One day, Pee-wee's treasured bike is stolen by a rival Manchild. 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).
Though ostensibly Reubens' baby, it's famously Tim Burton's feature directorial debut and then-Oingo Boingo frontman Danny Elfman's first score for a major motion picture. In fact, the three coming together was somewhat serendipitous: Burton and Reubens were huge fans of the 1980 no-budget cult film Forbidden Zone, which Elfman had scored, and their mutual love for the film not only convinced them to hire Elfman as the composer, but to base the entire film's quirky tone on it. The script was penned by Reubens and the late great Phil Hartman.
This film provides examples of:
- Adaptational Badass: "P.W." Herman (the version of Pee-wee of the film adaptation at the end) is a James Bond-style super-spy badass. The bike as well becomes an experimental vehicle of some sort called the X-1. Dottie becomes a sultry Morgan Fairchild who's the Hot Scientist "Bond-Girl Expy" love-interest.
- 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. They can also identify with his quest for his stolen bike.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: Yes, Mr. T breakfast cereal actually existed.
- Ambiguous Criminal History: Mickey tells Pee-wee he got in trouble with the police because he got angry and used a knife...to cut off one of those mattress tags that say "Do Not Remove Under the Penalty of Law". It's unclear whether he's covering up his actual crime, or if he really is on the lam for doing just that (either one would make sense within the universe of the movie).
- Ambiguously Gay: Mickey can't help but eye Pee-wee while he's Disguised in Drag, and parts ways with him using the same "I'm a loner..." speech that Pee-wee gives to Dottie earlier in the movie.
- 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.
- Anti-Hero: Pee-wee is bratty, selfish, and willing to go to obsessive lengths to get what he wants, but he's a Nice Guy at heart who befriends others easily and is capable of feeling guilt for his actions. He has the innocence of a kid, and all the bad behavior that comes with it.
- 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.
- Earlier, when Pee-wee is trying to hitch a ride to Texas, he at one point is literally collapsed on the ground like a dead body (either asleep or as a ruse to get someone to stop)... but the cars still just drive by.
- Artistic License Law: Pee-wee tries to sneak a file to Mickey in a hot dog at the end of the film. The police officer who catches it merely says "hold it," and then takes the file out, though actually attempting to break someone out of jail is fairly serious. Also falls under Rule of Funny.
- Attractive Bent-Gender: While Pee-wee is Disguised in Drag, both the cop that pulls him over and Mickey (who knows he's a guy) seem quite taken by him.
- Author Appeal:
- Burton's love of stop-motion animation appears twice in the film.
- Similarly, Paul Reubens' love for vintage kitsch is on full display, particularly during the opening sequence in Pee-wee's house; many of the props came from his own personal collection.
- "Awkward Silence" Entrance:
- Pee-wee enters a diner, but when he says, "Large Marge sent me," everyone drops what they're doing, and turn towards him, all with shock and disbelief on their faces.
- It happens again when Pee-Wee visits the biker bar. It doesn't happen though until Pee-Wee draws attention to himself by shouting at the bikers to be quiet since he wants to use the phone.
- 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.
- Big Red Devil: Pee-Wee's second nightmare ends with his bike being taken to Hell, ruled by Francis as the Devil. There are other devils dancing around the giant cauldron."Now. [dunking the bike into the fire] NOW!!!"
- 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.note
- 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 to sneak into the Hollywood backlot.
- 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.
- The bus clerk is played by John Moody, who played Mailman Mike in the original stage incarnation of The Pee-wee Herman Show.
- The actress portraying Mother Superior is portrayed by none other than Lynne Marie Stewart, who played Miss Yvonne in The Pee-wee Herman Show and, of course, Pee-wee's Playhouse.
- The Biker Babe that says "I say you let me have him first" is played by Cassandra Peterson, aka Elvira.
- James Brolin and Morgan Fairchild play "P.W." and Dottie, respectively, in the "movie within a movie" at the end.
- In-Universe Pee-wee has a cameo as the bellhop in the movie based on him.
- Celibate Hero: Pee-wee seems to be aware that Dottie has a crush on him, but actively rebuffs her attempts at attaining a Relationship Upgrade with him. Despite this, it's hinted that they become a couple in the end, with two adorable matching doggies to boot!
