Big Top Pee-wee (1988)

Everyone talks about Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, but nobody talks about this movie. I mean, it has Susan Tyrell — yes, from Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker and Forbidden Zone — as a miniature woman who is married to Kris Kristofferson. Why is nobody talking about this?

It’s also directed by Randal Kleiser (GreaseThe Blue Lagoon) and produced by Debra Hill, two people who I would also never think would have anything to do with a Pee Wee Herman movie. Sadly, this was the second and last of what could have been an entire series of these films.

It’s also the debut of Benicio Del Toro, so why should any of these people make sense?

The idea of the film was that Pee Wee had become famous, due to the James Brolin and Morgan Fairchild film made from his last movie and now he is a Frank Sinatra-esque singer. Then, fame became a cruel beast and Pee Wee went away to live as a farmer. This is never explained other than an odd dream sequence, which is, I assume, all that remains.

Pee Wee and Vance the Pig (played by Wayne White, who helped with Pee-wee’s Playhouse and art directed the videos for Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” and the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight) were once content to make giant plants and romance a schoolteacher (Penelope Ann Miller) before the storm brings a carnival led by Mace Montana (Kristofferson).

Soon, our man — or boy — has fallen for Gina Piccolapupula (Valeria Golino), a trapeze artist who inspires him to be in the circus. When the town says no, Pee Wee uses a hot dog tree to turn them into children and…well, that’s the whole movie.

The montage when Pee Wee and Gina finally make love is something that still makes me laugh to this day. This is so much stranger than the first film while seeming normal, yet it has less of the whimsy of Tim Burton, so that hurts it.

Lynne Marie Stewart — Ms. Yvonne! — is a bearded lady, the one-time Henry and Predator Kevin Peter Hall shows up as a tall man (what else could he be?), Matthias Hues is a lion tamer, former Bozo Vance Colvig is a clown (and he was also in Mortuary Academy), Terrence Mann (Ug from Critters) is another clown, Franco Columbu (Arnold’s best man when he married Maria Shriver) is a strongman, Michu Meszaros (Hans from Waxwork and the man who played ALF) is a small person, Jay Robinson (Dr. Shrinker!) plays Cook, Kenneth Tobey (who shows up in plenty of Joe Dante films) is the sheriff, Leo Gordon (the Evil One in Saturday the 14th Strikes Back) plays the blacksmith, Frances Bay (Happy Gilmore‘s grandmother, plus Aunt Barbara in Blue Velvet) is Mrs. Haynes and former movie and kid host Jack Murdock is Otis.

You have to love that Pee Wee followed up his biggest career success with a movie about the circus filled with character actors. Of course, this made nowhere near its budget and that brings us back to today. No one ever talks about this movie. They should.

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