Pee-wee’s Big Adventure

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Pee-wee Herman is a puer aeternus with a bicycle he treasures and that his neighbor, Francis Buxton, covets. A bike shop employee, Dottie, has a crush on Pee-Wee, but he does not reciprocate it. Pee-Wee’s bike gets stolen while he’s at the mall and he confronts Francis, but lacks proof. Pee-wee then offers a $10,000 reward for his bike. Francis, who did indeed steal the bike, is frightened by Pee-Wee’s relentlessness and pays to have it sent away.

Desperate, Pee-wee visits a medium, Madam Ruby, who lies that his bike is in the basement of the Alamo Mission in San Antonio, Texas. Pee-wee begins hitchhiking, getting rides from a fugitive, Mickey, and from a ghostly trucker, Large Marge.

At a truck stop, Pee-wee discovers his wallet is missing and pays for his meal by washing dishes. He befriends Simone, a waitress who dreams of visiting Paris, and Pee-Wee encourages her to stop doubting as they watch the sun rise. Simone’s jealous boyfriend, Andy, misconstrues this as a fling and tries to attack Pee-Wee. Pee-wee flees into a boxcar on a moving train where he meets Hobo Jack, and eventually reaches San Antonio. Disappointed to learn the Alamo has no basement, Pee-wee contacts Dottie and informs her of his situation. At a bus stop, Pee-wee runs into Simone as she boards a bus, leaving on her way to Paris, whom encourages him not to give up his search. Andy, stalking Simone, sees Pee-Wee and resumes his attack. Pee-wee evades Andy at a rodeo by disguising himself as a competitor in the bronco busting competition. He rides well but receives a concussion and develops temporary amnesia, while Andy must flee an angry bull who sees his red shirt.

Pee-wee enters a biker bar to use the telephone, where an outlaw motorcycle club, The Satan’s Helpers, expel him. Pee-wee then accidentally knocks over their motorcycles, enraging the gang. His life threatened, Pee-wee makes a last request: to dance to Tequila. He thereby wins the respect of the bikers, who accept him as one of their own and give him a motorcycle. Pee-wee crashes it through a billboard and ends up in hospital, where he has a surreal nightmare of clown doctors performing joke repairs on his bike. Awakening with his memory restored, Pee-wee learns from a TV interview that his bike was bought by Warner Brothers, and is now used as a prop in a movie starring Kevin Morton, a pretentious child star.

By mixing into Milton Berle’s entourage, Pee-wee sneaks onto the Warner Bros. studio lot in Burbank, California. After disguising himself as a nun, he steals his bike back from Morton. Pee-wee flees, chased by security staff, through a variety of sets, causing havoc throughout the lot and interrupting the shooting of a music video for Twisted Sister’s Burn in Hell. Pee-wee’s bike has numerous gadgets which he uses along with sleight-of-hand to evade the guards and escape the studio. Outside, Pee-wee discovers a burning pet shop. He heroically rescues the animals but faints on the sidewalk just as police and firefighters arrive. Though the firefighters hail Pee-wee as a hero, the police arrest him. Pee-wee is brought before a WB executive, who says Pee-Wee is the rightful owner of the bike and agrees to have all charges dismissed. Warner Brothers believes Pee-Wee’s experience would make a good movie. Acquitted, Pee-wee is overjoyed to see Dottie brought in the executive’s office along with his bike.

Some time later, at a drive-in, Pee-wee and Dottie attend the premiere of the action B-movie starring James Brolin as P.W. and Morgan Fairchild as Dottie fighting ninjas who steal an important motorcycle. Pee-wee has a cameo appearance as a bellhop. At the premiere, Pee-Wee gives refreshments to all the friends he met along his journey, all of whom are living slightly better lives for having known him, as well as Mickey, who has been recaptured and furloughed in a prison bus to see the film. Pee-Wee also encounters Francis, who brags to the media about how knowledgeable he is about Pee-wee’s bike but makes a fool of himself using one of the bicycle’s gadgets. Pee-Wee offers to go bicycling with Dottie, who wonders why he is not staying for the rest of the film, causing Pee-Wee to remark it is not necessary, he lived it.


