Movie Review: BIG TOP PEE WEE

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big top pee weeParamount

“I call it…the hot dog tree, because…it’s a hot dog tree.”


The sequel to Pee Wee’s Big Adventure has a different distributor studio (Paramount), a different director (Randal Kleiser), and a different dynamic than the first movie. As a matter of fact, “sequel” seems the wrong word to use. Perhaps “follow-up”, or “second movie starring Pee Wee Herman” would make better sense. After all, Big Top Pee Wee is an all together different, original story that references nothing of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. So let’s go with that.

When Big Top Pee Wee was first released, I didn’t get the chance to catch it on the big screen at first. I did manage to catch it as a weekend matinee summer special showing during the summer of 1989, but I missed the last 10 minutes or so, because whoever set the projector timer was a bit short on the length. Soon thereafter, though, we just bought the VHS copy to own, so that was remedied. Anyway…

After a Hard Day’s Night-inspired dream sequence, we meet Pee Wee Herman, farmer and agricultural science genius, constantly coming up with innovative and rather odd ways to revolutionize the science of farming. He’s the eccentric genius who lives on a farm with his talking pig outside of a rural community full of uptight old people who disdains his audacious attempts at making things fun. He’s in a relationship with the town’s schoolteacher, one that doesn’t exactly melt the chrome off of your bumper, if you catch my drift, here. Still, he carries on, making the most of the rut he’s dealt…until one day, the circus literally blows into town after a bad storm. The circus folk tries to make the best out of a bad situation, but after being kicked out of the town for daring to bring their fun show in, they shack up at Pee-Wee’s farm to regroup. Meanwhile, Pee Wee falls smitten for the trapeze artist, which doesn’t sit well with his fiance’, as the townsfolk continue to be stuck-up jerks to the circus people. Then Pee Wee comes up with a way to bring back the childlike exuberance and sense of wonder — by turning them all back into children. That way, the circus can finally perform and everyone ends up happy. The end.

Overall, Big Top Pee Wee still retains the patented whimsical surreal and absurdist humor, and the story is pretty good, with everyone working well and bringing things together. However, I have to admit that the absence of Tim Burton’s influence is noticeable. However, that certainly hasn’t kept this from being on my frequently watched collection, along with Pee Wee’s first movie. I still throw Big Top Pee Wee on from time to time, and get lost in the whimsy and the memories of a different time.

Great, now I’m sounding like the sentimental middle-age weirdo I am.


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pee wee's big adventureWarner Bros.

“‘Let’s go’? Don’t you want to see the rest of the movie?”
“I don’t have to see it, Dottie. I lived it.”

It amazes me to think that there are generations of kids who will never know the mind-blowing madness that was Pee Wee Herman in his heyday of the 80s. His odd persona brought us absurd surrealist humor subversively disguised as children’s programming. The guy behind the character — Paul Rubens — has been doin that since 1980 as a stage show.

In 1985, Rubens teamed up with up-and-coming director of weird, Tim Burton, to make the first big screen adventure featuring the bow-tie and grey suit wearing manchild. The result was…well, let me tell you…

We begin with the standard day-in-the-life of one Pee Wee Herman, which is — as you may have guessed — not the same as your normal existence. His home is something that would be if Sesame Street was designed jointly by Rube Goldberg and a Japanese game show creator. Pee Wee’s most prized possession is his bicycle, a heavily modified bike that everyone in town thinks is the coolest thing ever…including one Francis Buxton, the spoiled rich neighbor who would do anything to own that bike. One morning, while out picking up some supplies at the mall, Pee Wee returns to find his bike had been stolen! After confronting Francis, who denies stealing the bike (but totally did), Pee Wee gets info from a psychic that the bike is in the basement of the Alamo (it totally isn’t, for obvious reasons), and thus Pee Wee embarks on a cross-country journey to get back his beloved bike. On the way, he meets an escaped fugitive from the law, the ghost of a trucker, a waitress with a dream (and her Bluto-sized boyfriend), a hobo, joins a biker gang, and finally ends up in Hollywood! The psychic may have been a bit off, there.

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure remains a constant presence in my movie collection, having owned multiple formats through the years since first watching it in 1986. I absolutely loved the offbeat, whimsical absurdist humor when I was 13, and I still do now. Along with movies like The Addams Family, Gremlins and Ghostbusters, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is something I try and watch every year or so, along with sharing with others the grand whimsical madness of the movie. Greatly recommended for all to watch.