It was visually appealing--how could it not be? It's the circus after all. With an ELEPHANT. I didn't read the book, nor do I want to after seeing this movie.
Overall: The elephant was the star, and if it were two hours of that elephant playing in a puddle, I'd have watched it. I don't know though. I hate Reese Witherspoon for some inexplicable reason, so her being miserable was okay with me for awhile, but then she gets her happy ending. Pssht. Oh, and the Twilight guy/dead guy from Harry Potter is in it. I thought he'd be really terrible as a lead character, but he was watchable. You almost forget that he's Twilight guy/dead guy from Harry Potter. Almost. The main bad guy (who in the movie is a combination of the two bad guys) is really obnoxious and crazy. He treats animals and people equally cruelly. I don't like seeing that kind of stuff.
Surprise: I can't think of anyone or anything about this movie that really surprised me. The elephant was excellent though.