A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Big Top Pee-wee is a 1988 comedy in which Pee-wee Herman finds adventure and love when a circus comes to town. There are some iffy moments more in keeping with Pee-wee's adult-themed comedy club origins than the surreal weirdness of the better-known '80s children's show. While on a lunchtime picnic with his girlfriend, Pee-wee forces himself upon her by jumping onto her and kissing her until she throws him off. When he first meets the trapeze artist who will be his next big crush, Pee-wee stares at her breasts in her leotard (with a close-up from the camera and a glimmering light from a spot between her breasts) and faints. When the gossipy older women of the town remark on how a younger woman has lost weight, one of them sticks her index finger into her mouth to imply an eating disorder. There are also some recurring dated jokes concerning some of the circus "freaks" and their weight or gender identification. While there are some trademark silly, goofy, and surreal moments, this sequel doesn't quite match the quality of previous efforts that helped make Pee-wee Herman a well-known figure, in the 80s and beyond.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In BIG TOP PEE-WEE, Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) has a farm, and a talking pig named Vance, too. Country life agrees with him, it seems. He serves his animals big pancake breakfasts, performs botanical experiments in his free time, and is engaged to the town's pretty schoolteacher, Winnie (Penelope Ann Miller). It's a life of contentment -- or would be if a storm hadn't blown a large circus and accompanying human oddities onto his property. Pee-wee finds himself in a quandary when he falls for beautiful trapeze artist Gina Piccolapupula (Valeria Golino). What should he do? Stay on the farm and marry Winnie, or follow his heart and find a niche for himself under the big top?
Is it any good?
Fans of the groundbreaking children's show Pee-wee's Playhouse will find this second feature starring Paul Reubens' famous alter ego rather slow and clumsy by comparison. Those new to cult figure Pee-wee Herman are advised to acquaint themselves elsewhere, as this venture may seem little more than a painful curiosity. Tim Burton's first Pee-wee feature, Pee-wee's Big Adventure was inspired, but director Randal Kleiser doesn't bring the proper sensibility to this sequel.
The script undermines Pee-wee's peculiar man-boy appeal by casting him as romantic figure. By hopping libidinously on his fiancée and kissing beautiful Gina, he's obviously meant to be a sort of human oddity. He certainly is that, but a lot of potential humor is sacrificed for the effect. Still, kids will find Pee-wee hard to resist. They'll also like Vance the talking pig and the circus folk, including a tiny lady, a dog-faced boy, a mermaid, and the ringmaster, played by an out-of-place Kris Kristofferson.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Pee-wee's character. How is he different than most people? Why would his character become so popular? Can you think of other offbeat characters who have achieved fame?
Why do you think that sequels are rarely as good as the original movies? If that tends to be the case, why do you think Hollywood continues to churn out so many sequels?
What are some examples of dated comedy in this movie?
- In theaters: January 1, 1988
- On DVD or streaming: October 5, 1989
- Cast: Kris Kristofferson, Paul Reubens, Penelope Ann Ann Miller
- Director: Randal Kleiser
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Horses and Farm Animals
- Run time: 86 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: comic mayhem and mature themes
- Last updated: June 30, 2020
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