, “Well, I need money.” So, obviously we need to woo another financier. In comes Zac Efron.
ANDREW: Yeah, so then he gets Zac Efron, who is playing - What is it? Carnegie? No. What's his name.
JESS: He's someone.
ANDREW: It starts with a C. I'm pretty sure it starts with a C and I can't remember -
BRIANNA: Philip Carly? Is it Philip Carly?
JESS: It’s Carlyle.
ANDREW: Yeah, so, Carlyle, he gets him to get him money. And that also was a relatively short one. He just – there’s like one song.
JESS: That's done in one song sequence.
ANDREW: Actually, probably, yeah, the only song that actually has plot relevance, and even that song still manages lyrically to have very little to do with what's actually happening.
JESS: It has more than all the rest but that's not saying much.
ANDREW: Yes, it does have more than the rest.
JESS: All right, all right. So at that moment, after Zac Efron joins our troop, two different movies start again. We've got the one about the different classes - We got Zac Efron wanting to be with Zendaya, but they can't be together because he's a rich important man and she is a black woman, and apparently that's too much for these people.
ANDREW: I mean, I think back in those days it was illegal, or at least extremely frowned upon. So that's understandable, I suppose.
JESS: I mean, it is. But also, it doesn't belong in this movie and –
ANDREW: Oh no.
JESS: On one hand, it is the most interesting plotline and the one you feel the most emotion for – Like, you're rooting for this couple, honestly, but on the other hand, this is a stupid movie about circus people.
ANDREW: Yeah, the thing is that it really - That should have been the entire focus of the movie if you really wanted to go in depth with that. Because they never really get into like the racism element.
JESS: At that same moment with Zac Efron and Zendaya having their plot, we introduce another character, opera singer Jenny Lind. Why? Screw you, that's why. And suddenly Barnum doesn't want to deal with animals and like freak show attractions. He wants to promote this one opera singer.
ANDREW: Yeah, cus he needs to impress this guy that is actually a recurring character.
JESS: Recurring critic. We put a pin in him. He doesn't like Barnum.
ANDREW: He really needs to impress that person because he really cares. He's very poorly characterized. Like, he is always shown as being this dreamer type who's in love with the woman whatever, but he's also supposed to be this person who only cares about his own image. And he just kind of bounces back and forth between those two things.
JESS: It feels like several people wrote the script and they just Frankensteined it together.
ANDREW: Yeah, so like, when they need him to be a loving and caring person, he does everything he can for his wife. And when they need him to be a self-centered, only cares about his own personal image, he runs off with an opera singer.
JESS: Yeah, but the thing is, when he's with her, we're supposed to think like, “Oh, is there infidelity going on there?” But, no. No, there isn't. It just is framed that and then she's love sick for him but he's like, “Nah honey, I got a wife.” And then his wife thinks he cheated on her but he didn't, and oh it's so awkward. And while he's gone, they burned down - Like, oh, because there's an entire arc about how the people in the town hate the freaks and they treat them more like garbage than they do like the actual racism.
JESS: Like, they hate the freaks - It's weird.
ANDREW: I mean, that actually is, I think that is the racial part - that's where the - I believe that's where the worst slur is said, which it really, that should have been saved for - I think that should have been saved for his parents, but his parents don't really say anything. His parents are just like, “I can't believe you're going out with someone like that,” which is like, okay, yeah, I'm pretty sure these people in the real world would be saying like, you know, the N word or something. But you know, let's just pretend that they would just say “someone like that,” and dog whistle it.
JESS: So, P.T. Barnum comes back and he, just last minute, barely saves Zac Efron.
ANDREW: Yeah, cus Zac Efron runs into a burning building to save –
ANDREW: Did they give her a name? They did, they did, but it was so short. There's so many characters that don't have names.
JESS: Anne Wheeler.
ANDREW: Yes, the Wheelers. Yes, because it was like, they were like brother and sister, and the brother gets no screentime.
JESS: Brother is there, he is definitely there.
ANDREW: Yeah. Very important characters, obviously,
JESS: it's really the characters that makes this story come alive, no pun intended.
ANDREW: They somehow take that racial arc and they make it entirely about the white character, and how he’s reacting to it. It's really just cringe.