I remember being a kid and every Saturday morning I would sit in front of the TV with a bowl of cereal and slice of cheese toast my mom made for me and watch Pee-wee’s Playhouse. With the success of that show, Pee-wee hit the big screen with a couple of films. The first, and most successful, was Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. How big of an adventure did this end up becoming, you wonder?

What is this about?

When his treasured bicycle is stolen, childlike prankster Pee-Wee Herman sets off on a whirlwind cross-country adventure to recover it.

What did I like?

Manchild. The magic of Pee-wee Herman is that he is a fully grown man who acts like a 10 yr old boy. The sweet and innocent nature of this character is what has allowed him to become so popular. As we see on full display in this film, people do gravitate toward such a being. Today, I’m not so sure it would be that way, but I hear talk of some new Pee-wee material on its way, so we’ll find out.

Burton magic. Did you know that Tim Burton directed this? You didn’t? Don’t worry, it isn’t obvious except for in a couple of places. First is the appearance of Large Marge. Burton, especially at this point in his career, was known for his work with stop-motion and clay effects. Marge was one of those character that could have easily appeared in a little film that would come soon after this one, Beetlejuice. The next Burton moment, if you will, comes in the form of a trippy nightmare that Pee-wee has. It resonates as the darkest part of the picture and had Tim Burton’s contrasting dark characters superimposed on light, happy backgrounds.

San Antonio. I’m currently planning on going to visit San Antonio early on in the summer, so it was a surprise to see the city in a movie that wasn’t about the Alamo or Miss Congeniality. In the short while that Pee-wee is down in ol’ San Antone he gets in and out of a few jams and, in the process we get to see a bit of the city, specifically it’s most famous landmark, the Alamo, which does not have a basement, btw.

What didn’t I like?

That’s how they make movies. Let’s face it, as much as I bitch and moan about films that need to be true to the source material, that isn’t how things are done. In a sort of meta way of speaking to the audience, the film within a film takes Pee-wee’s adventure and totally changes it. What was a light-hearted road trip becomes an action-packed spy thriller. Is this for the best? Hard to say without actually seeing it. I appreciate the spoof on Hollywood’s tactics, but this whole scene, which was conveniently at a drive-in, seemed to be a way to show us everyone that was in the movie all in one place before the credits rolled. Also, having Pee-wee deliver them snacks one by one as he made his way back to wherever he was going to watch seemed a bit of a reach, as well.

Spoiled rich kid. Every Yin has to have a Yang, right? For Pee-wee, there is this spoiled, rich brat, who appears to be about the same age and wants Pee-wee’s bike for his birthday because his dad said he can have anything he wants. Thus enters the plot. Here’s my thing, though. This guy would have made a great villain for the film if they just would have let him be the bully that he seems to be. Instead, they attempted to make him some sort of ersatz Kingpin. It just ruined what could have been a great character for me.

Similarities. While I was watching, I couldn’t help but think about how many films that were released around this time had the same or similar plot elements. Something, or someone, goes missing and the someone, or the gang, has to trek cross-country, encountering many colorful characters along the way, to get it back. The first of these films that pops in my head is Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird. While I appreciate this plot, like anything, there is a limit to what I can take, and I think I’m just tired of the rehash.

Family movies in the 80s and 90s were just that, family movies. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is a film that is meant for the whole family, not just the kids. Is this a good film? I’d say it is above average. Burton, no matter what you may think of him today, is a capable director when he’s not trying to be king of the goths (his best works tend to be the non-goth films, if you notice), and there is nothing dark about Pee-wee Herman. Do I recommend this flick? Yes, sit the family down with a big bowl of popcorn and enjoy!

3 1/2 out of 5 stars


One Response to “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure”

  1. […] mystery. Where did Pee-Wee get this farm from? In Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, he was living in a small house in the city. Did a relative pass away and leave him some land? Did […]

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