Late To The Party: Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure

I never saw Tim Burton’s first full-length feature because it was released at the wrong time of my life.1 I’d just graduated college, had my first job, and had no patience for a movie about an overgrown adolescent who had a grating laugh. I’d also heard about the TV show and didn’t think much of it (remember, I was an adult now, and didn’t have time for kiddy stuff). But when I saw it was on Kanopy this year, I finally gave it a look-see since I’d heard so many raves about it over the years on the Internet. And a fascinating film it is, indeed.

I think the best way to review this movie is to give a running list of my thoughts as I watched, more or less. So away we go. Needless to say, spoilers abound.

Danny Elfman did the music. Of course. But it’s good.

So, Pee-Wee still has that grating laugh.

The dog’s name…is Speck. Was that deliberate? Because all I can think of is the mass murderer. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Wiki “Richard Speck”. He’s also mentioned in the Mystery Date episode of Mad Men.) Yes, I know the dog has specks, but still.

What is it with Eighties films and the breakfasts made by Rube Goldberg machines? Maybe Burton was parodying Back To The Future.2

Paul Reubens reminds me of Rowan Atkinson, only more annoying and not as funny.3

I do like that music. This has a manic energy that so many Eighties flicks had, like The Goonies (another LTTP for me) or that Twilight Zone 1985 episode I saw called Uncle Devil. Or Gremlins and that Joe Dante portion of the TZ movie. All those directors raised on Warner Bros. cartoons. Hey, this is a WB film.

That IS a cool bike.

Oh God, everyone in this film is as infantile as Pee-Wee.

[in the magic shop] This film is interminable.

That monologue with Dottie about ”There’s a lot of things you don’t know about me that you wouldn’t understand” rings VERY awkward in light of later events in Reubens’s life. Man, that was a shitshow. I gotta say, in retrospect Pee-Wee seems like one of the first queer characters in film, or at least one of the first ones in a major Hollywood production for kids who isn’t a Disney villain. Cool.

Ooh, getting a Hitchcock vibe now that the bike’s gone. Darker. Nice.

Like John Lennon, Francis takes a bath in swimming trunks. I WANT that tub. Awesome.

Starting to laugh now. This has definitely gotten funnier now that Pee-Wee’s upset. “Something to share, Amazing Larry?!”

Mickey the escaped convict is excellent. Oh, and this scene with the roadblock…I was right about Pee-Wee’s queerness, no question. Love it.

He keeps the sweater on. Of course he does!

Animation? Oh shoot, this is priceless.

And here’s Large Marge. I had heard too much about this scene. But it’s classic, definitely. Great special effects which made millions of kids pee their pants.

I think this is the point of the movie where I realized how brilliant it had become. Like a David Lynch film if he had directed a comedy. I suppose that’s denigrating Burton, but it is what it is.

Love the dinosaurs. And the pies under the blueish white lights. Very Lynchian.

Yeah, this entire watching the sunrise sequence is like something out of Twin Peaks. Except broader comedy.

If this movie has a soundtrack, I want it. Elfman did a fantastic job.


Jan Hooks rocks as the Alamo tour guide.

Simone pops back up. Goodbye, Simone.

Oh Pee-Wee, you stinker. After all Dottie’s done for you.

Wow. I had no idea Paul Reubens was so talented at riding bucking steers.

I miss Public Telephone signs. Wonder why they don’t have them around anymore?

Bad move knocking over those motorbikes, Pee-Wee.

Always the guy with the eyepatch, isn’t it?

Oh shit, this Tequila dance sequence is pure gold. I LOVE THIS FILM!!!

I think the evil clown dream is the real source of all the clown fear nowadays, since this movie predated the TV adaptation of IT by several years.

The actor who plays the child star Kevin was a busy guy; he was in Back To The Future as well.

Milton Berle is not credited for this film, but that’s DEFINITELY him. That’s OK; he was an asshole.

Pee-Wee does love his costumes.

Getting a real Blazing Saddles vibe from this bike chase on the WB lot. Kind of derivative. *taps foot impatiently waiting for it to end*

OK, Twisted Sister and Godzilla are cool, but this is still going on way too long.

Yes, he’s a hero at the pet shop. Still drags.

Glad he saved the snakes! But despite the story I read that Reubens actually carried live snakes out against his instincts, those look like rubber to me.

Of course it’s going to be a movie within a movie. We’re back to interminable, I’m afraid.

James Brolin!! OK, the joke is worth it for him.

Dottie finally got to the drive-in with Pee Wee. Happy ending. If there’s a post-credits scene, I missed it.


This is about four-fifths of a great movie blanketed by lousy set-up and ending scenes. It’s short, but it feels too long. But once Pee-Wee loses his bike from the time he gets it back, you’ve got a marvelous, super weird, surreal comedy. So it was worth the watch for that part. Burton would do better with his next film, Beetlejuice.

Rating: *** out of ****