JESS: Yeah, it's cringe. And one big thing. P.T. Barnum wins back his old friends, the freaks, and his wife all in one go – in one number. And then he reopens the tent, P.T. Barnum circus. But now it's a tent and not a building, so he can keep moving.
ANDREW: Yeah, now he can keep moving. And now, his freaks that were living in the basement will have to live in a tent, so very cool.
JESS: And then he leaves them and Zac Efron runs the show. Because he wants to spend time with his family. You know, the same arc as Liar Liar. And The Haunted Mansion, and Meet Dave, probably.
ANDREW: it's all very terrible. I don't know what else to say. I mean, it's a fucking, it is a mishmash. It's still fun though - Like, I don't know how it manages, but it still manages to be fun.
JESS: Yeah. When it's a musical number, you're enjoying yourself.
ANDREW: Yeah, I think, really, it comes down that the biggest benefit of the movie is that the music has nothing to do with the story, because the story is all so terrible that it actually helps that the music has nothing to do with it.
JESS: I agree. And the thing is, people are still watching and loving this movie. I'm sure that most of the people listening to this love this movie.
ANDREW: I mean, I didn't dislike it. I don't know. I think the things that made me angry about it is more the taking the historical elements of it and just dumbing it all down and removing all the bad things that happened. Both back in that time, and that Barnum himself did. But, you know, that's all meta stuff I guess, and if you just look at the movie as a movie, it's fine.
JESS: Ah, well, I don't know what we have to say is the sad part. Like, this movie doesn't give you much. This isn't much of a thing. How does it rank among Pasek & Paul's other work that we've covered?
ANDREW: I think La La Land is better as like the same thing, but I think I preferred it. I don't really remember Dogfight - like at all. It had like no impression. So -
JESS: Do you even remember the plot of Dogfight? Just for my curiosity.
ANDREW: Yeah, the Dogfight is they're trying to get ugly girls, or something like that.
JESS: Yeah, that's right.
ANDREW: Which - What is what these guys and having really cringe plots?
JESS: I think Dear Evan Hansen is the king of cringe to be honest.
ANDREW: Yeah, it definitely is. But these guys constantly work on these plots that are just about bad things.
JESS: But who cares what we think about it? It's time for our favorite segment, where we compare our opinions to those of the critics. It's time for Breeviews.
(Breeviews theme song plays)
ANDREW: Let's see, hypothetically. Let's see if I was ready. I don't know. Oh boy, the Conservative Book Review says, “Screenwriters Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon may as well have been talking to real critics. Just as with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, a giant chasm exists between critics and fans exists - ” Why does it say exists twice?
JESS: Because they don't know how to write, they’re conservative, Andrew.
ANDREW: I’m gonna read it as written. “A giant chasm exists between critics and fans exists on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes — 55% ‘Rotten’ to critics and 90% ‘Fresh’ to fans. The bottom line is that The Greatest Showman seems to be suffering from political backlash for billing itself as wholesome entertainment instead of ham-fisted left-wing propaganda and a sustained attack on capitalism.”
JESS: You’re just gonna let that part breathe? Gonna let that sit in the air there?
ANDREW: Yeah. Is there more? Keep going?
JESS: Just skip to the last paragraph.
ANDREW: Okay. “Moviegoers who enjoy musicals, particularly those who have children, should see The Greatest Showman during its theatrical release. It’s 1 hour and 45 minutes of clean fun. Barnum says at one point that people will pay for “the pleasure of being hoodwinked,” but Jackman’s performance is definitely not a con job.” Sustained attack on capitalism!
JESS: But not a con job.
ANDREW: Oh gosh, I don't even – what - Is this one sentence the only part where they're negative and then –
JESS: Yes, I don't even understand what it means is the worst part.
ANDREW: Wait, no no no I get it. I actually do get it. Nevermind.
JESS: Okay, you get it.
ANDREW: We have it backwards, we have it backwards. Okay. “The bottom line is that The Greatest Showman seems to be suffering from political backlash for billing itself as wholesome entertainment.” They're saying it is wholesome entertainment, and that people were backlashing against it because it isn't ham-fisted left-wing propaganda, and a sustained attack on capitalism. That's what they're saying.
JESS: Oh. The thing is, I don't think - The Last Jedi has a lot of problematic things. I don't think it's an attack on capitalism.
