A Look Back: “Big”

I imagine after “Big” came out in 1988, FAO Schwarz had to put up a sign instructing patrons who wanted to imitate the dance Tom Hanks and his boss do on the walkable floor keyboard, “No ‘Chopsticks.'”  Kind of like the sign in the guitar shop in “Wayne’s World,” that said, “No ‘Stairway to Heaven.'”  In the movie  “Big,” it takes them only a few seconds to coordinate their moves and perform an impromptu rendition of “Chopsticks,” although I’m sure it took them far longer to get it down pat in real life.

There were several movies in the eighties (“18 Again,” “Vice Versa”) in which the main character switches places and/or gets to experience becoming a grownup.  “!8 Again” was dragged out of mothballs and remade starring Zak Efron, while “The Parent Trap,” which originally featured Hayley Mills got an update with Lindsay Lohan playing the spunky, scheming identical twins who try to reunite their divorced parents.  And Lohan also did another remake of a Disney classic, “Freaky Friday,” in which mom and daughter switch places.  “As a father, you’re swell,” says the original Annabelle, played by young Jodie Foster, as she contemplates her new status, “but as a husband, you’re more like a traffic cop.”

The one problem I’ve always had with movies where the main character wakes up in the morning in a dramatically different body is how long they take to figure it out.  In Tom Hanks’ case in “Big,” he goes from a preteen to a fully grown man, but it takes him a surprising amount of time to grasp this.  Now this would be extremely frightening, but I think a even glance down at your arms when you’re in bed would clue you in.  Also, the fact that your sleepwear no longer fits.  Anyway….

Tom Hanks gets his wish to become big by making a wish on a mysterious gypsy machine, but of course, being an adult is hardly a panacea for his current childish problems, and he winds up having to flee his house when his mom thinks that he’s kidnapped her son.  So Tom finds his best friend (still a kid), (Jared Rushton) who helps him get an apartment and a job at toy company.  He’s’ thrilled to get a paycheck, and winds up bonding with his boss through the FAO Schwarz scene (in which Tom’s shopping for toys – for himself).  The boss is also impressed when Tom suggests changes to a Transformer-like toy to make it less boring, and his stock soars.  Soon he’s playing racquetball with a colleague (John Heard), who’s dating the beautiful Elizabeth Perkins, who soon begins to find Tom’s open enthusiasm and naïveté charming.   She even agrees to “sleep over” at Tom’s fancy new man cave, which he’s equipped with all sorts of toys and gadgets, not to mention a bunk bed.  The movie sidesteps whether or not they actually have sex, which is wise because that raises questions that aren’t in sync with the film’s tone.  (There’s a similar scene in “13 Going on 30” in which Jennifer Garner’s boyfriend starts to strip to “Ice Ice Baby,” and it cuts to an indignant Jennifer informing her girlfriend the next day, “He didn’t have any toys at all!”)

Tom manages to convince his parents that he’s been kidnapped but will return home – after he’s found the fortune telling machine and made another wish to be a kid.   Surprisingly, he realizes that he’s not really keen on being an adult, with all the adult-sized issues that come with it, and fortunately, he is successful in once again becoming small.  “Big” is a movie whose charms rest mostly on the shoulders of Tom, which I realized even when I originally saw it.   It’s one of those films that you enjoy when you’re in the theater, but after you come out, you start to wonder about implausibility (not with the switch itself, of course, but how it’s handled).  However, such discussion is just part of the fun.



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