You guys, I love Pee-wee Herman. I think he’s great. He was an essential part of my childhood. I grew up watching Pee-wee’s Playhouse on TV. I snuck a viewing or two of the original The Pee-wee Herman Show late at night on HBO when I was young. I even went to the HBO taping of The Pee-wee Herman Show on Broadway in 2011 (and you can most definitely hear my distinct laugh a few times during it).
Though I didn’t see Pee-wee’s Big Adventure in the theaters when it came out (I was only 2 at the time), I did see it a few years later, and it still remains one of my favorite movies today. I even have the poster for it directly to my right, in my office, as I write this. I can quote the movie endlessly. And early last year, when Adam the Woo took me to see Pee-wee’s house from the film in person, it was like a dream come true.
Most people forget (or try to forget) that Pee-wee Herman also made a second film a few years later, during the height of Pee-wee mania. In 1988, they released Big Top Pee-wee, and even though he was EXTREMELY popular at the time, the film was not received well. It currently has a score of 35% on Rotten Tomatoes, if you tend to believe those things.
But me, I’ve always had a soft spot for it. Sure, it’s never been as good as the original film or the stage shows, but it still has its charm. So, when it popped up on instant view on Netflix the other day, I sat down to watch it again. It’s been a few years, and I was curious how it held up since my last viewing (probably 5 years ago).
I was actually kind of amazed at how many more “adult themed” jokes were crammed into this one, compared to Big Adventure. I never caught them as a kid (and apparently missed them on my last viewing), but I totally got them all now! The film, while still aimed at kids, has a more grown-up feel to it, and that may be part of the reason why it wasn’t received as well.
But the thing that stuck at to me was how this film fit into the Pee-wee universe. To me, the stage shows and Playhouse were in their own little world, completely disconnected to the films. Big Adventure is almost an alternate reality Pee-wee tale…but Big Top can totally fit in right after that.
Now, I know a lot of people (even Pee-wee himself) have said the films aren’t connected whatsoever. But the stories seem to match up, and the 3 years between the films could account for a lot of the changes in Pee-wee’s character and setting.
What feels is completely my own opinion in how the two feels are connected, and how Big Adventure leads into Big Top. This is by no means Pee-wee canon…just one man’s opinion on it. However, I should warn you that this tale DOES contain a little bit of adult themes. Nothing bad, and that the kids can’t read, but if you don’t want to hear it, click away now. And remember, I have nothing but the utmost respect for Pee-wee (and Paul Reubens, the man who made my childhood complete with his creation), so this isn’t meant to tarnish Pee-wee at all. Hear me out before you call me crazy.
Do you remember how Pee-wee was during Big Adventure? He was the living example of “man-child.” He was of adult age, but acted like he was 7. And he wasn’t the only one; Francis was a man-child as well, only he had tons of money to throw around to continue his childhood indefinitely. It seemed like his father didn’t mind that so much either.
Pee-wee’s house is a child’s wonderland of excitement: random knick knacks and gadgets inhabit his world. It’s like a dream come true. And his seemingly normal neighbors love it; they accept Pee-wee for who he is, and enjoy his company.
Pee-wee also had zero interest in girls. They were practically throwing themselves at him, but like a clueless man, he had no idea what to do. You couldn’t get any more flirty than Dottie, the lovely girl at the corner bike shop. She had a massive crush on Pee-wee, which he blew off. His only love affair was with his bike, which he loved more than anything (as we know, since he set off on an epic adventure to find it again). Pee-wee was an innocent. Sure, he had a bit of an angry streak in him (remember, he almost drowned Francis in his bathroom), but he was pure.
Flash forward to Big Top, where things have changed. Pee-wee still has the same charm, but now lives secluded from the world on a farm in the middle of nowhere. His bike is replaced by his best friend, Vance, who happens to be a talking pig. He lives without his gadgets, aiming for a more simple life with just his animal friends. He spends his time working on agriculture projects (hot dog tree!), and keeps mostly to himself.
That is, of course, until he goes into town. The townspeople there seem to know of Pee-wee AND to dislike him quite a bit. In fact, they even go out of their way to make his life miserable. Want a sandwich, Pee-wee? TOO BAD! You have to wait for Mrs. Dill and Mrs. Haynes to pick out fabrics.