ANDREW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi is ham-fisted left-wing propaganda and a sustained attack on capitalism.
JESS: I really don't think it is.
ANDREW: That makes sense, though. That actually makes sense, right?
JESS: I mean, yeah, I guess if we're tearing it apart. So is The Greatest Showman a conservative masterpiece, what you're telling me, Ben Shapiro?
ANDREW: I, you know what, I actually agree with this review now. At first I was like, “What the heck are they talking about? How could you possibly spin this as a sustained attack on capitalism?” But now, now that I realized that it's flipped and they're saying that it is conservative media, I agree. This show –
JESS: Wait, you missed the part right here where it says, “The critics demand that even musical dance numbers about circus acts offer heavy-handed partisan politics.” That's what we all want from our musicals.
ANDREW: They're saying that the critics want that, wherein the movie doesn't deliver that. The movie delivers conservative, wholesome, family values.
JESS: This movie doesn't offer anything. It is so muddled in its messaging, it doesn't have a point.
ANDREW: I think if it actually has any clear messages, the only clear message it has is that capitalism is good.
JESS: Maybe. And I guess by that standing, it is a conservative masterpiece.
ANDREW: Well yeah. I mean think about it - the Million Dreams song, he's like, “I'm gonna change the world for the better.” And what does he do to change the world for the better? His perfect world he has imagined in his mind that keeps him awake at night at all times is the world exactly the same as it is before, but he hires a bunch of freaks to work for him and he makes a million dollars.
JESS: The Jeff Bezos story. Alright, we’ve got another review and I'm gonna let you read this one. What we got here?
BRIANNA: Thank you. This one is from Richard Roeper from the Sun Times, the Chicago Sun Times. He said that, “Just about every moment in “The Greatest Showman” is dripping with corny and cheesy and shameless sentiment. No kidding, there were times when I rolled my eyes to the ceiling with all the subtlety of a round-faced Emoji. But then I’d look down and realize my foot was once again tapping in time to the beat of the catchy tunes, at which point I’d just settle back and acknowledge I was thoroughly enjoying myself, despite all cynical instincts.”
JESS: Good for you, Richard Roeper. I mean, that sums it up. Like, yeah the songs are pretty fun and all that, but you know what? All the rest of it ain't that fun.
JESS: All right. Do you agree with these reviews, Andrew?
ANDREW: I mean, kinda.
JESS: Yeah, they're not as cutting as Ben Brantley - film critics.
ANDREW: I'm gonna say, the Conservative Book Review one, I disagree with all the things where they're saying that critics want left wing propaganda and sustained attacks on capitalism.
JESS: They don’t. They love The Incredibles.
ANDREW: I don't believe that's at all what critics are looking for. In fact, I don't think I've ever heard any movie critic talk about that in any way other than this. But the stuff, like the rest of the -
JESS: How would you squeeze left-leaning politics into The Greatest Showman?
ANDREW: I can think of one way. We could have the performers unionize when they realize that Barnum is screwing them.
JESS: Or, you know, like actually focus on the racial subplot more than not at all?
ANDREW: Yeah, and maybe have the racial subplot actually seen through the eyes of the person who is being discriminated against and not through their love interest?
JESS: Hey, Andrew. Tell me one thing about her aside from the fact that she is the race she is. Tell me one thing.
ANDREW: Well, I mean, she's an acrobat.
JESS: I mean, about her as a human being.
ANDREW: Oh, not a profession thing?
JESS: Or a physical description.
ANDREW: She doesn't like that racism exists.
JESS: Boy, I agree with that, you know, I don't like that racism exists.
ANDREW: She's in love with Zac Efron.
JESS: I mean, how can I blame her? She wants to rewrite the stars, Andrew.
JESS: All right, I think we've chuffed along enough about the story of this nonsense. I think it's time we talk advertising. Are you ready to go into a mid-show?
ANDREW: Yeah, sure, we can do some advertising.
JESS: Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for. Aaaah. It's time for us to talk about the ads in the middle of the show. Aaaah.
JESS: So, Andrew, that opening number - The Greatest Show.
(The Greatest Show plays)
ANDREW: That opening number’s –
JESS: It almost fools you into thinking you're gonna watch a good movie, right?
ANDREW: Yeah, I actually - I think it's the best number. It's really striking. I like the yells they do. And then the quiet talk and then they have the big dance in the tents. Like, it's pretty cool.
