Five Magical Circuses from the Movies

Five Magical Circuses from the Movies

The First Bright Thing author J.R. Dawson runs down five magical circuses from the movies.

From The Night Circus to American Horror Story, circus stories are well-known. But there are also stories that aren’t about a circus, but has a circus that holds something super important. These places hold vulnerability, where anything can happen. Children can find parents, soulmates meet, bears can dance, and people can live forever. Here are five circuses that sneak into non-circus stories, ready to make anything possible.

Matilda the Musical (2022)

In this adaptation, Matilda tells a tale to anyone who will listen, about a circus where an escapologist and an acrobat want nothing more than to have a child. It’s some of the most heartbreaking sequences in this tale of a girl who just wants to survive the cruelty of the adults around her.

Across the Universe (2007)

Across the Universe takes all the hits of The Beatles and turns it into a story about friends haphazardly reaching adulthood during the Vietnam War. Mr. Kite’s segment is definitely a weirder one, as their acid trip concocts a magical tent. As Mr. Kite says, you just have to be there to believe it. This is a small respite for the main characters to see how fantastical the world could be … if they didn’t have to live in the 1960’s.

Dumbo (2019)

Okay, I know, Dumbo is all about a circus. But hear me out. While the story focuses mostly on Medici’s circus (aka Danny DeVito’s circus), I’m looking at the other one that doesn’t show up until halfway through. Dreamland (or Michael Keaton’s circus). Fun lore on this one: Dreamland was ostensibly the name of the theme park that Walt copied for his own Disneyland. Michael Keaton’s character is very clearly Walt. Dreamland has all the money in the world to make your dreams come true, but at what price? What do you have to give up in order to get everything you wanted? I just find the meta-commentary fascinating.

Big Fish (2003)

Ewan MacGregor as bright-eyed Edward Bloom arrives at … (checks notes) … Danny DeVito’s circus. This time, Danny’s running the Calloway Circus, and time literally freezes when Edward sees a beautiful girl across the ring from him. Magic envelops these two soulmates, before time speeds up and Edward must find a way to find her again. Mr. Calloway says he’ll give Edward one fact about her for every month he works in the circus. While this movie is full of moments of magic, there’s something vulnerable and sweet about this place where true love is possible.

Finding Neverland (2004)

When Barrie meets the lost boys for the first time, he immediately welcomes them to Neverland by turning his dog into a dancing bear at a circus he conjures out of nothing. The camera only sees little flashes, enough to entice us and make us believe that Barrie is wondrous.

So grab some popcorn and head to the circuses where anyone can be vulnerable and anything can change!

The First Bright Thing is out now from Tor.

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