Pee-Wee's Big Adventure

Movie review by
Scott G. Mignola, Common Sense Media
Pee-Wee's Big Adventure Movie Poster Image
Just as charming and curious as it was in 1985.
  • PG
  • 1985
  • 90 minutes
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 16 reviews

Kids say

age 6+
Based on 17 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Purely meant to entertain.

Positive Messages

Not many overtly positive messages, but Pee-Wee's perseverance and resilience are rewarded. Also, the perspective of a child -- as personified by Pee-Wee -- is respected.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Pee-Wee can be a bit bratty. He seems to love his bicycle more than his friends, but in the end he realizes he treated some of his friends unfairly.

Violence & Scariness

Pee-Wee has several pratfalls and nightmares and is involved in a few cartoonish bike and foot chases. Pee-Wee and Francis wrestle underwater, and Pee-Wee holds his head under, but neither of them is injured. A jealous boyfriend is bent on catching Pee-Wee and at one point shows a gun, but no one is hurt. A car appears to crash, but again, there are no casualties. In a couple of nightmare sequences, there are visions of potentially frightening clowns, devils, and dinosaurs. Large Marge may scare younger kids.

Sexy Stuff

Dottie flirts with Pee-Wee and asks him out, but he declines. A jealous boyfriend thinks Pee-Wee is trying to steal his girl. Pee-Wee and Simon hug. In a movie-within-a-movie, the PW and Dottie (played by James Brolin and Morgan Fairchild) kiss while the real characters are finally on their date to the drive-in.

Language

One use of the word "crap," the titular phrase "burn in hell" during a Twisted Sister music video, and Pee-Wee's trademark "I know you are, but what am I?"

Consumerism

The Warner Bros. studio is shown (it produced the movie), as are concession candies such as Milk Duds.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A scene occurs in a biker bar. Pee-Wee dances to the song "Tequila."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, a quirky 1985 movie, is a cult-classic among devotees of Paul Reubens' bow-tied alter ego. Although even preschoolers will likely find Pee-Wee's antics funny, there are some sinister dream sequences and near-fights that might frighten the youngest of viewers. Large Marge is especially scary. Elementary-aged kids, however, are just the right age to appreciate Pee-Wee's singular mission to find his beloved stolen red bicycle and to witness the various hilarious ways he manages to get out of scrapes without ever getting hurt.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bydaveng April 9, 2008

very funny

this movie is mostly zany, comical and off the wall. There are a few points that might be objectionable - there's one scene where an ex-con wields a gun, t... Continue reading
Adult Written byseverus23 May 9, 2012

Nightmarish!!!

Commonsense is way off on this one, I think. There are a number of very scary scenes, Large Marge in particular. With a mounting sense of foreboding, Marge (w... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bybubbo April 9, 2008

Great, Bizarre, and Hilarious!

Pee Wee's Big Adventure is a hilarious film, and it's worth noting that this is Tim Burton's first movie, and it's a great start for a great... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old June 24, 2010
Loved this movie. I've watched it like five times. His awesome humor is so stinking cool!!! Love it!!!

What's the story?

When someone steals his customized red bicycle, sprightly man-boy Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) embarks on the adventure of a lifetime in Tim Burton's imaginative, madcap comedy. Leaving everything he knows behind -- including lovelorn friend Dottie (Elizabeth Daly) -- Pee-wee hits the road on an epic quest to recover his most prized possession. The journey leads him to various sites, including the historic Alamo, a raucous biker bar, the mouth of a dinosaur, and a Hollywood movie set. Along the way, he befriends everyone from a fugitive to a pretty waitress who dreams of becoming a movie star. The adventure also teaches Pee-wee some important lessons (the Alamo doesn't have a basement, it's possible to appease angry biker gangs by dancing to "Tequila," and more). But most of all, Pee-wee learns that he's got what it takes to meet any challenge head on, and, in the end, all he really needs are his good friends and a place to call home.

Is it any good?

Those who found Tim Burton's feature film debut a charming curiosity when it hit the big screen in 1985 will find it just as charming -- and just as curious -- today. Children and open-minded adults unfamiliar with Pee-wee Herman are in for a surprise. The movie's success, which paved the way for the Saturday morning show Pee-wee's Playhouse, is due in large part to Pee-wee himself. As personified by comic Paul Reubens, the smooth-faced, childlike man with the infectious chuckle has a unique appeal that elevated him briefly to the status of cult icon.

Reubens' sensibilities work well with Burton's equally bizarre artistic vision. The movie's wild production designs, a bit of claymation, and lots of unusual toys and props demonstrate what ingenuity can do on a tight budget. Pee-wee isn't regarded as abnormal in this movie -- as he was in the less successful follow-up, Big Top Pee-wee -- rather, he's just an innocent man-child in a red bow tie who would rather find his stolen bicycle than go to the drive-in with the persistent Dottie. Kids can certainly identify with that.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what makes Pee-wee such an entertaining character in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Why do so many kids -- and adults -- like him? Can you think of any other characters who are as well-loved by both age groups?

  • Why don't we see more characters like Pee-Wee?

  • What do kids know about comedian Paul Reubens? Do actors' personal lives affect your appreciation of their artistic work?

  • How does Pee-Wee demonstrate perseverance in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure? Why is this an important character strength?

Movie details

Character Strengths

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