- 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.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Pee-Wee Herman, especially with all of his zany antics throughout the movie.
- Coincidental Broadcast: Twice - The radio talking about Mickey's escape, and the TV talking about Pee-wee's bike at the studio.
- Cold Turkeys Are Everywhere: With shades of Alone Among the Couples. After his bike is stolen, Pee-wee sulks on a bench in the strip mall as he watches bikes of various shapes and sizes (many comically so) go by.
- Companion Cube: Pee-wee talks to his bike and treats it like it's alive. This is one of the reasons why he's so crushed when it's stolen. If it were just a cool bike, he could simply try to build another one.
- 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!
Biker #3: Then we tattoo him!
Biker #3: Then we hang him!
Biker #3: And then we kill him!
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.
- Dark Is Not Evil: Large Marge being a creepy truck driving ghost and all, is still rather nice offering rides to hitchhikers. While she spooks Pee-wee at the end of their ride together, she delivers him to the nearest diner without any sort of catch.
- Dead All Along: Immediately after she finishes giving Pee-wee a ride, Large Marge is revealed to have been the ghost of a trucker who died in a crash.
- Deadpan Snarker: As goofy as Pee-wee acts, there are actually people out there that exasperate even him.
- Demon Head: Large Marge.
- Did Not Think This Through: Francis having Pee-wee's bike stolen falls into this. He clearly believed that just getting bike meant he could enjoy it all he wants and the thought that Pee-wee would go searching for his lost bike didn't occur to him.
- 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: Mickey claims to be on the run from the law for cutting a tag off of a mattress, though it isn't entirely clear whether this is the truth or if he's simply lying so as not to frighten Pee-wee. Either way, Pee-wee sympathetically remarks "I always thought that was the dumbest law." after hearing it.note
- 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 placed 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.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Since this was Tim Burton's first film, its very lighthearted than the rest of his work and has no horror elements expect for Large Marge's Jump Scare and the Nightmare scene.
- "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!"
- Devil Francis
- Exact Words:
- At the end Francis presses Pee-wee to let him sit on the bike by pointing out Pee-wee wouldn't have gone on his adventure or gotten his movie deal if it weren't for Francis' own actions. He is right in that if he hadn't had the bike stolen Pee-wee wouldn't have gone through everything he did, something Pee-wee concedes.
- When Pee-wee confronts Francis about his bike being stolen the latter claims it wasn't him. Francis really didn't steal it but he did hire someone to do so on his behalf.
- 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?!
- Andy as well. Francis is Davy Jones compared to him!
- Foreshadowing: At the bike shop, Pee-wee tells the BMX bikers that he's doing some top-secret "James Bond" stuff to his bike. We later see that the bike has been outfitted with an Ejection Seat, rocket boosters, and a mechanism that can create an Oil Slick. The movie-within-a-movie also has Pee-wee, here portrayed by James Brolin, doing some actual James Bond stuff.
- Foreign Culture Fetish: Simone the truck stop diner waitress and her adoration of the beauty and romance of France! She even gets a handsome, beret-wearing French boyfriend in the end.
- 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.
- Gadgeteer's House: Pee-wee Herman's home got itself an upgrade on with a fully automated breakfast-making machine.
- Get Out!: Right after, the car makes a soft landing:Mickey: Out!
- HA HA HANo: This is Pee-wee's reaction to Francis wanting to buy his bike: Pee-wee falls to the ground, laughing uproariously. Francis asks him what's so funny, and Pee-wee stops laughing, rises to his feet and tells him sternly, "It's not for sale, Francis!"
- Peewee pulls hundreds of pounds of chain out of that tiny bike compartment. This was rather infamously ruined in a version of the film re-cropped for home video, which reveals the chain being fed up from the hollow bottom of the compartment.
- Where that novelty shop guy must've pulled that giant head from.
- 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 almost crashes the car, he still doesn't kill him but instead forces him to find new transportation; Mickey isn't entirely sure what Pee-wee swerved to miss, but he knows it isn't Pee-wee's fault, knowing how utterly harmless Pee-wee is - he just doesn't want any more of the zaniness. He also knows that Pee-wee is completely innocent and doesn't want to get him involved in his run-ins with the law.
