‘Pee-wee’s Big Adventure’ – on the road with Paul Ruebens

Paul Reubens is Pee-wee Herman in 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure.'

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) is the big screen debut for both the Paul Reubens alter ego Pee-wee Herman, the children’s TV show character he originally created in a live comedy revue, and director Tim Burton, and it was a perfect melding of sensibilities.

Pee-wee, the spastic child with a neat, out-of-date preppie suit and a whimsical sense of fun, in a dreamworld funhouse brought to life with Tim Burton’s love of surreal imagery, candy-colored sets and just plain weird gags. It’s all hung on the wisp of a plot concerning a neighborhood bully, a stolen red bicycle and a cross-country quest to reunite boy and bike, but mostly it’s a framework to fill the screenplay (co-written with improv comedy buddy and future SNL star Phil Hartman) with all sort of playground puns and games and clever bursts of cartoonish gags while evoking a little boy playing grown-up in an adult world without losing his sense of wonder.

This was before he created his TV show and it straddles the two sides of Pee-wee: the grown-up parody of kid stuff in the original incarnation and the exuberant and innocent TV version that embraces the kitsch with such energy that it makes it cool again. The film is both knowing and affectionate, silly and surreal, an epic road movie, a fantasy, and the strangest collection of oddball characters (like Large Marge) you’ll find in a kids film. Hey Pee-wee, there is no basement in the Alamo!

Elizabeth Daily and Mark Holton costar, Twisted Sister drops by, and there are cameos by James Brolin and Morgan Fairchild in the movie within the movie.

Rated PG

On Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Fandango, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure [Blu-ray]
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure [DVD]

Don’t miss a single recommendation. Subscribe to the Stream On Demand weekly newsletter (your E-mail address will not be shared) and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

Related posts