Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

Ten reasons to love Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure:

  1. As a child, I always wanted a house like Pee-Wee, every toy and mechanism found inside its four walls seemed designed to generate maximum enjoyment to whoever was lucky enough to own the deed. It featured, among other things, sheets that sounded like blinds recoiling when one gets up in the morning, a Mouse Trap style concoction—complete with an Abraham Lincoln statue to flip one’s tasty cakes—that cooked your breakfast while you played with a wide variety of toys or even elect to use tape to contort your face in an unrecommended fashion. Everything about the home was in place to take the banality out of daily life. Don’t like changing from your pajamas to your daily ensemble? No worries, just take the fireman’s pole from level two to level one and your clothes magically change for you. And the best part? Your own private stock of the now-defunct Mr. T cereal.
  2. Time for a confession: Large Marge scared the shit out of me. I can’t remember if I saw this film on the big screen, it seems like I may have viewed it at the local dollar theater in Irmo, South Carolina. Regardless if my first viewing of this film was on the big screen or the small, the impact of this scene cannot be understated. Alice Nunn’s performance as Large Marge is classic; Pee-Wee barely has a chance to hop in the cab of her big rig and introduce himself before she launches into her creepy, inflectionless monologue, and all the while Danny Elfman’s ominous score is allowed to slowly build in the background. And why in the world is Large Marge not blinking, my frightened child mind wondered? That can’t be good; I knew that for sure. By the time she turns to Pee-Wee and demonstrates what the driver of the worst accident she had ever seen looked like post-trauma, I was a nervous wreck. Then, that God-awful (now sweet) Claymation rendering flashed on the screen for all of a second, sending me into a fit that I would not fully recover from for sometime. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure was on heavy rotation in my home growing up (and it still gets a solid amount of spins in my DVD player today) but for the longest time, I would have to leave the room whenever the headlights of Large Marge’s 18 wheeler began to illuminate Pee-Wee on his walk down that lonesome, dark highway.
  3. What kid didn’t want Pee-Wee’s bike? A customized, cherry red vintage Schwinn with a rearview mirror, tassels adorning the handlebars, and a rather enormous lion’s face on the front, even the local BMX outfit were jealous of this ride. Aside from its looks, the bike also had several hidden features, making it more inline with a bicycle that a young Q would have fashioned for James Bond during his monkey bar and swing set days. Pretend someone is accosting you and trying to grab at those sweet, aforementioned handle bars? Not a problem, they can detach when the situation calls for it and a replacement pops right out! Still got some unsavory characters after you? Activate the oil slick to make sure your problems go away! It’s no wonder he keeps it under lock and key in a secret room located in his hedges. It’s just that kick-ass.
  4. Pee-Wee’s arch nemesis, Francis Buxton, has an enormous, mountain of a man butler played by Professor Toru Tanaka, a former pro wrestler, professional boxer, football player (at Weber Junior College, now Weber State University), solider, and martial artist turned actor. A master in Judo, Tanaka was as deadly as he looked. Fame first came to him as one half of the legendary tag team he established with his partner, Harry Fujiwara, better known as Mr. Fuji. Mainly known as a heel—that’s a bad guy to you wrestling novices—his trademark move was to throw salt in the eyes of his opponents. Upon retiring from the squared circle, Tanaka turned to acting, making his bones in ‘80s action movie staples such as The Running Man, Black Rain, and Missing in Action 2: The Beginning and now classic TV shows like The A-Team and The Fall Guy. Tanaka would represent the first connection to the sport of pro wrestling and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.
  5. Warner Brothers, spurred on by the success of The Pee-Wee Herman Show, decided to green light a project with Paul Reubens where he would pen a script revolving around the hijinks of the titular character. Originally, Reubens planned on remaking his favorite film, Pollyanna,with Pee-Wee in the Hayley Mills role. When writing the script on the Warner Brothers backlot, he noticed that most workers had bikes to help them get around the massive compound, resulting in the actor asking for one of his own. Thankfully, Reubens would quickly scrap his original idea as this observation would plant the seed for a script that would eventually become the film fans love today. However, a nugget of the original idea remains, Pee-Wee can be seen dressed as a girl in a ruse designed to get his friend and driver, Mickey Morelli, a fugitive from justice, through a stop set up by the local police.
  6. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure would be director Tim Burton’s first foray into full-length features. Due to his animation and art background, Burton was able to work wonders with a limited budget. Every frame is shot as if he was creating a ‘50’s TV show—each moment is a memorable achievement he obtained through the use of low-tech, theatrical art standards, not the special effects that he would come to rely on in recent years. Here, Burton manages to hypnotize his audience with his creativity; I just wish I could say the same for the director’s more recent efforts.
  7. It was a minor miracle that allowed a studio to not only allow Paul Reubens to bring all the childlike sense of wonder and personality that Pee-Wee displays on his television show but also ramp up the innate goofiness associated with his character and candy-colored world he inhabits.
  8. The movie within a movie finale, in which the viewer is treated to an interpretation of Pee-Wee’s story in which Dottie and Pee-Wee are played by sexy actors James Brolin and Morgan Fairchild. In this sly commentary on Hollywood, the events already seen play more like a high octane action thriller; even Pee-Wee’s Schwinn has been replaced by a souped-up motorcycle. A major highlight of this segment is watching Pee-Wee’s cameo within the film; as a bell-boy in the hotel lobby, he can’t quite seem to stop looking at the camera and his voice has been replaced with a masculine one. Reubens plays this scene magnificently, securing some of the biggest laughs in the film.
  9. The film offers important and enlightening historical facts. Did you know that the Alamo doesn’t actually have a basement?
  10. The second connection to pro wrestling is actor Jason Hervey, who does a bang-up job of lampooning the snotty attitude some of child actors in Hollywood adopt after becoming famous. Best known as the actor who played Fred Savage’s older brother in the Wonder Years, Hervey also participated in a brief stint as the boyfriend of valet Missy Hyatt for the WCW federation. This led to the actor taking a backstage position as an executive producer with the company from then vice president Eric Bishoff, a role he would hold until the company went belly up in 2001. Hervey would go on to help to create TNA wrestling, produce the reality show TNA Reaction, and appear in an episode of Hogan Knows Best. Additional fun facts about Hervey include:
  • He is married to a former porn star by the name of Angel Hart (no relation to the famous wrestling family that includes Bret and Owen).
  • His godfather is pro wrestler Terry Funk.

-David

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6 thoughts on “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

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