JESS: Yeah, for an opening number, it feels like an actual Broadway opening number of something you could see to get you ready for the excitement. It means nothing is the other thing. It’s just a bunch of visuals and editing. But -
ANDREW: The next time we even see the circus tent and that sort of scene isn't even until the very end of the movie. The way that it's framed, it's like “This is going to be what the movie is, right?” No, not at all.
JESS: It is a good scene, and it was what they marketed the movie off of. Just that scene. And it worked.
JESS: I was convinced by the trailer alone that this movie was going to work because of how good the editing, the pacing, and the momentum of the song is.
ANDREW: It's very good, though. I mean, I enjoyed the scene and - I think you kind of have to take this movie scene by scene. It's almost just like every song is its own little dance number. And the editing is good and the dances are good and that's all you can really get out of it.
JESS: Well, that's the reason why I think this guy could have done Cats, because Cats is literally nonsense numbers that mean nothing but look cool.
ANDREW: Well, unless you're the Cats movie, in which case you try to make a story out of it that just flops.
JESS: Well, that's kind of the thing I appreciate about this guy. This guy didn't even try with a story. Didn't even put an effort in, in fact.
ANDREW: All of the effort is in all of the music numbers. Which, I think for what it does, it works. And it has some fun scenes because of it.
JESS: Yeah, this song’s fun. Do you want to talk about the I want song next? Nonsense number two? A Million Dreams?
ANDREW: Sure, can you - Using the words of the lyrics, tell us what he wants?
JESS: Let's pull up the lyrics right now and see if I can do that.
ANDREW: Yeah, what does he want, Jess?
JESS: Actually, Bree - I am going to read verbatim the lyrics and see if you can tell me what his goals are. Are you ready for this, Bree?
BRIANNA: Yes, I'm ready. I like games. Let's do it.
JESS: Yeah, we don't play enough games on here.
BRIANNA: We don’t.
JESS: Okay, so here here's verse one. “I close my eyes and I can see/ The world that's waiting up for me/ That I call my own/ Through the dark, through the door/ Through where no one's been before/ But it feels like home.” Alright? You getting anything there?
JESS: Okay. Alright.
BRIANNA: Maybe he wants to go home?
JESS: No. I mean, kind of, his dad did die.
ANDREW: He wants a place that feels like home.
JESS: Feels like home.
BRIANNA: Alright, so he wants something to feel like home?
JESS: Yes. Alright. I'm just gonna skip right to the chorus now. “'Cause every night I lie in bed/ The brightest colours fill my head/ A million dreams are keeping me awake/ I think of what the world could be/ A vision of the one I see/ A million dreams is all it's gonna take/ Oh a million dreams for the world we're gonna make.” He wants to make a world, right?
ANDREW: He's like a revolutionary.
BRIANNA: What did he smoke before bed?
JESS: “I see so many colors.” Sativa.
ANDREW: Our point is that you cannot tell what he wants.
BRIANNA: Yeah, it doesn't really say anything. It's just words, words that he's saying. That mean nothing.
JESS: I will say, the most concrete wants comes from the wife character, who chimes in the second the last verse, which is “However big, however small/ Let me be part of it all/ Share your dreams with me.” Like, that's concrete. I want to be with you through it all. I understand your goals. It's not feminist at all. I don't agree with it. But I get it.
ANDREW: Well, I mean, you know, women could still want to be with somebody. I mean –
ANDREW: That’s not anti-feminist.
BRIANNA: So, is this supposed to be the I want song?
BRIANNA: Okay and we're unclear what he wants?
JESS: Yep. A million dreams. He's got a million dreams that are keeping him awake.
ANDREW: To be honest, it feels more like something like a revolutionary would sing. Like, they want to create a new worlds. You know, like, this is someone who is radical and like, “I don't like the world we're in and I want to create a new one.” Which is why it's so disappointing that he doesn't even come close to doing that.
JESS: He dissects humans for the entertainment of a large audience. What more can you support about a man?
ANDREW: What a better world that he has created.
JESS: Animals are enslaved so much that it affects our current lifetimes. That is the world he created.
JESS: Bravo, P.T. Barnum, Phineas Taylor Barnum.
ANDREW: Man, I'm looking at the song list right now.
