Big Top Pee-wee | Chicago Reader

Big Top Pee-wee

In his second feature, Pee-wee Herman runs a farm (or, rather, owns a farm that apparently runs itself), shares his bed with a talking pig named Vance, and courts a local schoolteacher (Penelope Ann Miller). When a traveling circus run by Kris Kristofferson turns up on his property, the hostile locals decide that they don't want a show, but the circus goes on with it anyway—and once Pee-wee serves everyone cocktail wieners grown on his hot dog tree, the townsfolk turn into kids who want to attend. Meanwhile, Pee-wee has jilted his fiancee for a sexy Italian circus performer (Valeria Golino). While the peculiar synthetic fantasies of Paul Reubens had a certain nightmarish logic on his TV kiddie show Pee-wee's Playhouse, at least as a reflection of TV itself as a synthetic medium, the social reality behind this feature is so tenuous that the giggly humor is never allowed to build. With real-life farmers in a state of crisis, it obviously requires a special imperviousness to concoct a barnyard comedy set in no particular time where money and work scarcely exist even as minor issues. Most of the circus freaks—including the miniature Midge (Susan Tyrrell), a hermaphrodite, a dog-faced boy, and a mermaid—are as synthetic as Pee-wee himself, and while the level of imagination here is scaled to the bite-size dimensions of TV, the sense of an alternate universe felt in Herman's TV show is woefully lacking. But fans and undemanding kids may still be amused. Reubens coscripted the film with George McGrath, and Randal Kleiser directed.

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