Movies We Love: Big

Movies We Love: Big

Big (1988)

It’s a glow-in-the-dark compass ring. So you don’t get lost.


It can be tough to be a kid. That’s what 12 year old Josh Baskin learns when he’s told he’s too small to get on a ride at a fair. This is especially humiliating because he’s told he’s too short in front of the girl he has a crush on.

Josh wants to be big.  Dejected, he walks away from the ride and finds an unusual game at the fair called Zoltar Speaks. Zoltar is a fortune teller. Make a wish and if you get the coin into Zoltar’s mouth your wish will come true. Josh wishes to be big. The card says his wish is granted.

One strange detail Josh notices before he leaves is the Zoltar Speaks arcade game isn’t plugged in.

The next morning Josh gets up. Half asleep he goes to the bathroom and in the mirror sees his thirty year old self. Needless to say it’s quite a shock. An even bigger shock is his mother believes he’s an intruder.

Josh flees to NYC with the help of his friend Billy. To cover his disappearance he calls his mother and tells her that Josh has been kidnapped, but assures her that it’s like summer camp.

What follows is the 12 year old Josh in a 30 year old body trying to make sense of an adult world that will include a job, an apartment and the complications of a girlfriend. He’ll start to go with the flow, act like a grownup until he realizes he really wants to go home and resume his life as a kid. The responsibilities of adulthood make him miss being a boy and his foray into manhood is too much too soon. All he has to do is find a Zoltar arcade game to reverse his original wish.

Why We Love It

A comedy with deeper meaning that has subtlety and charm. The film reminds us of the child in all of us which could have been a cliche, but in the hands of the film makers it’s fresh and new. The toy company setting is perfect with Robert Loggia as the head of the company who unwittingly lets a child lead them.

And of course there’s Tom Hanks. In what is a role simply made for him, Tom Hanks is the only actor I can think of who could have pulled this off, making the man-child Josh Baskin completely believable.

Hanks had that natural boyish quality in his early films that made his portrayal of the boy trapped in a man’s body both funny and poignant. You can see the boy inside the man but Hanks doesn’t over play it. He’s believable in his naivety, an innocent thrown headfirst into the adult world of business and the office politics that goes with the territory.

John Heard is a great foil as the cynical executive bewildered by the swift advance of a guy who is completely clueless.

Elizabeth Perkins does a fine job as Susan, the girlfriend who reconnects with the lost girl inside her when she falls for Josh, unaware, of course, that when he says he’s just a kid, he isn’t kidding.

Back to Tom Hanks who really broke through as an actor with this film showing depth that he hadn’t had the opportunity to explore in his earlier roles.

When Josh sits and plays a computer game we saw him playing in the beginning of the film, there’s a wistful, sad moment of realization of what he’s missed by not having the chance to grow up. It’s all on his face, the understanding that he can’t move forward until he has a chance to go back and live his childhood.

Hanks picked up an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his role in 1988 for Big and it was well deserved.

His younger self, David Moscow, is believable as a young version of Hanks. Jared Rushton gives great support as best friend Billy who wants his friend to return from the adult world.

The movie is one of those films that if it’s on I watch it. It doesn’t matter that I’ve seen it countless times before; I still get pulled in and watch. The premise is of course pure fantasy and while there have been other films that put kids into the bodies of adults, Big, directed by Penny Marshall, is the best of them.

The Moment We Fell in Love

Josh wakes up the morning after making his wish and his feet hit the floor with a thud. He stumbles into the bathroom and starts washing his face, still unaware of the change that has taken place overnight. There’s great comic work by Hanks. Josh is in a panic, but also impressed with his grownup body. When grown up Josh tries to pull on the jeans of his 12 year old self  it’s funny and a great visual. Josh has gotten his wish. He’s big but he’ll find out those jeans aren’t going to be the only thing that doesn’t fit.

There’s some great physical comedy by Hanks where he brings the boy to the forefront. The moment he eats baby corn off the cob, tries caviar and completely misses Susan’s attempt to seduce him are all wonderful moments in a wonderful film.

Final Thoughts

Big has a terrific screenplay, excellent direction and a stellar cast, some who would work together again in another great film by Penny Marshall, A League of Their Own, also spotlighted as a movie we love.

The movie stands up to repeat viewings and in this day of cable television you know pretty quickly when there’s a movie you love. There’s certainly enough repeats of films to find out which ones still pull you in and which ones make you change the channel. Big remains entertaining and lovable.

The film speaks to all of us.  Josh is the stand in for every grownup trying to act like an adult even when there are so many times we still feel like kids.

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Robin Ruinsky has been a writer since penning her autobiography in fourth grade. Along the way she's studied theater at Syracuse University, worked with Woody Allen starring most of the time on the cutting room floor. A segue into the punk rock scene followed but writing was always the main focus. She writes for various crafty, artsy magazines about people who make craftsy, artsy collectible things. But her first love is writing fiction and film criticism which some people think are the same thing.

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