JESS: Why? Why do you do that?
ANDREW: It's just if someone has a friend that has not seen this show, have them listen through the entire album and see if they can tell you what the plot is.
JESS: I mean, let’s take something like Wicked. Wicked, you listen to that cast album, you're gonna get a general idea of what happens there. You know what everyone wants.
ANDREW: Most musicals - I would say almost all musicals that are on the stage - if you listen to the entire album, you will at least have a general idea of what happens in the story. With this, the only thing you could possibly get is that there is a show. And that's about it.
JESS: Like, let's take the song Come Alive for a second. That song is possibly the second most useless song in the entire show. But it is a montage of him getting his gang together.
JESS: But the lyrics mean nothing. But it's really cool how it’s shot. The slow mo used in this song is great. It looks cool. The dancing is great. My god, it means nothing. Come Alive? Come alive and go on stage, I guess. But means nothing.
ANDREW: And that's just the title alone. I mean, the lyrics of it is just - it's just a pop song. Like, it's just a pop song. And I really feel like a lot of it was done because they wanted these to be - and they were. So they succeeded. They wanted these to be radio hits. Yeah. They wanted songs that would play in your local Target when you went to buy an orange juice, you know. You go in there and get your orange juice and you're hearing A Million Dreams on the radio, you know?
JESS: But let's think about this story-wise. We can end the story right here. We could have elongated all the pieces where he finds his wife and tries and scrounges for money and creates the circus. This could be the end of our story right here. But it isn't.
ANDREW: Well, I mean, technically, if we go with visual storytelling and everything as well, the Million Dream song, what he wants is to be with his wife, the wife character, and to be a success. So, by the second song, immediately after the I want song, he has already achieved all of that.
JESS: Okay. Hero's journey bullshit aside. How a story works - you have a goal, your character achieves that goal about two thirds through, then realizes that wasn't truly what he wants, and then re-evaluates his goal and finds what he actually wants by the end. That is basic storytelling structure.
ANDREW: Yeah. You usually don't want them to find out what they want and achieve it within 10 minutes.
JESS: Yes, that is our issue here. Like, two thirds of a hero story is done by the 15 minute mark. And then you still got an hour and a half of the last third of that story of him discovering what really matters, quote unquote.
ANDREW: Yeah, so the whole rest of this is him discovering that what really mattered to him the whole time was his family. Which is kind of odd, because he kind of already discovered that in the beginning here? So, you know, he kind –
JESS: There is the argument that his success harms his family, and that the daughters are ostracized from the other girls because they're not rich in the right ways.
ANDREW: Yeah, but he never actually really solves that. He just kind of embraces it. And his daughters just have to deal, I guess.
JESS: Yeah, that's literally it. He's like, “Why are you stopping ballet?” “I don't like the girl.” “Well, too bad!”
ANDREW: Yeah, cus I mean, he - Literally what happens is his daughters are getting ostracized because he's rich the wrong way. He's rich for dealing with the lower classes of society, and that's why he's rich. And everyone hates new money.
JESS: Andrew, do you know what that smell is?
ANDREW: What’s that?
JESS: Peanuts. Fuck you, girl.
ANDREW: Oh, yikes. Okay.
JESS: That's a line from the movie.
ANDREW: It is the line from the movie. Yeah. Okay. So his daughters are getting ostracized. So he decides, “Oh, I need to impress this theater critic who is highbrow and that'll get him on my side.” So then he goes, and he goes off with the opera singer to try to do that.
JESS: Hold on, we’re talking about plot again. We're in the song section, so -
ANDREW: I'm just going here because this is terrible. Okay? He goes off with the opera singer. And then his realization - So from this point, his new problem is that his daughters are ostracized. And then he goes to try to fix that, only to realize that him trying to fix that was the wrong thing to do. And he should be with his family instead. So then he comes back to his family and just doesn't fix that problem. And that's never brought up again.
JESS: (sings) It’s the greatest show.
ANDREW: It's like, the last two thirds of this is him finding a new problem, trying to solve it, and then realizing that he shouldn't solve it. And then it ends.
JESS: The girls will deal. Well, he tries to solve it, he gets the - I guess he does get the acclaim. But the daughters and wife are just unhappy with that, because he's not there. I guess. So really, the true greatest show were the friends we made along the way.