The only person in town who loves and accepts Pee-wee is the local schoolmarm, Winnie. In fact, he has an outstanding lunch date with her, indefinitely. And their names are carved into the tree by the school house. Also, did I mention they are engaged? Yeah, Pee-wee is totally going to marry her.
But then something even stranger happens. About 15 minutes into the movie, while Pee-wee and Winnie are about to eat lunch, Pee-wee jumps Winnie. Literally. He jumps on top of her, in the middle of the school yard, with the children watching. He wants to make out. For reals. THAT’S not the Pee-wee we know from Big Adventure!
And then, later on, he makes out with Gina Piccolapupula (in one of the weirdest, longest, most comfortable kissing shots of all time), the acrobat from the circus that lands in his yard…only to be caught by Winnie. His fiancé.
Did I mention the many innuendos and adult jokes that liter the rest of the film? I mean, a train going into a tunnel? Come on!
So, by now you’re saying: “OK, Jeff. We get it. The films are vastly different. So how does the Pee-wee we know from Big Adventure turn into the one from Big Top?” Well, through a series of life changes, of course.
When we last saw Pee-wee in Big Adventure, he was riding off with Dottie into the night. His adventures of trying to find his bike had changed him. He knew the big wide world was filled with adventures and danger, and he came back a different man. It seems like the end symbolized him ready to finally start on his greatest adventure: love.
I like to think he and Dottie began their relationship shortly after that. They began to date. They fell for each other. They were happy. They embarked on a normal, adult relationship. Our little Pee-wee was growing up.
At some point, I honestly believe they got married. They started their life together, and it was great. Both of them were happy, and Pee-wee was becoming less of a man-child, and more of a man (thanks to Dottie).
But one day, they took a trip to a rural town for a getaway. Perhaps it was their honeymoon. Perhaps it was just a vacation. Who knows? But this town just happened to be the same town as the one Big Top takes place in.
While vacationing, Pee-wee happens to meet Winnie, the schoolmarm. Unbeknownst to Dottie, he falls in love, and the two begin a torrid love affair. Eventually, Dottie finds out, and it becomes the scandal of the town. The townsfolk dislike Pee-wee for turning their poor, innocent Winnie into an adulterer (hence their attitude toward him in Big Top).
Pee-wee and Dottie break off their marriage, and Pee-wee moves to the country to be closer to Winnie. He leaves behind most of his innocence (which is why is new home is much more simple than before). He begins a simple life as a farmer, trying to start anew. However, he is still a dreamer. Much like the beginning of Big Adventure, where he wins the Tour de France, Pee-wee still dreams of a better life. The beginning of Big Top is him dreaming he is a famous singer; one that has to dress as Lincoln to leave the theater, and can fly away to escape screaming fans. He’s still the same, old Pee-wee at heart…just a little more grown-up.
Now that Pee-wee has had a small taste of adult life, and has crossed a line we never expected him to cross, he sees the world differently. This is why many of the things in Big Top are slightly more adult-oriented: the mud wrestling, the innuendos, the adultery, and so on. These things have ALWAYS been in Pee-wee’s world, but he just never noticed them until now. The door is now open, and he wants to explore this part of life he’s never experienced before.
And because he’s already cheated on a lover once, it’s easy for him to do it again when Gina literally blows into his life, courtesy of the big storm. Lucky for him, it works out for the best for both of them. Pee-wee is able to be with Gina, and Winnie is able to be with the Piccolapupula brothers…all four of them (I told you this movie was way more adult!).
At the end of the film (which, by the way, just kind of…ends), Pee-wee embarks on a new life with Gina as a member of the Cabrini Circus. Where does his life go from there? Well…we don’t know.
We know for a fact that another Pee-wee movie is coming soon. Judd Apatow is producing it, and it’s rumored to begin filming as early as February 2015. I’m excited!
Will it have anything to do with the last two films, and connect them even more? Who knows? It’s possible. But again, everything I mentioned above is purely from my own mind, and is definitely not canon. It’s just my own little way of connecting two films that I love.
Also, Pee-wee, if by chance, you happen to read this…thank you for making my childhood bright.
Until next time…