Pee-Wee Herman (Paul Reubens) is onstage, belting out a tune for a theatre packed with adoring and screaming fans. He is a megastar, and everyone wants a part of him, so when he leaves the building he disguises himself as Abraham Lincoln, which works until his beard falls off and an army of girls rush towards him. The only solution is to take off and fly away - well, either that or wake up, for actually Pee-Wee lives on a farm with his animals and crops, his favourite being pet pig and constant companion Vance (voiced by Wayne White). But his rural idyll is about to be disrupted by new arrivals...
Pee-Wee's Big Adventure was a cult classic for Paul Reubens, and also enough of a hit to supply him with a sequel, which before it was released was treated with some anticipation, especially from fans of his successful television show. Pee-Wee was a character popular with kids and adults alike, both responding to his wacky weirdness of which it seemed inspiration would never run dry. That was until his follow-up, which was a big letdown for both fans and casual observers alike: what had happened to that imagination that made the previous movie such a delight? As it was, Big Top Pee-Wee was a flop, and Reubens saw his career take a downward slide.
Although not so much as when he was arrested at a porn movie for public indecency three years later, a charge that never amounted to much legally, but tainted his reputation forever more. In a way, it did help Reubens find fresh material as he turned up in more character roles in movies not aimed at children, most of which capitalised on his oddball persona, but his fans were sad to see Pee-Wee fall by the wayside: it was not until many years later that he started putting on the tight suit and little bowtie once again, perhaps feeling that enough time had passed for him to return to his most celebrated role. So where did that leave this film, other than largely forgotten after all the fuss?
Actually, if you gave this a second chance, it was not quite as terrible as it had been judged way back when viewers were grumbling that Tim Burton had obviously been the talent that fuelled Big Adventure. It's just that for reasons best known to himself, Reubens, who co-wrote this with George McGrath, decided to cast his protagonist as a romantic lead, not something that sat too well with his aficionados. So here he got all lovey-dovey with both Penelope Ann Miller and Valeria Golino (who received an "introducing" credit) as Pee-Wee found himself torn between two lovers, with Miller the schoolmistress who makes him sandwiches he doesn't like every lunchtime, and Golino the trapeze artist who is most put out when she discovers the other woman.
There's a feeling that Pee-Wee is far too distracted by this pair to really open out the plot into the type of lunacy that he was admired for, but if you were able to overlook this, there were still amusing moments to be had. Take the beginning, which starts with that dream sequence and moves effortlessly into cute/bizarre scenes of the animals waking up and Pee-Wee feeding them pancakes, then onto his laboratory where he created his genetically modified vegetables. All nicely done, and following that every so often there be a bit of business such as Susan Tyrrell appearing as circus owner Kris Kristofferson's three inch tall wife, or the screen's supposed longest kiss, included just for the hell of it. It did rely too much on the creatures for appeal, making this far more gimmicky than anything in Big Adventure, and the fact was the belly laughs were simply not there, but if you're looking for an oddity and don't mind that it tried to be too sweet for its own good, this would fit the bill. Music by Danny Elfman.