Classic Movie Review: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

Posted: March 31, 2016 in Comedy
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pee wees-big adventure

Pee Wee Herman (Paul Reubens) has an idyllic life, he gets up every morning, eats his Mr. T cereal and pancakes and gets ready for a new day.  Central to his idyllic existence is his prized bike.  Everybody wants Pee-Wee’s bicycle, especially spoiled rich kid Francis Buxton, (Mark Holton) who thinks his father’s money can buy him anything.  Soon after buying some magic supplies and a new horn for his bike, he notices the bike is missing.  After getting all his friends together including Dottie, (E.G Daily) who customized his bike, and going to the police, Pee Wee realizes that there is only one person who could have taken his bike, and confronts Francis.  Francis denies having the bicycle and, Pee Wee has no choice but to believe him.  Distraught over the loss of his bike, he visits a fortune teller named Madam Ruby (Erica Yohn) who tells him that his bike is in the basement of The Alamo.  With the help of a kindly waitress named Simone, (Diane Sallinger) a criminal named Mickey (Judd Omen) a hobo named Jack (Carmen Filpi) he makes it to San Antonio, home of the Alamo, Does he find his bike?

This is a travelogue, a road trip, some sights are well known,  like the Alamo, others like the Cabazon dinosaurs, not so well-known. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is a story about a boy and his most prized possession a bike.  The joke is, the pre-adolescent boy is really a grown man, and no one seems to notice or care that the grown man is acting like a little boy.  I think the aspect of the movie that I like most is he meets essentially good people along the way, who genuinely help him and never question why he wants his bike back.  These people are overlooked or forgotten, the waitress who dreams of going to Paris, the hobo who eats sardines, and the biker gang.  Pee Wee brings out the best in all of them. The ending is strangely reminiscent of Blazing Saddles, a movie within a movie, but Reubens and co-writer Phil Hartman go further, they satirize what Pee-Wee’s story would look like as a Hollywood blockbuster.  That is genius. The sequel Big Top Pee Wee was nowhere as good, and the current sequel scares me, I think this was a paycheck for Reubens, so I may or may not watch it.

This is primarily Paul Reubens’ movie, E.G Daily had about 5 minutes of fame after this movie, before having a long career as a voice actor. I’m surprised that Daily didn’t become a fixture on 80’s eom coms, but she didn’t.. There were cameos by Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Milton Berle and the rock band Twisted Sister, but Reubens carries this movie.  From sight gags, to catch phases “I know you are but what am I?” Reubens carries this movie and does it well.  The rest if the cast is made up of excellent character actors, who play their roles perfectly.

This is also Tim Burton’s movie, this is a visual smorgasbord, at a time when Burton when he was just beginning to use his legendary talents to tell a story visually. Every frame of this movie suggests that this movie is not quite real, Pee Wee’s house, the oversized forks, the oversized toothbrush, Pee Wee’s big shoes, all hint at fantasy. In one scene, Burton turns Pee Wee’s idyllic life into a horrific nightmare, the friendly clown turns into a ghoulish fright mask.  Large Marge is a truck driver who may or may not be alive.  These nightmares are those of a pre-adolescent kid, looking for the thing he loves the most.  He gets a great performance from Reubens, although Pee Wee is his character, the odd visuals and performances from the odd characters around Pee Wee set the mood.

A word about the music, Danny Elfman’s music fit the visuals like a glove.  When the scenes are happy, the music is happy, when the scenes are dark the music is scary, there is one scene where Pee Wee is knocking and the music echoes his knocking, The music enhances the movie without overpowering it.

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure:  No small feat.

 

 

 

 

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