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Pee Wee's Big Adventure

Updated: Aug 7, 2023


Hearing the sad news this week of Paul Reubens death after a long cancer battle, I wanted to go back and visit the time-tested hilarity of his first film PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE.

Like many of you, I saw this film dozens of times in the 80's, often at the side of my daughter who was born the year before it came out.

In an era when live-action kids movies were throwaway features made on the cheap, and agonizing for parents to sit through, Pee-Wee's tale offered plenty for both kids & adults.

Reubens partnered with SNL vet Phil Hartman on the script and Warner Bros secured Tim Burton (Batman, Edward Scissorhands) to direct his first major film. What a blend of talent that turned out to be, creating a visual feast of goofy humor and slapstick blended with repeated homages to Alfred Hitchcock.

The plot is pretty simple. Pee-Wee Herman loves his bike beyond all other things. When it's stolen, he's off on a relentless cross country quest to find it.

Luckily for us, Reubens, Hartman and Burton create one hilarious episodic chapter after another. Along with way, we meet truck driver Large Marge (Alice Nunn) on the anniversary of the worst car crash EVER, spoiled rich kid Francis (Mark Holton),

an escaped convict Mickey (Judd Omen) who teaches PW about hard life in the big house and a fierce biker gang tamed by Pee-Wee's glass smashing bar top take on "Tequila".

Classic moments abound. We're all still repeating lines from this almost 40 years after it's release. "I know you are, but what am !?"

When Pee-Wee kick starts the Harley and drives off into the sunset, um I mean the billboard, I laughed just as hard as I did in 1985. His train board sing-a-long with Hobo Jack (the hilarious Carmen Filpi) is laugh out loud funny. Jimmy Crack Corn has never been used so effectively...

Jan Hooks hilariously improvised all her dialogue as the happiest Alamo Tour Guide of all time. Simone (Diane Salinger) and Pee Wee's sunrise romp around the dinosaurs with her giant boyfriend in hot pursuit is a highlight.

Another true star of the film is Danny Elfman's music score. Elfman was the front man of Oingo Boingo at the time, but had no formal music training and had never composed a score. His terrific work on this film led to an incredible career in movies, including the music for "The Nightmare Before Christmas", "Spider-Man 2", 'Men in Black" and many more.

Reubens created a truly unique character in Pee-Wee. Innocent, child-like, eccentric, quick witted and clever, he was always up for an adventure. I loved when Reubens would appear on Letterman in character. He never broke when playing Pee Wee, but audiences never quite appreciated just how great an actor Reubens was, even in his strong dramatic roles in films like "Blow" with Johnny Depp.

PW has stood the test of time for nearly 40 years now, spanning generations with a truly unique blend of adult humor and child-like innocence played for laughs.

Followed by the fun but lesser sequel "Big Top Pee-Wee" three years later in 1988 and countless TV specials and appearances, Reubens character is a mainstay. His original adventure earns an appreciative A.

"Why don't you take a picture, it will last longer!"


RIP Paul Reubens.



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