“There’s a lotta things about me you don’t know anything about, Dottie. Things you wouldn’t understand. Things you couldn’t understand. Things you shouldn’t understand,” says Pee-Wee Herman. Dottie responds, “I don’t understand.” Pee-Wee says, “You don’t wanna get mixed up with a guy like me. I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel. So long, Dott.”
The original Three Rows Back link: Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985).
30 years ago, a film was released by Warner Bros. that would become an important milestone in the careers of three individuals. For Paul Reubens, it would mark the big screen debut of his character Pee-Wee Herman. For Tim Burton, it would mark his feature film directing debut. For Danny Elfman, it would mark the creation of his first Hollywood film score. To say that Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure is an important film is an understatement (to say that it’s hilarious would also be an understatement). I first saw it on the big screen more in January 2003 at the Walter Reade Theater in Lincoln Center. I saw it a second time later that Fall as part of a Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of the Moving Image, and I saw it a third time on the big screen at a midnight screening at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema five years ago. It was very enjoyable every time I saw it, and it just seemed to get funnier with every viewing. This 30th anniversary review of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure is my entry in the Decades Blogathon hosted by Three Rows Back and Digital Shortbread.
1985’s Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure follows the child-like Pee-Wee Herman as he sets off on a road trip across America to find his special bike after he discovers that it was stolen. Burton assembled a terrific cast that includes Reubens (as Pee-Wee Herman), Elizabeth Daily (as Dottie), Mark Holton (as Francis), Diane Salinger (as Simone), Judd Omen (as Mickey), Alice Nunn (as Large Marge), Jon Harris (as Andy), Jan Hooks (as Tour Guide Tina), Carmen Filpi (as Hobo Jack), Jason Hervey (as Kevin), Morgan Fairchild (as Movie Dottie), James Brolin (as Movie P.W.), and Phil Hartman (as Reporter). Reubens is a hoot as Pee-Wee, bringing zaniness and child-like innocence to the role. Daily is also wonderful as Dottie, the bike store employee with a huge crush on Pee-Wee. Holton is very entertaining as the villainous (and giant spoiled brat) Francis, bringing just enough zaniness and camp without going too over-the-top.
Burton was a perfect choice to direct this film as he brings order to the beautiful chaos of the world of Pee-Wee Herman (I loved his use of stop-motion animation in the more surreal moments of the film). The screenplay by Reubens, Hartman, and Michael Varhol is just funny throughout the entire film, filled with hilarious dialogue and visual gags (it’s still hard to believe that it was inspired by Vittorio DeSica’s 1948 Italian neorealist film Bicycle Thieves). The production design by David L. Snyder is incredible, bringing such an odd world to life (Pee-Wee’s house is still may favorite, especially with all those cool gadgets, including the breakfast machine, and over-sized utensils). Victor J. Kemper’s cinematography is first-rate, as is Aggie Guerard Rodgers’ costume designs. Danny Elfman delivers an outstanding score with creative use of percussion and a memorable theme for Pee-Wee. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure is a highly enjoyable comedy that still holds up after 30 years. Its importance cannot be understated, and its success led to greater things for the careers of Burton, Reubens, and Elfman. If you haven’t already seen this comedy classic, then do so as soon as possible!