- Hostage-Handler Huddle: The biker gang Satan's Helpers all try to discuss what to do Pee-wee, not only for his barging into their club rudely, but also for his accidentally knocking over their parked motorcycles like dominoes:Biker #1: I say... we kill him.
Biker #2: I say we hang him, then we kill him.
Biker #3: I say we stomp him!
Biker #3: Then we tattoo him!
Biker #3: Then we hang him!
Biker #3: And then we kill him!
Pee-wee: [under his breath] I say we let him go.
[suddenly, there is the sound of someone whistling to get the bikers' attention; it's a female biker who comes up and grabs Pee-wee]
Biker chick: I say you let me have him first!
Bikers: [all laugh]
- 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), he hisses at them to drive them away.
- Hobo: Pee-wee meets one of these in a train box-car.
- I Meant to Do That: The Trope Namer.
- Improvised Parachute: The roof on Mickey's 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 Andy talking to Pee-wee. He assumes something else when Pee-wee says"Everyone I know has a big 'but'note . Come on, Simone, let's talk about your big 'but.'"
- Instant Awesome Just Add Ninjas: In the movie-within-the-movie, P.W. Herman and Dottie are suddenly ambushed by ninjas. The studio apparently added them to Pee-wee's story to make it more awesome.
- 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.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold
- Pee-wee is very hostile to his friends and neighbors after his bike gets stolen, and is often a bit of a smart aleck, but he's also capable of being an absolute sweetheart, particularly in his interactions with Simone, and eventually apologizes to Dottie for his initial outburst.
- Mickey is established as a hardened criminal early on, but he never harms Pee-Wee, and he kicks him out of his car because he knows Pee-Wee is too innocent for his own good and doesn't want him to get mixed up in his run ins with the law.
- 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."The Alamo! In... the basement."
- Lighter and Softer: The film is the halfway mark between Paul Reubens' original nightclub act and the TV show he developed afterwards. The nightclub act presents itself as a kids' show but has raunchy humor in it for adults. The film has a few lightly risque jokes, but is otherwise pretty family friendly. The TV show is firmly aimed at kids, though with an occasional innuendo designed to go over the kids' heads.
- Like Reality Unless Noted: The world seems to mildly run on Cartoon Physics. Big-budget Hollywood studios film their movies in the same manner as very-early Silent Films. Car convertible canopies can act as parachutes for said cars. Chimps are sold as pets in pet stores. Tiny bike horns car emit massively-loud truck horn sounds. Ghosts in ghost vehicles can transport living flesh-and-blood people. Attempting to break an acquaintance out of prison will just get you a disapproving look from a prison guard. Said prison will happily take a presumably-dangerous convict to see a movie based on an acquaintances' life. A major Hollywood studio would be willing to forgive you for trashing the entire studio in exchange for creating a movie about your adventure (which will be retconned as a cheesy spy flick).
- Manchild: 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 in Mickey's car, but he fails to turn his head and see 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.Pee-wee: I barely touched them!
- 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 tells a story of the night a trucker crashed, and she shows exactly what they looked like.
- The various evil clowns in one of Pee-wee's nightmares.
- Nightmare Sequence: Pee-wee's nightmares.
- No Antagonist: While Francis is the antagonist of the opening act, and is the person responsible for Pee-wee's bike going missing in the first place, he has no involvement with anything that happens throughout Pee-wee's journey to the basement of the Alamo and back. Apart from that, Pee-wee has a few run-ins with Simone's Bastard Boyfriend, some bikers (who he quickly befriends), and security at Warner Brothers Studios, but otherwise only has to contend with the world around him.
- #1 Dime: The whole plot is about Pee-wee looking for his tricked-out bike, which Pee-wee loves more than anything in the world and everyone else seems to think is pretty awesome as well.
- Oh, Crap!:
- Accident or not, Pee-wee knows that knocking over the badass bikers Harleys is forfeiting his life.
- Everyone at the diner fall silent when Pee-wee said "Large Marge sent [him]".Trucker: Did- did you say Large Marge?
Pee-wee: She just dropped me off.
Trucker: That's impossible. Large Marge? She's...
- And Pee-wee when he realized he met her ghost.