ANDREW: Alright, what's the next song that – well, none of them matter, so - I mean, what do we do?
JESS: This one matters. That's the only reason why I want to talk about it. The Other Side, which is probably the most important plot-based song and I think the best song in the show, technically.
(The Other Side plays)
ANDREW: If you're looking at it as a musical and looking for lyrical analysis, and what actually, you know, tells the story in an efficient way - then yes. If you're looking at what's the catchiest song that plays on the radio, then most definitely not.
JESS: Yeah, I mean, this is the most important song - As in, we start the song in one place and end in a different place.
ANDREW: Yeah, they still –
JESS: There’s a goal from each character, each character has a motivation for entering this song.
ANDREW: They still manage to weasel their way out of doing anything – Like, it's a song about a business deal and they never actually, in the song, address the actual business deal. They more just kind of vaguely gesture at the fact that it is a business deal. If that makes sense.
JESS: I mean, they literally talk numbers at one point. He's like, they're talking percentages, like –
ANDREW: Yeah, yeah. Percentages of what?
JESS: Of the earnings.
ANDREW: Yeah, for what?
JESS: There is one line that addresses the circus.
ANDREW: is there? I didn't catch it if that’s true.
JESS: Only because there is a physical reaction where he does this, and he's like, “I live among the swells, so I don't pick up peanut shells. I guess I'll leave that up to you.” That is the one time where they allude to it.
ANDREW: Okay, so that is probably the most plot relevant line in the whole thing. Because that actually directly relates – Like, what I'm saying is the numbers and stuff, this could be about anything. This could be to stock traders. This could be people opening a restaurant. Like, that could be any deal, you know?
JESS: There's also the line, “I like that show you do.” Like, that’s a line.
ANDREW: “I think that’s the line.”
JESS: “Now I admire you, and that whole show you do/ You're onto something, really it's something/ But I live among the swells, and we don't pick up peanut shells/ I'll have to leave that up to you.” That is the couplet. It’s still vague.
ANDREW: The most engaged in the story we ever get. There's literally not a song in this show that uses the word “circus”.
JESS: “Show” is said a lot, though.
ANDREW: “Show” is said a lot. But show could mean a lot of things.
JESS: Yes, it could. Oh, my god, is this a musical theater equivalent of a One Direction song where it's like, “It could be about you, girl. Girl, this is about you. You don’t know you’re beautiful. And that’s what makes you beautiful.” Like, literally, that's it. You can make these songs mean anything to you.
ANDREW: Could we somehow just like take these same songs and just make a movie about Walt Disney instead and just –
JESS: We could. It starts the premiere of Snow White and he's like, “Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for.”
ANDREW: (sings) This is the greatest show!
JESS: And then the seven dwarves come out behind him. And then we cut to him as a child. Like, trying to - Okay, we're doing this now, um –
ANDREW: Come Alive, he hires a bunch of people to work at his amusement park. And he's like “Come Alive!”
JESS: So, the climax literally has to be about nothing. So the climax is the premiere of Mary Poppins, alright? Because that was like his last big thing. We start at the premiere of Mary Poppins, like, “This is the greatest show.” Penguins come out and shit. Then we flashback to him when he was a child growing up delivering papers with his father Elias and he's like, “A million dreams are keeping me awake.” And then he goes - All right, we got that song.
ANDREW: Yeah. It's still - Everything still makes perfect sense.
JESS: Then he meets Ub Iwerks and he starts gathering the nine old men animators, “Come alive, come alive.” But you know what? He needs to make a deal. And they stole Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
ANDREW: That’s true.
JESS: Universal. They stole that from him. So, he makes a new deal. Or he has to convince someone - His brother, Roy Disney. And he's like, “You know what? You need to come into this business with me.” He's like, "Don’t you want to get away?” You know, like that.
ANDREW: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
JESS: And he takes him to the other side. But you know what? The war hits and his - Oh, shit, this actually works. Okay. So –
ANDREW: “This actually works,” he says.
JESS: The problem is, it does.
ANDREW: And you don't have to change any lyrics. It's perfect.
