It must have been kismet that brought oddball director and comic-actor Paul Reubens together; their pairing produced the divinely-inspired and visionary family film classic Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, the distinctively funny Holy Grail story of bizarre manchild Pee Wee Herman and his inexhaustible quest for his stolen bike.
Pee Wee Herman loves his bicycle, a vintage red three-speed customized for his specific if not quirky tastes and needs. When his beloved two-wheeler is stolen, Pee Wee freaks out, immediately indicting neighborhood rich kid Francis Buxton (Mark Holton). But as Pee Wee has no evidence, he realizes his case is baseless and, at his wit’s end, consults a psychic, who sets Pee Wee on the path to recovering his bike (and on a personal journey of self-discovery.)
Along the way, Pee Wee encounters numerous friends and foes, including Pee Wee’s wannabe girlfriend Dottie, (E.G. Daily), the hilariously frightening Large Marge (Alice Nunn), and studio exec Terry Hawthorne (Tony Bill), who eventually makes a Hollywood film of Pee Wee’s adventures with James Brolin as “P.W.” and Morgan Fairchild as “Dottie.”
The outrageous climax of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is signature Burton zaniness, a chase scene through the Warner Bros. backlot that crashes through the sets of a beach blanket bingo movie, a Japanese monster flick and a Twisted Sister rock video.
Unlike many family films that purport to be movies for kids that adults will dig, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure doesn’t rely on jokes of a cynical nature. In fact, it does the exact opposite, playing to the innocence of the characters and the world they live in.
Burton does a fantastic job creating a universe untainted by pessimism through brilliant production design, a bouncing score from Danny Elfman, and ingenious casting. The cast completely commits to this world, inhabiting their characters with zeal. Even the bad guys are innocently bad in this land of primary color vistas.
And Reubens whole-hearted love of his alter-ego shapes this world. Pee Wee Herman is a character Reubens developed over years onstage and it shows. Pee Wee is one hundred percent Pee Wee all the time. He never winks to the audience; he merely is Pee Wee, the colorful clown of this colorfully clownish film.