Pee-wee's Big Adventure
Pee-wee's Big Adventure is a 1985 American adventure comedy film directed by Tim Burton in his full-length film directing debut and starring Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman with supporting roles provided by Elizabeth Daily, Mark Holton, Diane Salinger, and Judd Omen. Reubens also co-wrote the script with Phil Hartman and Michael Varhol. Described as a "parody" or "farce version" of the 1948 Italian classic Bicycle Thieves, it is the tale of Pee-wee Herman's nationwide search for his stolen bicycle.
|Pee-wee's Big Adventure|
Theatrical release poster by John Alvin.
|Directed by||Tim Burton|
|Music by||Danny Elfman|
|Cinematography||Victor J. Kemper|
|Edited by||Billy Weber|
Aspen Film Society
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$40.9 million (domestic)|
After the success of The Pee-wee Herman Show, Reubens began writing the script to Pee-wee's Big Adventure when he was hired by Warner Bros.. The producers and Reubens hired Burton to direct when they were impressed with his work on Vincent and Frankenweenie. Filming took place in both California and Texas.
The film was released on August 9, 1985, grossing over $40 million in North America. It eventually developed into a cult film and has since accumulated positive feedback. The film was nominated for a Young Artist Award and spawned two sequels, Big Top Pee-wee (1988) and Pee-wee's Big Holiday (2016). Its financial success, followed by the equally successful Beetlejuice in 1988, prompted Warner Bros. to hire Burton as the director for the 1989 film Batman.
Pee-wee Herman has a heavily accessorized bicycle that he treasures and that his neighbor and enemy, Francis Buxton, covets. A bike shop employee, Dottie, has a crush on Pee-wee, but he does not reciprocate it. Pee-wee's bike is stolen while he is shopping at a mall. The police tell Pee-wee that they cannot help him find his bike. Pee-wee thinks Francis took it, and confronts him. Francis' father convinces Pee-wee that Francis did not steal the bike. Pee-wee then offers a $10,000 reward for his bike. Francis, who did indeed pay to have someone steal the bike, is frightened by Pee-wee's relentlessness and then pays to have it sent away. After holding an unsuccessful meeting to locate the bike, Pee-wee angrily rejects Dottie's offers of help. Desperate, he visits "Madam Ruby", a phony psychic. Ruby, inspired by the Al and Moe's Bargain Basement shop across the street, tells Pee-wee that his bike is in the basement of the Alamo Mission in San Antonio. Pee-wee hitchhikes to Texas, getting rides from a fugitive, Mickey; and from Large Marge, the ghost of a deceased truck driver.
At a truck stop, Pee-wee discovers his wallet is missing and pays for his meal by washing dishes. He befriends Simone, a waitress who dreams of visiting Paris. As they watch the sunrise at a dinosaur museum, Pee-wee encourages her to follow her dreams, but Simone tells him about her jealous and large boyfriend, Andy, who disapproves. Andy arrives and tries to attack Pee-wee, who escapes onto a moving train and meets Hobo Jack. Pee-wee eventually arrives at the Alamo, but learns at the end of a guided tour that the building does not have a basement. At a bus station, Pee-wee encounters Simone, who tells him that she and Andy broke up and she is on her way to Paris. She tells Pee-wee not to give up finding his bike. Pee-wee calls Dottie at the bike shop and apologizes for his behavior. Andy spots Pee-wee and resumes his attack. Pee-wee evades Andy at a rodeo by disguising himself as a rodeo bull rider. Forced to ride for real, Pee-wee does well but receives a concussion.
Pee-wee enters a biker bar for one large wine and to make a phone call, but the outlaw motorcycle club threatens to kill him after he accidentally knocks over their motorcycles. Pee-wee makes a last request, dancing to the song "Tequila". His dance wins over the bikers, who give him a motorcycle for his journey. Pee-wee crashes his motorcycle immediately afterwards. Pee-wee wakes up in a hospital and learns from a television news report that his bike is being used as a prop in a movie starring a bratty child named Kevin Morton. Pee-wee sneaks into Warner Bros. Studios and takes the bike. He is chased by security across the studio lot and through several sets before escaping.
Later, Pee-wee discovers a burning pet shop and rescues the animals. Although the firefighters declare Pee-wee a hero, the police arrest him for his disruption at the studios. Pee-wee meets the president of Warner Bros., Terry Hawthorne, and explains his journey to retrieve the bike. Hawthorne decides to drop the charges and make a special movie about Pee-wee and his bike, which is returned to him.
Later at a drive-in theater, Pee-wee and Dottie attend the premiere of his biopic, an action movie starring James Brolin as "P.W. Herman" and Morgan Fairchild as Dottie. The two must retrieve a sport bike called the X-1, which contains an important microfilm and has been stolen by the Soviets. Pee-wee has a cameo appearance as a hotel bellhop, though his voice has been dubbed. At the drive-in, Pee-wee gives refreshments to all the people he met along his journey. Pee-wee also encounters Francis, who tells reporters that he is Pee-wee's best friend who taught him how to ride. Francis claims to be knowledgeable about Pee-wee's bike, but accidentally catapults himself into the air using one of the bicycle's gadgets. As Pee-wee leaves the drive-in, Dottie asks why he is not staying for the rest of the movie. Pee-wee answers, "I don't have to see it, Dottie. I lived it." He and Dottie then ride off together at the movie screen in silhouette.
- Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman
- Elizabeth Daily as Dottie
- Mark Holton as Francis Buxton
- Diane Salinger as Simone
- Judd Omen as Mickey Morelli
- Alice Nunn as Large Marge
- Phil Hartman as Reporter
- John Harris as Andy
- Daryl Keith Roach as Chuck
- Carmen Filpi as Jack
- Jan Hooks as Tina
- Ralph Seymour as the guy who steals Pee Wee's bike
- Jason Hervey as Kevin Morton
- Tony Bill as Terry Hawthorne
- Lynne Marie as "Mother Superior" in Kevin Morton's film
- John Paragon as Man in Red Armor
- Cleve Hall as Godzilla
Michael Varhol who co-wrote the script with Reubens and Hartman cameos as a photographer. Director Tim Burton has an uncredited cameo as the street thug who confronts Pee-wee in a rainy back-alley. Other minor roles include Ed Herlihy as Mr. Buxton and Cassandra Peterson (a.k.a. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark) as the Biker Mama of Satan's Helpers. James Brolin portrays "P.W. Herman" and Morgan Fairchild is Dottie in the in-movie production about Pee-wee's life. Heavy metal band Twisted Sister, and veteran comedy star Milton Berle cameo as themselves.
The film contains numerous "conceptual continuity" links to other Tim Burton films and other productions:
- Several cast members from The Pee-wee Herman Show (who would go on to appear in Pee-wee's Playhouse) have cameo roles in the film. John Moody (Mailman Mike in The Pee-wee Herman Show) appears as the bus clerk, in the movie studio sequence, Lynne Marie Stewart (Miss Yvonne) plays the Mother Superior, John Paragon (Jambi the Genie) plays the high-voiced studio extra in red armor from whom Pee-wee asks directions and the reporter interviewing Francis in the final scene at the drive-in is played by Phil Hartman (Cap'n Carl).
- Jan Hooks (who played Tina) was a fellow member of The Groundlings comedy troupe with Reubens, Hartman and Paragon, and went on to co-star in Saturday Night Live with Hartman. She also had a cameo role as a publicist in Burton's Batman Returns.
- Paul Reubens and Diane Salinger (Simone) were reunited in the opening sequence of Burton's Batman Returns, in which they portrayed the parents of the Penguin. They would reunite again in Pee-wee's Big Holiday.
The success of The Pee-wee Herman Show prompted Warner Bros. to hire Paul Reubens to write a script for a full-length Pee-wee Herman film. Reubens' original idea was to do a remake of Pollyanna with Pee-wee Herman in the Hayley Mills role. Reubens claims that Pollyanna is his favorite film. Halfway through writing the script, Reubens noticed everyone at Warner Brothers had a bike to get around the backlot, and so he requested one of his own. This inspired Reubens to start on a new script.
Having left The Walt Disney Company and with Frankenweenie receiving positive reviews within film studios, Tim Burton was looking for a full-length film to direct. When Reubens and the producers of Pee-wee's Big Adventure saw Burton's work on Vincent and Frankenweenie, they decided to hire Burton for their film. Burton felt he connected with Reubens' personality and the humor of the Pee-wee Herman Show. After hiring Burton to direct, Reubens, Phil Hartman and Michael Varhol reworked the script again. The team purchased Syd Field's Screenplay and wrote the script as faithful as to what the book advised. "It’s a 90-minute film, it’s a 90-page script," Reubens explained. "On page 30 I lose my bike, on page 60 I find it. It's literally exactly what they said to do in the book...There should be like a MacGuffin kind of a thing, something you’re looking for, and I was like, 'Okay, my bike.'" 
Filming locations included Glendale, Pomona, Santa Clarita, Santa Monica, Burbank, Cabazon (at the Cabazon Dinosaurs), Port Hueneme, California, and San Antonio, Texas. Burton and Reubens had tensions with Warner Bros. studio executives over the shooting schedule. Burton hired CalArts classmate Rick Heinrichs for scenes involving stop-motion animation.
|Pee-wee's Big Adventure|
|Soundtrack album by|
|Danny Elfman chronology|
To compose the film score, Burton brought in Danny Elfman, who had previously composed the music for Forbidden Zone. He relished the opportunity to compose an orchestral score rather than a pop score and wanted it to be taken as the work of a composer rather than the dabbling of a pop musician. Elfman already had the main title theme written before he signed on. At the time, Elfman was the lead singer of Oingo Boingo, but the working relationship between Burton and Elfman would overshadow his performing life and continue for most of Burton's films.
