DVD Movie Guide @ dvdmg.com
Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main


Randal Kleiser
Paul Reubens, Penelope Ann Miller, Kris Kristofferson, Valeria Golino, Wayne White, Susan Tyrrell, Albert Henderson
Writing Credits:
Paul Reubens, George McGrath

Hero. Lover. Legend.

In Big Top Pee Wee, I live on a country farm where I feed my barnyard animals pancake breakfasts and work on top-secret botanical experiments with my pet pig, Vance. One day a storm blows an entire circus into my yard! There's wild animals and all kinds of cool circus stuff - especially the trapeze artist, Gina. She's the most beautiful girl I've ever seen! She's the most beautiful girl I've ever kissed, too!! That's probably why my fiancée, Winnie, gets so angry. Let me tell you, one torrid love triangle in a lifetime is plenty for anyone! It all works out great, eventually, and I even get to be in the circus! Sawdust, glitter and excitement - I hope you like it!

Your Pal,
Pee Wee Herman

Box Office:
Domestic Gross
$15.122 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby 2.0
French Monaural

Runtime: 85 min.
Price: $14.99
Release Date: 7/6/2004

• None


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Big Top Pee-Wee (1988)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 1, 2004)

When I saw and adored 1985’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, I assumed that its charms occurred due to the creative influence of Paul Reubens, the creator and portrayer of Pee-wee Herman. I’d never heard of director Tim Burton, so I figured he was just a stooge who helped enact Reubens’ warped vision.

In 1988, I found out just how wrong I was. Burton scored a moderate hit with Beetlejuice, a flick that fell short of Adventure’s glories but managed many of its own pleasures and signaled Burton as a distinctive talent. Reubens, on the other hand, put out his own follow-up with Big Top Pee-wee.

My friend Kevin and I both eagerly anticipated Top and saw it opening night. To relate our reaction as disappointment would represent a gross understatement. Frankly, we felt absolutely shocked at what we saw, for we could scarcely imagine a less funny and entertaining film.

16 years later, I figured I should give Top another shot. After all, we went into that theatrical screening with extremely high expectations. Was it possible that Top really wasn’t a bad film, but it suffered simply from comparisons with the excellent Adventure?

Nope - it just stinks. The Pee-wee in Top runs his own farm. Apparently a brilliant engineer of food genetics, Pee-wee works on improved produce and also courts schoolmarm Winnie (Penelope Ann Miller). He eats lunch with her everyday, though she seems reluctant to make their romance more physical. The locals don’t cotton much to Pee-wee otherwise.

A massive storm rocks the town, and Pee-wee takes refuge in his cellar. When he emerges, he discovers the wreckage of a circus all over his property. He meets Mace Montana (Kris Kristofferson), the manager of the circus, and helps them deal with the catastrophe. He also encounters trapeze artist Gina (Valeria Golina) and immediately becomes smitten with her.

The circus gets a cold reception from Pee-wee’s cranky neighbors, so at Pee-wee’s urging, they take a vacation and stay on the farm. Pee-wee works with Mace to come up with a new idea to spark the circus. In the meantime, he falls for Gina, which creates a love triangle with Winnie. We see how Pee-wee copes with the changes in his life.

Point at which Top threatened to lose me totally: around the nine-minute mark, when the pig spoke. The film ladled on the cutesy animal shots anyway, but when it entered Mr. Ed territory, it became to precious for words. How can anyone like a flick in which a pig utters the phrase, “Women and chickens first”?

Point at which Top did alienate me irrevocably: about two minutes later, when Pee-wee attempted to molest Winnie. Pee-wee’s meant to be a bizarre man-child, a boy in the body of a grown-up. This moment took him away from that and seemed badly out of character.

The film also goes out of its way to attempt to siphon some of Adventure’s glory. The entire introduction replicates that of the earlier film. It opens with Pee-wee’s dream of fame and success and then goes into his morning routine. The difference? It was funny in Adventure but simply cutesy here.

Much of the problem comes from the flick’s tone. It plays without the irony of Adventure. For example, we see the earnestness of Mace as something unencumbered by the necessary snarky attitude to make it work. Adventure parodied traditional film elements, while Top buys into them without any filter. Even its infamous kissing sequence plays without anything to make it seem like anything other than a normal romance moment.

This doesn’t work at all. Really, Big Top Pee-wee provides much more of a kiddie movie than Adventure. It plods along with nary a hint of humor; indeed, the funniest moment comes from what appears to have been a goof that remained in the film. Top stands as a truly terrible flick.

Trivia note: in the role of Duke the dog-faced boy, we find future Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro! I’m sure other notable actors have appeared in movies as bad as Top, but that’s tough to imagine.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B/ Bonus F

Big Top Pee-wee appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite all the weaknesses of the film itself, the transfer showed few problems.

Top presented very good sharpness. Wide shots occasionally demonstrated slight softness, but those elements remained exceedingly minor. Instead, the movie mostly looked nicely crisp and well-defined. No issues connected to jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but I noticed some mild to moderate edge enhancement at times. As for print flaws, occasional specks cropped up, especially during shots with visual effects. Otherwise, the film mainly seemed clean.

With its cartoony circus atmosphere, Top presented a varied palette, and the DVD demonstrated very nice color reproduction. The hues seemed vivid and dynamic at all times, as they were quite vibrant. Black levels also looked concise and taut, while shadows were smooth and appropriately delineated. I debated whether to give Top a “B+” or an “A-“ but went with the higher grade because of its age and the fact that so much of it looked absolutely terrific.

Although it didn’t demonstrate much ambition, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Big Top Pee-wee worked fine for this material. The soundscape stayed focused on the forward channels. They offered nice stereo imaging for the music and opened up the spectrum moderately well. The track featured decent environmental information and created a reasonable sense of place. Some localization seemed off, as occasionally elements popped up in odd places, but the track mainly presented good placement. The surrounds failed to add much to the proceedings, as they stayed with general reinforcement of the effects and music. That was the case even in situations with more active potential such as the storm.

Audio quality seemed strong, especially given the age of the material. Speech consistently came across as concise and crisp, and I detected no problems with edginess or intelligibility. Music was lush and vibrant. The score showed nice range and the mix replicated the music with good clarity and liveliness. Effects also sounded clean and firm. They offered fine dynamics, though they never taxed my system. Bass response didn’t play much of a role, as not a lot of low-end information appeared, but the track remained well defined nonetheless. Ultimately, Top sounded good.

Too bad the DVD came without any extras. Nothing appeared here - not even a trailer!

A commentary or some other form of supplement would have been nice, as it might have helped us get to the heart of this catastrophe. Unfortunately, we’ll have to speculate on what the creators of Big Top Pee-wee had in mind, for I can’t figure out who thought this disaster would be funny or entertaining. At least the DVD presents excellent picture and satisfying sound, but the total absence of extras is a disappointment. With or without bonus materials, though, I can’t recommend the embarrassing nightmare that is Big Top Pee-wee.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.7692 Stars Number of Votes: 13
1 3:
View Averages for all rated titles.