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Film / Pee-wee's Big Adventure

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"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 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 director 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 1982 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.


Followed by the children's TV series Pee-wee's Playhouse (1986-90) and the films Big Top Pee-wee (1988) and Pee-wee's Big Holiday (2016).

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 cut off one of those mattress tags that say "Do Not Remove Under the Penalty of Law".
  • Advertisement:
  • 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 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.
  • Author Appeal: Burton's love of stop-motion animation appears twice in the film.
  • "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.
  • 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: 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!
    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.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Large Marge being a creepy truck driving ghost and all, is still rather nice offering rides to hitchhikers.
  • 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.
  • 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: 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."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.
  • 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?!
  • Foreshadowing: At the bike shop, Pee-wee tells the BMX bikers that he's doing some top-secret "James Bond" stuff to his bike. The movie-within-a-movie has Pee-wee, here portrayed by James Brolin, doing some actual James Bond stuff.
  • 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!
    Pee-Wee: But—
    Mickey: OUUUTTT!!
  • Ha Ha Ha No: 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!"
  • Hammer Space:
    • 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.
    Bikers: Yeah!
    Biker #2: I say we hang him, then we kill him.
    Bikers: Yeah!
    Biker #3: I say we stomp him!
    Bikers: Yeah!
    Biker #3: Then we tattoo him!
    Bikers: Yeah!
    Biker #3: Then we hang him!
    Bikers: Yeah!
    Biker #3: And then we kill him!
    Bikers: Yeah!
    Pee-wee: [under his breath] I say we let him go.
    Bikers: No!
    [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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • #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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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!"
    • Pee-wee also accepts Mickey's story that he's in trouble with the police for cutting off a mattress tag.
  • 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.
  • 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.


Video Example(s):


Large Marge

It's the Image for the Tim Burton Nightmare Fuel page for a reason. Marge's unexpected jumpscare, makes this chilling tale all the more haunting.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / NightmareFace

Media sources:

Main / NightmareFace