Movie Review – Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

How far would you go to find something that you have loved and lost?

That’s basically the premise for 1985’s classic film, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.  In Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, somebody steals Pee-wee Herman’s prized bicycle, and Pee-wee embarks on a zany adventure to reclaim it.  His quest takes him through exotic lands in the American Southwest, and it ends with a mad chase through a movie studio in Hollywood.

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (1985) - movie poster

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – movie poster

Directed by Tim Burton in his directorial debut, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure stars Paul Reubens in the lead role of Pee-wee Herman.  Supporting him are Elizabeth Daily in the role of Dottie, Mark Holton as Francis Buxton, and Diane Salinger as Simone.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure begins with Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) riding his prized bicycle in a bike race.  It turns out that he’s competing in the prestigious Tour de France race.  The race ends and Pee-wee finishes in first place.  Just as he’s about to be crowned as the winner, an alarm sounds and the crowd quickly scatters.

It’s revealed that Pee-wee was only dreaming.  He wakes up, crawls out of bed, and begins his day with his playful antics.  Pee-wee has elaborate contraptions cook his breakfast while he finishes preparing for his day.  After a quick meal he goes outside and unlocks his bicycle from a secret hiding place.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – (c) Warner Bros.

Before leaving to run some errands, Pee-wee is stopped by his neighbor, Francis Buxton (Mark Holton), a wealthy, spoiled brat.  Francis informs Pee-wee that today is his birthday, and for his birthday he wants Pee-wee’s bike.  Pee-wee refuses to sell it to him and then rides away as Francis swears his vengeance.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee rides to an outdoor mall and then secures his bike to an animatronic clown.  He then visits a magic shop before going to a bike store where Dottie (Elizabeth Daily) has the new bike horn that Pee-wee ordered.  Dottie has a crush and wants to go out with Pee-wee, but Pee-wee refuses her advances.  When Pee-wee goes back outside, he discovers that somebody cut the chains and stole his bicycle.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – (c) Warner Bros.

After speaking to the police and not getting anywhere, Pee-wee thinks that it was Francis who stole his bike.  He rushes to Francis’s house, tricks his way past the butler (Professor Toru Tanaka), and confronts Francis while he’s taking a bath (his bath tub is the size of a swimming pool).  Mr. Buxton (Ed Herlihy) and the butler hear Francis’s cries for help and break down the door.  Mr. Buxton claims that Francis is innocent of the bike theft as he was spending the entire day preparing for his birthday party.  Pee-wee apologizes for his behavior and offers both Francis and his father some chewing gum.  When Pee-wee leaves the two of them quickly realize that he gave them some trick gum.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – (c) Warner Bros.

Disheartened, Pee-wee starts his own investigation.  He offers a $10,000 reward for the bike, and he holds a meeting with the townsfolk and shows them all of his evidence.  His friends think that he’s crazy, and he doesn’t Dottie to help him get a new bike, so Pee-wee sets off on his own.  He finds his way to a psychic, Madam Ruby (Erica Yohn), and she claims that Pee-wee’s bike is in the basement of the Alamo.  What Pee-wee doesn’t know is that she’s a fraud and made up everything.

It’s also revealed that Francis paid a thief to steal Pee-wee’s bike.  Francis has second thoughts about keeping it, so he has the thief get ride of the bike.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee hitchhikes and tries to catch a ride to San Antonio, Texas.  He finally gets a ride with Mickey Morelli (Judd Omen), a fugitive who recently broke out of prison.  When they approach a police roadblock, Pee-wee has them put on disguises to fool the police.  Later, when it’s Pee-wee’s turn to drive at night while Mickey sleeps, Pee-wee accidentally drives the car off a cliff.  They activate the car’s retractable roof, and it acts like a parachute and prevents them from crashing.  Mickey then kicks Pee-wee out of the car and leaves him out in the middle of nowhere.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – (c) Warner Bros.

A little while later Pee-wee is picked up by a truck driver, Large Marge (Alice Nunn).  Large Marge passes the time by telling Pee-wee about a horrific accident that she witnessed years ago.  At the end of the story she scares Pee-wee by briefly transforming into a demon.  As Pee-wee is dropped off at a truck stop, she makes sure that he tells everybody that Large Marge sent him.  inside the truck stop, he learns that Large Marge was the victim of the accident, tonight is the anniversary of the crash, and that he was really riding with her ghost.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee has a meal at the truck stop, but when it’s time to pay he discovers that his wallet is missing.  He has to wash dishes to earn enough money to pay for his meal.  A waitress named Simone (Diane Salinger) takes pity and gives Pee-wee some extra money.  She takes Pee-wee into a lifesized, hollow Tyrannosaurus rex to watch the sun rise.  While waiting for the sun, Simone and Pee-wee talk about the importance of following their dreams, no matter what it takes.

Simone’s jealous boyfriend, Andy (Jon Harris), spots Pee-wee and Simone, and he tries to attack Pee-wee.  Pee-wee runs away from Andy and manages to hop on board a passing train.  He promptly falls asleep and has a nightmare with a dinosaur eating his bicycle.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – (c) Warner Bros.

When Pee-wee wakes, he discovers that he has a companion in the box car, Hobo Jack (Carmen Filpi).  The two of them pass time by singing classic songs until Pee-wee is annoyed and finally jumps off the train.  His timing for jumping is right, and Pee-wee finds himself in San Antonio, Texas.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee makes his way to the Alamo and goes on a guided tour of the historic building.  He has to wait until the end of the tour to finally ask about seeing the basement.  The tour guide, Tina (Jan Hooks), laughs when informing him that there is NO basement in the Alamo.  Embarrassed and disheartened, Pee-wee runs away to a local bus station.

