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

Title: Pee-wee’s Big Adventure
Release Date:August 9, 1985
Director: Tim Burton
Production Company: Aspen Film Society

“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 and knitting…”

Pee-wee Herman just kind of existed in the ether of the early 80s as this obnoxious man-child character.  Created by actor Paul Reubens, Pee-wee basically became his identity.  In fact, the credits for this movie say “Pee-wee Herman” as himself.  At any rate, those of us were around in the 80s were uncertain about a whole movie about this character.  But it got good reviews, and I remember going to see it with my family on our vacation to Martha’s Vineyard.

Turns out, it’s an absurdist masterpiece.  I don’t know how many times I watched this as a kid, but returning to it after several decades, I can tell it’s lost nothing.  The basic story is that Pee-wee’s bike is stolen and he goes on a cross-country journey to the Alamo to find it.  It ends up being one of the best bicycle-themed movies ever made, along with Bicycle Thieves and Breaking Away. It also shares a meta-commentary on Hollywood movies with The Muppet Movie.

But really, this is a movie for misfits and weirdos.  All the people Pee-wee meets along the way basically find happiness from their encounter no matter how much of an outcast they may be.  Plus there’s just a lot of random weirdness, and one moment that haunted my childhood nightmares (“Tell ’em, Large Marge sent ya!”).  Tim Burton, a former animator at Walt Disney, made his feature-length directorial debut here seemingly a perfect match for Pee-wee’s eccentricity. The score by Danny Elfman is best described as Clown College Fight Song music and also fits in perfectly.

“There are thousands and thousands of uses for corn, all of which I will tell you about right now.”

Rating: ****

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