Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) / Comedy-Adventure

MPAA Rated: PG for mild innuendo
Running Time: 90 min.


Cast: Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens), Elizabeth Daily (E.G. Daily), Mark Holton, Diane Salinger, Judd omen, Erica Yohn, Alice Nunn, James Brolin, Morgan Fairchild, Dee Snider (and Twisted Sister), Jan Hooks, Phil Hartman, Milton Berle
Director: Tim Burton
Screenplay: Phil Hartman, Paul Reubens, Michael Varhol
Review published December 31, 2004

A cult favorite, and a good one.  Pee-wee's Big Adventure is more funny and clever a story than any film about a weird, childish man trying to recover a stolen bicycle should ever be.  It's the first feature film for artsy director Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Batman), as well as the first film score by the legendary Danny Elfman (Midnight Run, Darkman), cementing the relationship that would make some of the most interesting, visually arresting films of the 80s and 90s.  The marriage of these talents to Paul Reuben's (Meatballs Part II, Cheech & Chong's Next Movie) juvenile character is perfect, because only in a world gone bizarre could a man like Pee-wee Herman exist -- a world that Burton creates with just the right amount of whimsical energy required.

The story involves happy-go-lucky Pee-wee Herman, a man who has never grown up, but he wants nothing more, content to spend quality time everyday with the one thing he loves most -- his spiffy bike.  Pee-wee's world is rocked when his bike ends up stolen, and despite many attempts to recover it, no leads.  Desperate for anything that will help, he even tries a medium, a disreputable one who tells him his bike is at the Alamo, in the basement.  Not one to wait, Pee-wee immediately hits the road and hitchhikes his way across the country, meeting many strange people, and risking life and limb in the hopes of being reunited with his one true love.

Although some dismissed Pee-wee's Big Adventure as little more than an inventive movie for kids when it was released back in 1985, over the years (and as those children grew older), it has gained more respect as being a good film in general, although Paul Reubens' personal problems does still leave this in the "guilty pleasure" category for different reasons.  Although the story is simple, the characterizations are terrific, and every stop along the way is full of inventiveness and funny surprises.  With lots of energy, Burton's knack for artistic sights, and Elfman's novel score, this is a movie unlike any other before or since.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure isn't really a movie just for kids, but I imagine that kids will love it most because of the cute characters and colorful sets.  If you're an adult, and have yet to experience it, I'd still recommend it highly if you have even a trace of the kid in you.

-- Followed in 1986 by a television show, "Pee-wee's Playhouse", and in 1988 by a sequel, Big Top Pee-wee.  Paul Reubens would also appear as Pee-wee in the 1987 movie, Back to the Beach.  

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo