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Film / Pee-wee's Big Adventure


"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."
Pee-wee, describing himself

The 1985 big-screen adaptation of Paul Reubens' nightclub comedy act, starring Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman (though the credits say "Pee-wee Herman As Himself").

One day, Pee-wee's treasured bike is stolen by a rival Man Child. Desperate to get it back, he embarks on a cross country journey, meeting many bizarre characters along the way (and considering the sort of guy Pee-wee Herman is, that's one hell of a mouthful).

Notable for launching the careers of director Tim Burton and composer Danny Elfman (well, the latter's film-score career, anyway), though Reubens was the real person in charge. A lesser-known factoid is that much of the film's atmosphere is based on the 1982 no-budget cult film Forbidden Zone: Burton and Reubens were both huge fans of the film, and their decision to hire Danny Elfman was based on his work with the Forbidden Zone group. The movie was written by Reubens and the late great Phil Hartman.

Followed by the children's TV series Pee-Wee's Playhouse (1986-90) and the film Big Top Pee Wee (1988).

This film provides examples of:

  • All Bikers Are Hells Angels: The "Satan's Helpers" are implied to be a rough and dangerous bunch, but they take a liking to Pee-wee's "Big Shoe Dance" once he starts smashing things.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Yes, Mr. T breakfast cereal actually existed.
  • Ambulance Cut: After Pee-wee exits the biker bar and crashes through a sign. The ambulance is escorted by all the bikers on their bikes.
  • Apathetic Citizens: The movie clearly establishes the strip mall Pee-wee visits is busy - with hordes of people walking around, riding bikes and skateboards. However evidently no one seems to have said anything about a person cutting a hundred pounds of chain off of a bike and leaving with it.
  • Artistic License Law: Pee-wee tries to sneak a file to Mickey at the end of the film. The police officer who catches it merely says "nice try", though actually attempting to break someone out of jail is fairly serious.
  • Bad Bad Acting: In the Show Within a Show that ends the film, Pee-wee mouths the actors' lines along with them and keeps glancing at the camera. At one point he can be seen glancing off camera (presumably at the director waving at him to get out of the shot) and then sliding partially out of frame.
  • Bad-Guy Bar: Home of "Satan's Helpers".
  • Beware of Hitchhiking Ghosts: Inverted. The passenger isn't a ghost, but the driver is. And she's actually pretty nice, although frightening.
  • Bull Seeing Red: Andy goes after Pee-wee, who is riding a bull. The bull sees Andy's red shirt and chases him right out of the movie.
  • By the Lights of Their Eyes: Pee-wee, when hitchhiking through the desert at night.
  • California Doubling: Most of the "Texas" scenes are shot in California. The Dinosaur Park is located in Cabazon, while the rodeo scenes were shot at the L.A. County Fairgrounds. Scenes done inside The Alamo were shot at The Mission San Fernando Rey de España in Los Angeles but the shots of Pee-wee entering and exiting The Alamo are of the real McCoy.
  • The Cameo:
    • Twisted Sister is recording a music video during Pee-wee's chase across the backlots.
    • Pee-wee hides in Milton Berle's entourage while he tells the punchline to a joke.
    • The armored warrior Pee-wee gets directions from on the WB backlot is wearing an outfit from Krull, in an odd costume examplenote . The actor playing said warrior is John Paragon, aka Jambi the Genie from Pee-wee's stage show and later, Pee-wee's Playhouse.
    • James Brolin and Morgan Fairchild play "P.W." and Dottie, respectively, in the fake movie at the end.
    • In-Universe Pee-wee has a cameo as the bellhop in the movie based on him.
  • Chekhov's Armoury: The magic shop. The only item to not see use in the movie was the Boomerang Bowtie. It's a Deleted Scene.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: Twice - The radio talking about Mickey's escape, and Pee-wee's bike at the studio.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Pee-wee is just randomly watching the right channel of television at the right time to see his bike.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment:
    Lead biker: I say, we kill him.
    Rest of the gang: Yeah!
    Biker #2: I say we hang him then we kill him.
    Rest of the gang: Yeah!
    Biker #3: I say we scalp him!
    Gang: Yeah!
    Biker #3: Then we tattoo him!
    Gang: Yeah!
    Biker #3: Then we hang him!
    Gang: Yeah!
    Biker #3: And then we kill him!
    Gang: Yeah!
    Pee-wee (in a tiny voice): I say we let him go.
    Biker gang: NO!
    Biker Babe: I say you let ME have him first.
  • Cool Bike: The driving force of the whole movie is Pee-wee's quest to find his. The bike itself has rocket boosters, an Ejection Seat, can unleash an Oil Slick, and has spare handlebars pop out if one gets pulled off. Pee-wee's about to add a truck horn when the bike gets stolen.
  • Creator Cameo:
    • Tim Burton is a thug in the alley way.
    • Co-writer Phil Hartman is a reporter at the drive-in theater.
  • Dead All Along: Large Marge.
  • Deadpan Snarker: As goofy as Pee-wee acts, there are actually people out there that exasperate even him.
  • Demon Head: Large Marge.
  • Dirt Forcefield: Despite the vast array of filth and Gunge he encounters, Pee-wee's suit returns to spotlessness at the beginning of each new scene.
  • Disguised in Drag: Pee-wee. Both the policeman and Mickey seem to like what they see.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Subverted. Pee-wee hitchhikes with a guy on the run from the law, and helps him sneak through a police roadblock. When asked what his crime was, he begins to talk about doing something terrible with a knife, then realizes that he's frightening Pee-wee, so he claims that he cut the tag off his mattress. The naive Pee-wee nods in sympathy, saying, "I always thought that was the dumbest law."
    • Of course, this being the Pee-Wee universe, maybe that actually WAS his crime.
  • Drive-In Theater: Where Pee-wee and Dottie finally go on their date.
  • Dream Intro: The film begins with Pee-wee winning the Tour De France, but as the crown is about to be place on his head, an alarm is heard, prompting everyone in attendance to just up and leave; we then fade to Pee-wee waking up to the sound of his alarm clock.
  • Eureka Moment: "Everyone wanted my bike. This morning, before it got stolen, Francis offe- Francis!"
  • Evil Laugh: "Be sure and tell'em Large Marge sent ya!"
  • Fake Static: Pee-wee does this to avoid asking Dottie out to the drive-in.
  • Fat Bastard: Francis Buxton, Pee-wee's arch-nemesis.
    Pee-wee: I want to see Francis!
    Butler: Francis is busy.
    Pee-wee: Busy doing what?!
    Butler: He is taking his bath.
    Pee-wee: Oh really, WHERE ARE THEY HOSIN' HIM DOWN?!
  • Forgotten Phlebotinum: The boomerang bow tie. It only gets used in a Deleted Scene on the DVD, which extends the chase scene through the Warner Bros. studio lot. At one point, Pee-wee hides out on the set of an old western town, and as the guards make their way through, he tosses the bow-tie to disorient them long enough to allow him to slip away once again.
  • Harmful To Hitchhikers: Subverted. Early on in his journey, Pee Wee hitches a ride with Mickey, who is quickly established as an escaped convict. However, he never harms Pee Wee and even lets him drive. When Pee Wee crashes the car and almost kills them, he still doesn't kill him but instead forces him to find new transportation.
  • Hiss Before Fleeing: Inverted. At night in a storm, a deranged Pee-wee is walking through an alley, when he's accosted by a group of hoods (one of whom is Burton):
    Hooligan: Hey, you're new around here! We don't take kindly to strangers on our turf!
    [Pee-wee hisses as a flash of lightning lights up the night; the gangbangers flee in terror]
  • I Meant to Do That: The Trope Namer.
  • Improvised Parachute: The roof on a convertible.
  • Informed Loner: A running gag has people who try to ditch someone claim to be "a loner, a rebel..." Pee-wee says it to worm out of a date with Dottie, which is mirrored in the Film Within a Film. Mickey also ditches Pee-wee with the same words in an Ironic Echo.
  • Innocent Innuendo: Simone, the Greasy Spoon waitress, is overheard by her boyfriend talking to Pee-wee, and he assumes something else "Everyone I know has a big 'but' (that is, an excuse for not following their dream). Come on, Simone, let's talk about your big 'but.'"
  • It's Always Mardi Gras in New Orleans: While on the run from Andy, Pee-wee smacks into a Mexican Day of The Dead parade and uses it to slip away.
  • Jail Bake: Not in a cake, but in a footlong hot dog.
  • Karma Houdini: The fortune teller deliberately misleads Pee-wee and steals his wallet, bit is never brought up again.
    Oh, but it is. Pee-wee can't find his wallet at the diner, which leads him to washing dishes.
  • Lemming Cops: The security guards at Warner Bros., who take chase (and crash rather impressively), rather than just cutting off all the studio exits.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: How Pee-wee gets duped by a fortune teller into going on a wild goose hunt to the Alamo.
  • Man Child: Pee-wee and his archnemesis Francis Buxton. It's never clear whether they're supposed to be childish men or actual juveniles played by adult actors. Pee-wee is referred to as a "boy" several times.
  • Matchlight Danger Revelation: Taken to the extreme, when Pee-wee discovers that he's surrounded by every animal in the desert.
  • Mattress Tag Gag: The reason Mickey is a wanted criminal, or so he tells Pee-Wee.
  • Missed Him by That Much: Pee-wee's bike is being towed on a trailer, as he's riding alongside it.
  • Monster Clown: Pee-wee's nightmares are full of them, due to the fact that his bike was stolen while chained to a clown statue.
  • Motorcycle Dominoes: Caused twice by Pee-wee, first with bicycles in Dottie's store, then later with the Satan's Helpers' hogs.
  • The Name Is Bond, James Bond: "P.W." Herman announces himself this way in the movie of the movie. "Reservation under Herman... P.W. Herman."
  • Nice Character, Mean Actor: The nasty child star playing the sweet little orphan boy in the film where Pee-wee's bike is a prop.
  • Nightmare Face:
    • Large Marge.
    • The various evil clowns.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Pee-wee's nightmares.
  • Number One Dime: Pee-wee's bike.
  • Oh Crap!: Accident or not, Pee-wee knows that knocking over the badass bikers Harleys is forfeiting his life.
  • One of the Kids: Pee-wee, as well as Francis.
  • Prisons Are Gymnasiums: Pee-wee asks Mickey what "the big house" is like.
    Mickey: You get to lift weights, watch TV, write up appeals, take long showers, lift weights. You get used to it.
  • Rent-a-Zilla: Subverted here, as during Pee-wee's backlot chase scene the monster movie set he rides through features the actual Godzilla fighting the actual King Ghidorah, for which Warner Bros. was sued by Toho.
  • Rube Goldberg Device: What Pee-wee uses to make his breakfast.
  • Rules of the Road: Pee-wee passes increasingly absurd signs while driving at night.
  • Santa Claus: Santa Claus and Godzilla. Together at last!
  • Shout-Out:
    • Large Marge is an homage to the classic ghost story of Big Joe (also the subject of an old song called "Phantom 309"). Unlike Marge, Joe is a friendly fella who doesn't try to scare his passengers and gives them money to eat at the diner where he drops them off.
    • Pee-wee's "I'm a loner, a rebel" speech is from Rebel Without a Cause.
  • Show Within a Show: The movie based on Pee-wee's life at the end.
  • Snipe Hunt: Pee-wee's entire trip to Texas - despite being the driving force of over half the movie - is this. There is no basement in the Alamo, the fortune teller knew it was all made up and sent Pee-wee anyway.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": In the DVD commentary, Reubens points out that Pee-wee's flyer incorrectly capitalizes the "W" in "Pee-wee."
  • Stylistic Suck: The movie that is made at the end is a over the top action movie, where the Soviets have stolen P.W.'s top secret motorcycle.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Pee-wee, in a bar full of murderous bikers: "Shhhh! I'm trying to use the phone!"
  • Uncanny Valley Makeup: The doctor who eviscerates Pee-wee's bike in his nightmare.
  • Vocal Dissonance: Pee-Wee's voice is dubbed when he makes his cameo in the movie based on his life. Needless to say, it sounds ridiculous.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: One of the animals sold in the burning pet shop are snakes, which Pee-Wee is rather squeamish about touching. When there's no other animals left to be saved, he grabs as many as he can and runs out of the building screaming.
  • Work Off the Debt: Pee-wee washes dishes for his meal at a diner after discovering that he left his wallet at Madam Ruby's.

Alternative Title(s): Pee Wees Big Adventure