Big Top Pee-wee

Movie review by
Scott G. Mignola, Common Sense Media
Big Top Pee-wee Movie Poster Image
Uneven cult favorite has some sexual situations.
  • PG
  • 1988
  • 86 minutes

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

An unusually libidinous Pee-wee doesn't have the courtesy to break off his engagement before he starts kissing circus folk. Some dated humor inspired by some of the circus "freaks" and their weight, gender identification. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters are too cartoonish and one-dimensional to be viewed as positive role models. 


Exaggerated cartoonish pratfall violence -- Pee-wee's new girlfriend slaps him in the face, and then he's shown in the next scene with a giant red hand mark where he was slapped. 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.


While on a lunchtime picnic with his girlfriend, Pee-wee jumps on his girlfriend and starts kissing her before she shoves him away. When he first meets a woman from the circus, Pee-wee looks at her breasts and faints. Kissing. 


Colgate toothpaste and 7-Up product placement in scenes. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bybigmoviefan2020 November 26, 2020
Parent of a 8-year-old Written byJgruttadauria December 20, 2019

NOT suitable for children under 12

BEWARE. There are several sexually inappropriate scenes in this movie that Common sense Media has failed to report. Pee Wee jumping on top of/rolling around wi... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byHikingmountain September 9, 2020

Creepy and gross

The sexual scenes are inappropriate for kids under 10. There is one scene where Pee-wee kisses a lady for at least 2 minutes.'

The creepy parts of the fil... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byNarlyy August 11, 2020

Not good example, teaches adultery

It shows pee wee cheating on his fiancé and choose to cheat on her and break up with her , it shows he chose Gina because she is sexy and shows her boobs and h... Continue reading

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? 

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love comedy

Themes & Topics

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