At the bus station Simone runs into Pee-wee.  She tells him that she broke up with Andy, and now she’s following her dream and travelling to Paris, France.  Simone then leaves on a bus heading to an airport.  Pee-wee then makes a phone call to Dottie and apologizes for his behavior from a few days ago.  He then asks for her to wire him some money for a bus ticket back home.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – (c) Warner Bros.

Just as Pee-wee is about to purchase a bus ticket, he runs into Andy.  Simone’s large, ex-boyfriend is still angry at Pee-wee, and he chases him into a rodeo just down the street.  Pee-wee disguises himself as a cowboy, but he’s taken by surprise when he realizes that he’s disguised as a competitive bull rider, and it’s his turn to ride in the rodeo.  Pee-wee is ultimately thrown off the bull and knocked out.  The bull then spots Andy and chases him out of the rodeo.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – (c) Warner Bros.

After Pee-wee wakes, he wanders to a bar to try to make a phone call.  The bar happens to be used as the hangout joint for Satan’s Helpers, an outlaw motorcycle club.  The gang kicks Pee-wee out of the bar, but when Pee-wee accidentally knocks over their motorcycles, they haul him back inside and try to kill him.  Pee-wee is granted a last request, and he dances on top of the bar to the song, “Tequila.”  This impresses the bikers and they make him an honorary member.  When Pee-wee tries to ride a motorcycle, he instead crashes into a billboard and injures himself.

Pee-wee then has another nightmare where a team of clown doctors repairs his broken bicycle.  They succeed in fixing it, but then a devil orders for the bike to be destroyed in a cauldron of fire.

Once again Pee-wee wakes from a nightmare.  Now he’s inside of a hospital room.  On television is a news report from Hollywood, and Pee-wee learns that Warner Brothers now has possession of his bike, and it’s being used as a prop for a movie with Kevin Morton (Jason Hervey), a child star.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee quickly makes it to Burbank, California, and he sneaks his way onto the Warner Brothers studio by pretending to be with a group of V.I.P.s.  He then asks around and finds his way to the soundstage with Kevin Morton’s movie.  Pee-wee disguises himself as an extra, stands in the background, and then improvises a line while taking back his bicycle.  He quickly takes the bike out of the soundstage before the film crew can stop him.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – (c) Warner Bros.

It’s now a chase though the Warner Brothers backlot as Pee-wee rides his bike around and through movie sets while being pursued by security guards.  The chase ends when Pee-wee activates secret rocket engines and jumps over a security fence.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – (c) Warner Bros.

Outside of the movie studio, Pee-wee is riding down the street when he notices that a pet store is on fire.  Pee-wee risks his live by repeatedly rushing inside of the burning store to save the animals.  He saves the snakes for last.  When he carries out two handfuls of the serpents, Pee-wee finally collapses to the ground.  The fire department arrives and declares Pee-wee a hero, but the police department places him under arrest.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – (c) Warner Bros.

Instead of going to jail, Pee-wee is taken back to Warner Brothers and is placed in front of Terry Hawthorne (Tony Bill), an executive at Warner Brothers.  Terry is impressed with Pee-wee’s story, and instead of pressing criminal charges, he offers to purchase the rights to Pee-wee’s story and having it made into a movie.  Pee-wee agrees and he’s reunited with Dottie and his bicycle.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – (c) Warner Bros.

Some time later, Pee-wee and Dottie attend the premier of Pee-wee’s movie (titled Pee-wee’s Big Adventure).  Also in attendance are most of the people that Pee-wee met in his adventure, from the local BMX bikers to the hobos to Terry to Mickey to Simone and her new boyfriend from Paris.  Francis Buxton is also at the drive-in theater, and he’s giving an interview to several reporters.  Pee-wee agrees to allow Francis to sit on his bike, but when he does, Francis accidentally triggers an ejection seat that launches him across the complex.

Naturally, the Hollywood version of Pee-wee’s story is greatly exaggerated and full of action.  Pee-wee isn’t interested in seeing the ending as he has already lived the adventure.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) - (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – (c) Warner Bros.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure ends with Pee-wee and Dottie riding their bikes out of the drive-in movie theater.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Is Pee-wee’s Big Adventure a good movie?

Yes, but mainly if you like wacky films from the 1980s.  This is a simple film that has plenty of charm, and this is a classic film straight from the heart of the 1980s.  If you were a kid during that time period, then chances are that you saw Pee-wee’s Big Adventure at one point or another.  My parents didn’t care for the movie back then, but my friends and my brother and I loved it.

Part of what makes this movie so entertaining is its originality, its lightheartedness, and, most importantly, its fun atmosphere.  No matter how many times you’ve seen Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, you just want to sit down and watch it again when it’s on TV.

Will kids today enjoy Pee-wee’s Big Adventure like we used to thirty years ago?

I honestly don’t know.  The film is family-friendly, but it may also be somewhat boring for today’s audiences.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) – movie trailer

Needless to say, if you love 80s films, then Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is mandatory viewing.  The same goes if you like quirky comedies as well as cult classics.

three-and-a-half stars

Pee-wee – “I know you are, but what am I?”

———————

Pee-wee – “There’s a lotta things about me you don’t know anything about, Dottie. Things you wouldn’t understand. Things you couldn’t understand. Things you shouldn’t understand.”
Dottie – “I don’t understand.”
Pee-wee – “You don’t wanna get mixed up with a guy like me. I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel. So long, Dott.”

———————

Large Marge – “Be sure and tell ’em Large Marge sent ya!”

———————

[after Pee-wee passes out]
Cowboy #1 – “What’s your name?”
Pee-wee – “I can’t remember.”
Cowboy #2 – “Where are you from?”
Pee-wee – “I can’t remember.”
Cowboy #1 – “Can you remember anything?”
Pee-wee – “I remember… the Alamo.”
[Texans cheer]

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