Today we delve into the whimsical world of the 1988 film Big, which tells the story of barely-teen Josh Baskin as he makes a wish to be “big”… Enter 30-year-old Tom Hanks as the grown-up Josh. This piece of cinematic magic is without a doubt a “big movie”, from Hanks’ stellar performance to the ’80s-fabulous interiors. There’s loft apartment style, upscale Southwestern flair, dreamy kids’ decor, and even some Deco details. Get ready for a sampling of 1980s design goodness!
David Moscow stars as teenage Josh, who is all set to impress his crush by riding the Super Loops roller coaster at the local carnival…until the ride operator tells him he’s not big enough to board the coaster.
So Josh visits the Zoltar Speaks machine, the animatronic version of a fortune telling station, and makes his big wish. When he wakes up the next morning, he finds that his wish has been granted. While I’d be rubbing my head trying to figure out why floral wallpaper was combined with edgy pastel tile in the bathroom below, Josh rubs his eyes, in disbelief over his transformation.
But the real terror begins when he tries to explain to his mom what has happened, and she lunges at him with a knife. Mercedes Ruehl brilliantly plays the part of a concerned mother who believes her child has been kidnapped. A great mix of comedy and heartbreak.
After being chased with a weapon in a scene that can only be compared to Shelley Duvall’s horrific knife wielding in The Shining, Josh approaches his best friend Billy (Jared Rushton), who is understandably frightened.
But after Josh recites the words to “Shimmy Shimmy Cocoa Pop” in perfect rhythm, Billy knows it can only be his best friend. Remember this ditty from the movie? I remember Mad magazine spoofing the film (and the tune) with words like “spitting up toothpaste will set you free”.
Assured of Josh’s identity and ready to help feed, clothe and shelter him, Billy steals some of his Dad’s duds, and the two hit New York City!
Here’s a shot of the Big Apple at night in the ’80s. Stunning!
Unfortunately, Billy and Josh only have enough money for Josh to stay at this third-rate hotel, where the sound of gunshots can be heard just outside the window. Seriously, is this really a movie for kids?! Scroll up, and tell me I couldn’t rewrite the story as a horror show with these screen shots!
But things don’t stay scary for long. Josh gets a job as a “computer operator” at MacMillan Toys. When he and Billy first see the ad in the classifieds, Billy says, “Josh, will you quit with your stupid computers?” Because it’s not like that computer trend is going to go anywhere, right?!
And once again, we have a little appearance by James Eckhouse, the dad from 90210 (shown above). Remember his bit parts in ’80s classics like Fatal Attraction and Cocktail? (check out our coverage of Cocktail here). Soon Josh is adjusting to his routine at work. Not to mention, Josh’s boss, played by Robert Loggia, really appreciates his childlike perspective on the toy industry.
Check out this ’80s snippet of file drawer goodness!…
And we can’t forget that Josh’s job allows him to have spending money for things like silly string. In fact, this has to be the most epic silly string fight caught on camera.
The whole thing is kind of like a fairy tale, really. Now Josh can attend company parties at Deco-style restaurants:
And only in this ’80s movie world can a guy in a white rented tux catch the eye of his perfectly styled colleague (played by Elizabeth Perkins):
And just when we’re totally caught up in the fantasy, we’re reminded that someone back home is desperately worried about her “kidnapped” child. It’s a sweet, funny scene. You know, if you forget that this woman probably hasn’t slept or showered in weeks:
Loft Apartment Style
Let’s talk about that fabulous loft apartment! Once Josh is promoted at work, he’s able rent this crazy-amazing space with 50-foot ceilings, hardwood floors, a modern kitchen and a bathroom with a jet stream Jacuzzi.
And he promptly fills it with toys, plus the coolest red bunk beds ever:
We can’t forget the Gumby chair, inflatable palm trees and animals, Pepsi machine (product placement, anyone?), and Empire State Building lamp:
While it may look like a care-free hodgepodge of toys, this space had to have been very carefully styled by the set designers. I’m still curious about that rug under the pinball machine…
And when you can end your night by jumping on a trampoline, is life really any better?!
The World of ’80s Toys
Good news, folks! If you happen to be decorating a nursery or a child’s bedroom, this section of the post will provide you with a lot of inspiration. First up: MacMillan Toys, where 30-year-old Josh is employed.
Let’s rewind to Josh’s interview with the company. How is he able to focus when the artwork behind the desk is this good?!
Word has it that these scenes were filmed in the old Hasbro Toy Company Building. Learn more about the film’s locations here:
Even Josh’s office has a column and plenty of toys:
And I just can’t take my eyes off this logo. That zigzag/triangle border!
But the movie’s most memorable scene takes place at FAO Schwarz, where shopping for toys in the 1980s couldn’t have been dreamier.
Check out the tower that welcomed customers into this magical setting (shown in two parts below)…
While browsing for fun, Josh bumps into his boss, and together they play “Heart and Soul” and “Chopsticks” on the giant piano, after which Josh is promoted (and can afford the apartment in the previous section). Yes, dreams come true everyday at FAO Schwarz. Too bad it closed in 2015. 🙁
’80s Southwestern Flair
Before we finish up this epic post, let’s take a look at the apartment of romantic lead Susan Lawrence, played by Elizabeth Perkins. And really try and forget about the fact that she’s dating a 13-year-old in a man’s body. Yeah, not normal, but hey, look at that geometric lamp behind Josh!
And any architectural structure that incorporates glass block into a building-like form gets my vote! This is upscale Southwestern eclectic style at its finest, complete with potted houseplants:
Susan’s attire makes her look right at home in her place, even as she’s stunned when Josh tells her he’s really a child. Not that excuse again!
When Josh and Billy discover that Josh has another chance to visit the Zoltar Speaks machine and undo his wish, a true conflict is presented. Should Josh stay in this glamorous world where an “adult” with the maturity of a child can be hired, paid to play with toys and promoted to VP status within a month? I mean, why bypass puberty, score a dream loft apartment and a girlfriend when you can return to middle school?
I won’t spoil the ending. You’ll have to watch and see what Josh ultimately decides to do. I mean, you have to watch for the ’80s interiors alone, right?! Thanks for reading. XOXO, Kate
Jano Montalvo says
Just yesterday I remembered that film. I love the interiors and sets. It’s crazy that they are very similar to nowadays designs =)
It’s a lot of fun to see which trends have returned, isn’t it? How funny that you just remembered this gem of an ’80s movie! Thanks for your comment.
80’s ArtDeco was and still is the best Aesthetic!
My boyfriend and I watched this over the summer, and I too marveled over all of the eye candy.
Kirk D. says
Hi Kate, I’ve been visiting your site off and on for a few years, but I don’t think I’ve ever commented. I just wanted to thank you for all the great content. I teach a university design history class and we spend a week on the 1980s. Your site has been a great resource. At the end of each semester I poll the students, and the 80s is usually the second favorite style right after mid-century modern, so it’s fun to see a new generation appreciating the era. Keep up the great work!
Hi Kirk! Thank you so much for your kind words. As a former teacher, I am very touched by your comment. I agree that it’s wonderful to see a new generation enjoying ’80s design. Your class sounds amazing. Thank you again for getting in touch!
I saw half this movie once when I was young, I need to go rewatch it to take screenshots of those dang sets. I love the pastels