- One of the Kids: Pee-wee, as well as Francis; assuming they aren't supposed to be kids.
- Phony Psychic: Madame Ruby's precognition is limited to Line of Sight Naming. Pee-wee's whole trip to the basement of the Alamo is entirely due to her pulling a random combination of words out of her ass so he'd pay her.
- Precision F-Strike: A PG variant, and only shocking because of who's saying it: when Dottie offers an especially emotional Pee-wee a good deal on a new bike, he snaps back at her "I don't want some other crappy bike!"
- 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.
- Privileged Rival: Francis has his father buy him everything he wants. His rivalry with Pee-wee is rooted in the fact that, as Pee-wee's bike is one-of-a-kind, it's the only thing he can't have.
- 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 (using the actual sound effects, no less), for which Warner Bros. was sued by Toho.
- The Rival: Francis Buxton, the other resident Manchild on the block who regularly antagonizes Pee-wee.
- Rube Goldberg Device: What Pee-wee uses to make his breakfast, as seen here.
- Rules of the Road: Pee-wee passes increasingly absurd signs while driving at night.
- Sanity Ball: Despite being a childish Cloudcuckoolander with a mean streak, Pee-wee assumes the role of the Only Sane Man in most scenes after he hits the road by virtue of all the people he runs into being even weirder than he is.
- Santa Claus: Santa Claus and Godzilla. Together at last!
- Self-Deprecation: Warner Brothers Studios portray their productions as being ludicrously cheap and shoddy-looking on top of being incredibly trite during Pee-wee's visit to their sets.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: After spending most of the movie in Wrench Wench coveralls, Dottie wears a ravishing pink dress and then a similarly stunning red one during her final few scenes. Naturally, Pee-wee couldn't care less.
- 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 tells a similar story but 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.
- When Pee-wee is being chased though a Tarzan set on the Warner Bros. lot, he does the trademark yell at one point... then one of the security guards does it.
- When Pee-wee gets chased throughout the studio on his bike, a variation of the Wicked Witch's theme from The Wizard of Oz plays throughout.
- Show Within a Show: The movie based on Pee-wee's life at the end.
- Signs of Disrepair: Pee-wee crashes through a sign reading "Apache Bar". He takes out the second and third letters of "Apache", leaving it to say "Ache Bar".
- 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 came up with the lie by line of sight to convincingly rip Pee-wee off.
- 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 an over the top action movie, where the Soviets have stolen P.W.'s top secret motorcycle.
- Warner Brothers Studios movies in production (a 'Beach Party' movie, a 'Christmas/Santa/North Pole' movie, a Japanese 'Godzilla' flick, etc.) are depicted as cheesy affairs filmed on small sound-stages with cheap painted backdrops.
- Too Dumb to Live: Pee-wee, in a bar full of murderous bikers, shouts, "Shhhh! I'm trying to use the phone!"
- Tsundere: Pee-wee spends most of the movie being rude to and dismissive of Dottie, but he accepts her request to go on a date to the drive-in by the end, and the two end up Riding into the Sunset together at his suggestion.
- Uncanny Valley Makeup: The doctor who eviscerates Pee-wee's bike in his nightmare.
- The Unintelligible: Simone's Bastard Boyfriend, a giant, oafish, Bluto-esque guy who's dialogue consists entirely of "RAAAAHHHRRR!"
- Vague Age: Pee-wee lives on his own and is rather obviously played by a grown man, but is consistently referred to as "boy" by other characters; it's unclear whether he's simply a Manchild or if Artistic Age is in effect and he is in fact Younger Than He Looks. The same goes for his rival Francis.
- Visual Pun: As part of his morning routine, Pee-wee weighs himself on his bathroom scale. Turns out he's a literal 98-pound weakling.
- 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.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Fortune teller Madame Ruby and the thief Francis paid to pick up the bicycle vanish from the narrative.
- Whole Plot Reference: The film can be seen as a Denser and Wackier remake of Bicycle Thieves.
- 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. According to the DVD Commentary, Paul Reubens really is afraid of snakes. Those screams weren't fake.
- 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.
- Wrench Wench: Dottie, Pee-wee's Love Interest, works at a bike shop and is noted to be great at repairing them. Pee-wee's Cool Bike is implied to have at least in part been built by her.