Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

pee wees big adventure

“I know you are but what am I?”

The Scoop: 1985 PG, directed by Tim Burton and starring Paul Reubens, Elizabeth Daily, and Mark Holton.

Tagline: The Story of a Rebel and his bike.

Summary Capsule: Pee Wee travels across the country to recover his stolen bike. Pleated suits and bow ties abound.

Mike’s rating: Two giant novelty thumbs up

Mike’s review: The story of the rise and fall of Paul Reubens alter-ego, Pee Wee Herman, has become the stuff of legend for those gen-Xers who remember it. The HBO specials, the movie cameos, Pee Wee’s Playhouse, and of course, the infamous arrest. It defies explanation to those who weren’t around to witness it. How can a grown man acting like an eight-year-old in a grey suit and red bow-tie climb to the very pinnacle of the echelons of entertainment? Debate it amongst yourselves all you like, but however it came about, it can’t be denied. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure marks the height of Pee Wee mania. It also marks the major directoral breakout of Tim Burton. How do you like them potatoes, sonny boy?

Taking his “man-boy” antics into a realm that almost passes for the real world, Pee Wee has it all; a great house (complete with automatic breakfast machine), lots of friends, the attentions of the lovely bike mechanic Dottie, and, thanks to her, the coolest bike in the history of the world. Sadly it’s not to last. When Pee Wee’s precious bike is stolen by a jealous rich kid, Pee Wee sets out on an epic quest to recover it, no matter what. His search leads him across the united states, and across the paths of an escaped con, a waitress with a jealous boyfriend, a friendly hobo, a motorcycle gang, the creepiest trucker ever, and oddly enough, Twisted Sister.

Burtonophiles will immediately recognize aspect of production that would become staples of his later works. Creepy backgrounds, odd characters, and a fondness for stop-motion animation are just a few examples, but unlike later Burton outings, Pee Wee’s presence gives the whole production a kind of zany, colorful wackiness. Reubens has a knack for comedy that very few people give him credit for. Say whatever you want, but if you’re not cracking up during the “I know you are, but what am I” exchange, I’m gonna have to assume you’re dead inside. Danny Elfman’s score is spot-on, and is firmly entrenched in my mind as the “Pee Wee theme”. There’s even a rather clever and hilarious jab at Hollywood writers as Pee Wee’s story is made into a movie and morphed into a spy caper with ninjas, a Japanese racing bike, Morgan Fairchild as Dottie and James Brolin as “P.W.”

This another one of those movies that’s so firmly woven into the tapestry of my childhood that I can’t really find any gripes with it. I’m sure there are those out there who found the Pee Wee persona to be annoying and abrasive and thought this film to be stupid. Honestly, I’m just a guy who loves his weirdness, and PWBA has enough bizarre situations, laugh-out-loud moments, and awesomely crazy sight gags to keep the insane little hyperactive spider monkey in me satisfied. Whether it’s Pee Wee’s attempts at trick riding, Simone’s big But, the Big Shoe “Tequila” dance, or the chase through the Warner Brother’s studio lots, each moment is nearly startling in it’s hilarity.

Of course, Reubens has long since moved on from Pee Wee and gone on to some pretty respectable roles, and some deserved acclaim, but still… if and when he watches this movie, I hope he looks back fondly on those Pee Wee days. I know I always will.



  • During the sight gag when Pee Wee is pulling a ridiculous length of chain out of the bike’s compartment you can clearly see the hole in the bottom of the compartment where the chain is being fed through.
  • When Pee Wee and Mickey are driving at night and the signs are going by, you can see that the car is stationary and the signs are going by on a track.
  • Tim Burton has a cameo as one of the thugs who accosts Pee Wee outside Madame Ruby’s
  • When Pee Wee weighs himself at the beginning of the movie, he’s exactly 98 pounds.
  • Pee Wee brushes his teeth before he eats his breakfast.
  • All that for the breakfast machine, and Pee Wee just pours cereal on it, eats two bites and walks away.
  • There IS no basement at the Alamo
  • Jan Hooks improvised the dialogue for her scenes as the Alamo tour guide.
  • The film features cameos by Phil Hartman, John Paragon, and Lynne Marie Stewart, who were all actors on Pee Wee’s Playhouse.
  • The Drive-in sequence was filmed at the Studio Drive In, formerly located in Culver City CA. The Studio was built in the 1930s, and was the first Drive-in Theatre constructed in California. It served as a set for several films, including Grease. It was closed in 1993 and demolished in 1998. No trace of this Drive-in remains.

Groovy Quotes

Pee Wee: There’s a lot of things about me that you don’t know anything about, Dottie. Things you wouldn’t understand. Things you couldn’t understand. Things you shouldn’t understand. You don’t want to get mixed up with a guy like me. I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel.

Mickey: I’m bad, Pee-wee. You don’t want to get mixed up with a guy like me. I’m a loner. A rebel.
Pee Wee: Deja Vu.

Pee Wee: I have certain questions get answered, others spring up! The mind plays tricks on you. You play tricks back! It’s like you’re unraveling a big cable-knit sweater that someone keeps knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting…

Simone: I know you’re right, Pee-wee, but…
Pee Wee: But what? Everyone I know has a big “But”. C’mon, Simone, let’s talk about *your* big “But.”

Tina: Yes, there are thousands and thousands of uses for corn, all of which I’m going to tell you about right now!

Pee Wee: Exhibit “Q”! a scale-model of the entire mall! X marks the scene of the crime. These arrows here show the exact position of the sun at the hour of the crime. Jupiter was aligned with Pluto! The moon was in the seventh…
Chuck: Pee-wee!
Pee Wee: Please save your questions until I’m THROUGH, Chuck!

Pee Wee: [after seeing Mickey’s broken handcuffs] So, what did you do.
Mickey: Well, I lost my temper and I took a knife and…
[short pause]
Mickey: Do you know those “under the penalty of law, do not remove” tags that they put on mattresses?
Pee Wee: Yeah.
Mickey: Well, I “cut” one of them off.

Pee Wee: I’m here to see Francis!
Butler: Francis is busy.
Pee Wee: Busy doing what?
Butler: He’s having his bath.
Pee Wee: Oh, really? Where are they hosing him down?

Pee Wee: Is this something you can share with the rest of us, Amazing Larry?

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • Big Top Pee Wee
  • Back to the Beach
  • Mystery Men


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