JESS: No, because he got these animators, these groups of vagabonds, but you know what? They want to get paid a decent wage, they unionize. They start striking. “This is me. Look out cus here we come.” All right? And he's like, “Oh, no, my people are going out.” And then Roy Disney meets his wife or something and they Rewrite The Stars. It's not important. And then Walt Disney's wife is like, “I miss Walt. He's never home with me and my daughters.” And she sings that Tightrope song. And then at the end, he gets his animators back just in time to finish the animation of Mary Poppins. “From now on, these eyes will not be blinded by the lights.”
ANDREW: I mean, honestly, it would probably work just fine. Because really, there's nothing in these songs that has anything to do with the story that happens.
BRIANNA: I feel like that pitch - that two-minute pitch - made more sense than the last 50 minutes have. So I feel like you should stick with this. And you should make something out of this because I think it would be good.
JESS: Andrew and I have legitimately talked about writing a Walt Disney musical. Sincerely.
ANDREW: Yeah, we'll call it The Greatest Showman.
JESS: Yeah, like literally. Nothing will change, except it is about Walt Disney.
ANDREW: You know what? Walt Disney, I think, is an objectively better person than P.T. Barnum. So –
JESS: And Walt Disney is anti-Semitic as fuck. On the record, but he’s still a better person than P.T. Barnum.
ANDREW: He's still not P.T. Barnum. I mean –
JESS: And you know what? Arguably, he has changed more – Like, his A Million Dreams did change the world a lot more than P.T. Barnum's.
ANDREW: Well, yeah, I mean, is the Barnum company like one of the major media empires?
JESS: No, it shut down.
ANDREW: Yeah, it doesn't even exist anymore. So -
JESS: Yeah, The Other Side is an alright song. Do you want to talk about Never Enough? I do briefly because this is the worst song in the entire show and I hate it so much.
ANDREW: Is this the one that she's like the opera singer sings?
JESS: Yes. Yes, it is.
(Never Enough plays)
ANDREW: I don't even remember it. I remember being a little upset that they didn't even do like an opera pastiche or anything.
JESS: The greatest opera singer in the world sings an Adele song. Never enough, never, never. It's so boring. Literally stops the entire movie just to be like, “Let's all watch her sing on stage.”
ANDREW: Yeah, and unlike all of the better numbers, there's no dancing, which makes this a very boring number.
JESS: It's shot like the rest of the dialogue scenes. And by that, I mean badly.
ANDREW: Yeah, like even following right up with This Is Me number right afterwards, like the –
ANDREW: That is just so much higher energy, and like the dancing, and it's just more fun to watch. I mean, this is just a really boring number in the movie.
JESS: Yeah, and you hear it like 10 times because she goes on tour and sings it a bunch. Then she has a reprise of it when P.T. Barnum says, “Oh, I love my wife. I don't want to cheat on her with you, lady.”
ANDREW: Yep. And they - Oh, you know what, I didn't even mention the songs - How many times do they do the thing where it’s like, the music, the backing tracks stops, and they slow down and it's just the vocals? They do that like five times. They do that like five fucking times.
JESS: That's their thing. It works once. It works really well during This Is Me, because literally, they're frozen in the air and they shot with a super slow mo camera, motion control.
JESS: That works. Every other time, it's like, lame. Like, the opening number where he's like, “This is where I want to be. Durdurdurdedur.”
ANDREW: Yeah, and it doesn't even make sense. It's like, why are you - It's supposed to be like this lamenting or something like that. I don't even know. Like, remorse, who knows? Just some sort of sadness to it. But they do it five fucking times and It really loses all –
JESS: It’s a realization, Andrew. They're realizing something.
ANDREW: It really loses all of its magic after the like, first time. It's just like, you're just doing the same tricks over and over. Just end strong. End strong. If you have a good number, and it's strong –
JESS: Look at One Day More. If it ended on a fizzle, no one would care.
ANDREW: Yeah, imagine One Day More it ends that last big note that they do. It's just Valjean just singing by himself with no music.
JESS: (sings) “One more dawn, one more day. One day more.” Curtains.
ANDREW: Oof. Ouch. Ah. I'm surprised they didn't do that in the Les Mis movie.
JESS: You know what? It wouldn't have surprised me. Remember, like, they basically did that with Who Am I, if you remember, where he's like, “Who am I? Who am I? I’m Jean Valjean.” Instead of like, “I’m Jean Valjeaaan!”
ANDREW: No, you're right. You're right.