Pee-wee's Big Adventure

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Pee-Wee's Big Adventure
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Tim Burton
Produced by Robert Shapiro
Richard Gilbert Abramson
Written by Phil Hartman
Paul Reubens
Michael Varhol
Starring Paul Reubens
Elizabeth Daily
Mark Holton
Diane Salinger
Judd Omen
Music by Danny Elfman
Cinematography Victor J. Kemper
Edited by Billy Weber
Aspen Film Society
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • August 9, 1985 (1985-08-09)
Running time 90 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $40,940,662

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. Reubens also co-wrote the script with Phil Hartman and Michael Varhol. Supporting roles are played by Elizabeth Daily, Mark Holton, Diane Salinger and Judd Omen. The film tells the tale of Pee-wee Herman embarking on nation-wide adventure in search of his stolen bicycle.

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. Pictures. 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 worldwide. it eventually developed into a cult film and has since accumulated positive feedback. The film was nominated for a Young Artist Award and spawned a sequel, Big Top Pee-wee (1988). The financial success of the film, 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 likes his bike more than anything else and refuses to sell it to his spoiled neighbor Francis Buxton. While at a bike shop visiting his love interest Dottie, the bike is stolen, despite all the anti-theft measures Pee-wee used. Pee-wee visits a fraudulent psychic who tells him that the bike is hidden in the basement of the Alamo Mission in San Antonio, Texas. On his way there, he meets Simone, a waitress with a dream of living in Paris. Her jealous boyfriend Andy thinks Pee-wee and Simone are romantically linked and goads Pee-wee into a melee, but Pee-wee flees into a boxcar on a moving train. Making it to San Antonio, he finds out that the Alamo has no basement. Disappointed, Pee-wee contacts Dottie and informs her of his situation. Pee-wee encounters Simone on her way to Paris, and later evades Andy at a rodeo.

Pee-wee visits a bar to use the telephone, but disturbs the Satan's Helpers biker gang after accidentally knocking over their motorcycles. Fearing for his life, Pee-wee asks as his last request to dance to "Tequila", winning the respect of the bikers and their boss. The bikers give him one of their motorcycles, but Pee-wee quickly crashes it through a billboard, ending up in the hospital. There, he watches an interview on TV and learns that his bike was donated to Kevin Morton, a young actor who is currently filming a movie with the bike used as a prop.

Pee-wee enters Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California, disguises himself as a nun and steals his bike back. During the commandeering, he flees from security staff through a variety of sets, causing havoc throughout the lot; various actors and props, including a boat-shaped car, Santa Claus in his sleigh, and a man in a Godzilla costume, get swept into the pursuit. He also interrupts the shooting of a Twisted Sister music video for "Burn in Hell". Using the gadgets on his bike when driving through the set of Tarzan and a western set, Pee-wee manages to evade and fake out the guards and escape the studio. While continuing his ride, Pee-wee discovers a burning pet shop. After heroically saving all the animals, Pee-wee faints on the sidewalk near the store's doorstep upon having to carry out the pet snakes just as the police and fire department arrive. Though the fire department hail Pee-wee as a hero, the police have him arrested.

Pee-wee is brought before a Warner Bros. studio executive who offers to buy the rights to Pee-wee's story in exchange for dropping all charges and giving up their claim to his bike. While acquitted, Dottie is summoned into the office, bringing along Pee-wee's recovered bike. He attends the premiere at his local drive-in theater, and it turns out to be a James Bond-style action film involving James Brolin and Morgan Fairchild fighting ninjas. Pee-wee has a cameo appearance as a bellhop, with his voice dubbed over. After watching for a few minutes and outsmarting Francis (using another of the bicycle's gadgets), Pee-wee decides to leave as he has already lived the real story and rides away with Dottie.


  • Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman (billed "Pee-wee Herman as himself"), The hero of the story. A strange man who acts like a child. He sports a gray flannel suit with a red bow tie and clean-cut hair. He is very obsessive over his bicycle, traveling across America in search of it.
  • Elizabeth Daily as Dottie, She helps run a bike shop and also has feelings for Pee-wee, though Pee-wee initially declines to go out with her.
  • Mark Holton as Francis Buxton, the film's villain. A fellow man-child like Pee-wee, his neighbor, and rival. He is very spoiled. He offers to buy Pee-wee's bike, but Pee-wee refuses. Francis hires someone to steal the bike before it is sold to Warner Bros.
  • Diane Salinger as Simone, a waitress that Pee-wee meets in Texas. She develops a friendship with Pee-wee and yearns to live in France. Simone soon pursues her dream at Pee-Wee's insistence. Her violent boyfriend Andy flunked French in high school, and therefore dislikes France. At the end of the film, Simone is dating a French man named Pierre.
  • Judd Omen as Mickey Morelli, a fugitive Pee-wee meets on his way to Texas. Mickey is an escaped convict on the run from the law because he cut off a "do not remove under the penalty of law" mattress tag. He also has a bad temper and abandons Pee-wee for his safety. However, Pee-wee ends up inviting Mickey to his movie along with the prison guards with him.
  • Alice Nunn as Large Marge, a truckdriver who kindly picks Pee-Wee up after he was abandoned by the fugitive, and takes him to a diner where he can get transport. It was then that Pee-Wee discovers that Large Marge is a ghost who was killed in a trucking accident on that route.
  • Phil Hartman as Reporter
  • Jon Harris as Andy, Simone's tough boyfriend.
  • Carmen Filpi as Hobo Jack
  • Jan Hooks as Tina, a tour guide at the Alamo.
  • Jason Hervey as Kevin Morton, a child star.
  • Tony Bill as Terry Hawthorne, an executive at Warner Bros.
  • Cleve Hall as Godzilla
    • Cleve Hall also cameos as a Satan's Helpers Biker Gang member.

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 the rainy back-alley. Other minor roles include Ed Herlihy as Mr. Buxton and Cassandra Peterson (aka Elvira, Mistress of the Dark) as Biker Mama. James Brolin portrays "P.W. Herman" and Morgan Fairchild is Dottie for the scene when Warner Bros. turns Pee-wee's life in a full-length film. Dee Snider and Twisted Sister and veteran comedy star Milton Berle cameo as themselves.

Pee-wee's Big Adventure 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. In the movie studio sequence, Lynne Marie Stewart (Miss Yvonne) plays the Mother Superior and John Paragon (Jambi the Genie) plays the high-voiced studio extra in red armor whom Pee-wee asks for 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, who 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.
  • Supporting actors Monte Landis (Mario) and Lou Cutell (Amazing Larry), who featured together in a deleted scene in Mario's Magic Shop, had both appeared as extras in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein.
  • In the Warner Bros. studio chase sequence, Pee-wee rides through a set where a Japanese crew are filming a "kaiju" type monster movie with monsters closely resembling Godzilla and Ghidorah.
  • The full chase sequence through Warner Bros Studios was longer than the version in the final cut of the film and showed much more of the WB backlot, including the vast storage yard where props and set pieces were stored. A full-scale prop of a Visitor shuttlecraft from the original TV miniseries V (1983) is clearly visible in the foreground in one shot. Another deleted scene in this section was filmed on the famous WB "Western town" set which has been used for innumerable film and TV productions, including the 1960s Batman TV series. Ennio Morricone's music score from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is heard in that scene.


One of the prop bicycles used in "Pee-wee's Big Adventure." On display in the Bicycle exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center

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.[1]

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.[2] Burton felt he connected with Reubens' personality and the humor of the Pee-wee Herman Show.[3] After hiring Burton to direct, Reubens, Phil Hartman and Michael Varhol reworked the script again.[4]

Filming locations included Glendale, Pomona, Santa Clarita, Santa Monica, Burbank, Cabazon (at the Cabazon Dinosaurs[5]), Port Hueneme, California, and San Antonio, Texas.[6] Burton and Reubens had tensions with Warner Bros. studio executives over the shooting schedule.[7] Burton hired CalArts classmate Rick Heinrichs for scenes involving stop-motion animation.[7]


Pee-wee's Big Adventure
Film score by Danny Elfman
Released 1985
Danny Elfman chronology
Pee-wee's Big Adventure

To compose the film score, Burton brought in Danny Elfman, who had previously composed the music for Forbidden Zone.[8] Elfman already had the main title theme written before he signed on.[9] At the time, Elfman was the lead singer of Oingo Boingo, but the working relationship between Burton and Elfman would continue for most of Burton's films.[8][10] Initially reluctant to score the film for Burton,[11] Elfman has since scored other films as well as creating the theme songs for television series such as The Simpsons and Desperate Housewives.

