Published on March 25th, 2013 | by Clint Davis

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure [1985]

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure [1985] Clint Davis

Summary: Tim Burton's debut feature contains all the magic that makes movies fun, and makes you feel like a kid again.


Damn Fine

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PG  |  90 min.

Director: Tim Burton  |  Screenplay: Paul Reubens, Phil Hartman, Michael Varhol

Starring: Paul Reubens, Elizabeth Daily, Mark Holtman

Studio: Warner Bros.

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure epitomizes movie magic.  Beyond the completely original sights, sounds, and characters contained onscreen–the creative forces behind it would become a who’s who among Hollywood’s new guard.

When people think of Paul Reubens’s character Pee Wee Herman, they will either think fondly of his offbeat children’s TV show Pee Wee’s Playhouse, or of a notorious scandal that saw Reubens arrested for carrying out the normal behavior of a porn movie theater patron.  This initial view of Pee Wee will likely affect their thoughts of this film before they even press play.

In this film, a self-described “rebel” named Pee Wee Herman (Reubens) is trying to track down his beloved bicycle which was recently stolen from him.  At first Pee Wee thinks the bike was taken by his neighborhood rival, the wealthy Francis Buxton (Mark Holtman), but after speaking with a fortune teller, his search takes him on a cross-country trip from The Alamo to Warner Brothers’ studio back lot in California.  Along the way, he has run ins with biker gangs, an escaped fugitive, a friendly ghost, and appears in the music video for Twisted Sister’s “Burn in Hell”.  Eventually, Pee Wee rides off on his badass bicycle with his girlfriend Dottie (Elizabeth Dailey) on the back.

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, the tale of a rebel and his badass bicycle.

Along with Steven Spielberg’s beloved E.T. the Extra Terrestrial and Richard Donner’s The Goonies, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure marks the start of children’s movies being produced with more intellectual respect for their audience.  Rather than speaking down to kids and trying desperately to teach a moral lesson through stock characters, these films were the first to realize that if parents and older siblings can get into the story, it would extend their shelf life greatly.  At its heart, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is aimed at children, but it’s just as enjoyable as an adult because it makes us all feel less-jaded for at least 90 minutes .

As I mentioned above, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is a quality film because it was crafted by a hungry group of young creatives that would become among Hollywood’s most-successful talents.  Before this, Tim Burton had never directed a feature-film but was handed the keys after several successful years of behind-the-scenes work at Disney.  The movie’s original score was done by a new wave bandleader named Danny Elfman, who had no previous experience doing soundtracks.  Finally, the screenplay was co-written with Reubens by a young comedian named Phil Hartman, who wouldn’t appear on Saturday Night Live until the following year.  The idea of future heavyweights like this combining for an original project is like the tales of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs working together in a garage during the early days of Apple.

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure works so well because it’s clear the studio gave these guys total freedom in making the project as original and over-the-top as they desired.  Can Pee Wee’s house feature a Rube Goldberg-esque breakfast maker? Of course.  Can Pee Wee dance atop a bar to “Tequila” with a group of pissed-off Hell’s Angels types?  Certainly.  Can Pee Wee’s life story be made into a film-within-the-film featuring James Brolin as our hero and Morgan Fairchild as Dottie?  GOD YES!

Everything about this movie is an absolute blast, and while I love a hard-hitting drama–it’s nice to be reminded why we like art in the first place, because it makes us temporarily forget about the problems in our own lives.  Tim Burton’s filmography is uneven at best, but his best movies succeed because he’s one of the all-time greats at creating an original vision full of vibrant set pieces, costumes, and characters.  The success of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure gave him the opportunity to direct his sophomore effort, Batman.  The rest, as they say, is history.

If you missed this film when you were a kid, give it a watch and be prepared to feel like one again.

Buy Pee Wee’s Big Adventure on Amazon.

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About the Author

Clint Davis is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based journalist who dropped out of film school to write news! Email him at

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