In 1986 Varèse Sarabande released an album on record, cassette and compact disc featuring cues from the movie and 1986's Back to School, also scored by Elfman. While both films had their scores recorded in Hollywood, the album recording was made in London and performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by John Coleman. In 2010 many of the original tracks were subsequently released by Warner Bros. Records as part of The Danny Elfman & Tim Burton 25th Anniversary Music Box.
|1986 re-recording, Pee-wee's Big Adventure tracks only|
|1.||"Overture/The Big Race"||3:07|
|The Danny Elfman & Tim Burton 25th Anniversary Box (Disc 1)|
|1.||"Main Title/Bike Race"||2:54|
|2.||"The Breakfast Machine"||2:40|
|4.||"The Park Ride"||1:19|
|6.||"Music Shop And Beyond"||1:05|
|7.||"Stolen Bike/Lonely Walk"||1:42|
|12.||"Edsel Over the Edge"||1:21|
|26.||"Andy Chase 2"||0:26|
|28.||"Andy & the Bull"||0:26|
|29.||"Stolen Bike/Lonely Walk (Film Version)"||1:40|
|30.||"Hitch Hike (Film Version)"||0:57|
|31.||"Simone (Film Version)"||2:09|
|32.||"Dino Dreams (Film Version)"||0:47|
|33.||"Studio Chase (Film Version)"||3:58|
Pee-wee's Big Adventure opened on August 9, 1985 in the United States in 829 theaters, accumulating $4,545,847 over its opening weekend. The film went on to gross $40,940,662 domestically.
Pee-wee's Big Adventure received generally positive reviews at the time of the film's release, before eventually developing into a cult film. As of July 2018, Rotten Tomatoes reported that 87% of 45 critics gave the film a positive review. By comparison Metacritic calculated an average score of 47 from 13 reviews collected. The film was nominated with a Young Artist Award for Best Family Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical).
Christopher Null gave positive feedback, calling it "Burton's strangest film." Variety compared Paul Reubens to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, while Empire called the film "a one-comic masterpiece" and "a dazzling debut" for Burton. Stephanie Zacharek of Salon.com explained "Everything about Pee-wee's Big Adventure, from its toy-box colors to its superb, hyper-animated Danny Elfman score to the butch-waxed hairdo and wooden-puppet walk of its star and mastermind is pure pleasure." Burton was offered the opportunity to direct Big Top Pee-wee, but had no interest and was already working on his own pet project, Beetlejuice. Positive reviews of Beetlejuice and the financial success of Pee-wee's Big Adventure prompted Warner Bros. to offer Burton the director's helm for Batman.
Roger Ebert never officially reviewed Pee-wee's Big Adventure but in 1987 it topped his list of Guilty Pleasures and he did mention it in his review of Big Top Pee-wee, saying the sequel was not as magical as the first. The second paragraph of that review contrasted the two films explaining what he liked in Big Adventure that he didn't like in Big Top. Gene Siskel, however, gave Pee-wee's Big Adventure zero stars out of four in his print review, writing that he had enjoyed Herman's guest spots on Late Night with David Letterman but "Obviously, Pee-Wee is tolerable only in Pee-Wee doses ... You have to be a lot funnier on the big screen than on the tube to sustain a feature-length story." Siskel included the film in his unranked year-end list of the worst movies of 1985. Vincent Canby of The New York Times was also negative, writing that apart from a couple of scenes it was "the most barren comedy I've seen in years, maybe ever." In a review for the Los Angeles Times, Michael Wilmington wrote, "The wrong crowd will find these antics infantile and offensive. The right one will have a howling good time." David Ansen of Newsweek described the film as "Mattel Surrealism, a toy-store fantasia in primary colors and '50s decor. Whoever proposed teaming up Pee-wee (a.k.a. Paul Reubens) with 26-year-old director Tim Burton knew what they were doing ... Together they've conspired to make a true original — a live-action cartoon brash enough to appeal to little kids and yet so knee-deep in irony that its faux naivete looks as chic as the latest retrofashions."
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- Salisbury, Burton, p.49
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- excluding Ed Wood and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
- Salisbury, Burton, p.50
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- Christopher Null (June 13, 2005). "Pee-wee's Big Adventure". FilmCritic.com. Archived from the original on March 30, 2008. Retrieved April 6, 2008.
- "Pee-wee's Big Adventure". Variety. Reed Business Information. January 1, 1985. Retrieved April 6, 2008.
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- Zacharek, Stephanie (October 10, 2000). "Pee-wee's Big Adventure". Salon.com. Retrieved November 28, 2013.
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- Tim Burton, Batman audio commentary, 2005, Warner Bros.
- Ebert, Roger. "Big Top Pee-wee Movie Review & Film Summary (1988) - Roger Ebert". www.rogerebert.com. Retrieved March 23, 2018.
- Siskel, Gene (August 12, 1985). "Pee-Wee Herman gets laughs to match his name". Chicago Tribune. Section 5, p. 5.
- Siskel, Gene (December 22, 1985). "Siskel's top 10 Movies of the year". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 15.
- Canby, Vincent (August 9, 1985). "Screen: 'Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, 'a Comedy". The New York Times. C15.
- Wilmington, Michael (August 9, 1985). "'Pee-Wee's Adventure' is an Oddly Comic Odyssey". Los Angeles Times. Part VI, p. 16.
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