Track listing
  1. "Overture" / "The Big Race" – 3:07
  2. "Breakfast Machine" – 2:36
  3. "Park Ride" – 1:14
  4. "Stolen Bike" – 1:44
  5. "Hitchhike" – 0:56
  6. "Dinosaur Dream" – 0:48
  7. "Simone's Theme" – 1:35
  8. "Clown Dream" – 1:58
  9. "Studio Chase" – 1:24
  10. "The Drive-In" – 2:02
  11. "Finale" – 3:12

The film also featured "Burn in Hell" by Twisted Sister and "Tequila" by The Champs. "Clown Dream" is also used in the video game Grand Theft Auto V.


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.[12]

Critical response[edit]

Pee-wee's Big Adventure received generally positive reviews at the time of the film's release,[13] before eventually developing into a cult film.[13] Based on 36 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, Pee-wee's Big Adventure has a 92% overall approval rating.[14] By comparison Metacritic calculated an average score of 47 from 13 reviews collected.[15] The film was nominated with a Young Artist Award for Best Family Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical).[16]

Christopher Null gave positive feedback, calling it "Burton's strangest film."[17] Variety compared Paul Reubens to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton,[18] while Empire called the film "a one-comic masterpiece" and "a dazzling debut" for Burton.[19] Stephanie Zacharek of 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."[20] Burton had no interest in directing Big Top Pee-wee,[21] and the financial success of the film prompted Warner Bros. to hire him to direct Batman.[22] Warner Home Video released Pee-wee's Big Adventure on DVD in May 2000. The release included audio commentary by Tim Burton, Paul Reubens and Danny Elfman as well as deleted scenes.[23]


  1. ^ Paul Reubens, Tim Burton, audio commentary, 2000, Warner Bros.
  2. ^ Mark Salisbury; Tim Burton (2006). Burton on Burton. Faber and Faber. p. 42. ISBN 0-571-22926-3. 
  3. ^ Salisbury, Burton, p.43–4
  4. ^ Salisbury, Burton, p.47
  5. ^ Famous Movie Locations: Wheel Inn Restaurant from Pee-wee's Big Adventure (Cabazon, California), by Kim Potts, Aug 10, 2010, Moviefone. Retrieved 2011-08-21.
  6. ^ "Filming locations of Pee-wee's Big Adventure". Platial. Archived from the original on 2008-06-05. Retrieved 2008-04-06. 
  7. ^ a b Salisbury, Burton, p.49
  8. ^ a b Salisbury, Burton, p.48
  9. ^ Danny Elfman, audio commentary, 2000, Warner Bros.
  10. ^ excluding Ed Wood and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
  11. ^ Fanfare Article
  12. ^ "Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)". Box Office Mojo ( Retrieved 2008-04-06. 
  13. ^ a b Salisbury, Burton, p.50
  14. ^ "Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2011-10-28. 
  15. ^ "Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985): Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2008-04-06. 
  16. ^ "PAwards for Pee-wee's Big Adventure". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-04-06. 
  17. ^ Christopher Null (2005-06-13). "Pee-wee's Big Adventure". Retrieved 2008-04-06. 
  18. ^ "Pee-wee's Big Adventure". Variety (Reed Business Information). 1985-01-01. Retrieved 2008-04-06. 
  19. ^ "Pee-wee's Big Adventure". Empire. Bauer Consumer Media. Retrieved 2008-04-06. 
  20. ^ Zacharek, Stephanie (10 October 2000). "Pee-wee's Big Adventure". Retrieved 2013-11-28. 
  21. ^ Salisbury & Burton 2006, p. 52
  22. ^ Tim Burton, Batman audio commentary, 2005, Warner Bros.
  23. ^ "Pee-wee's Big Adventure (Widescreen) (1985)". Retrieved 2008-09-22. 

External links[edit]