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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.
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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?
- In theaters: August 9, 1985
- On DVD or streaming: May 2, 2000
- Cast: Elizabeth Daily, Mark Holton, Paul Reubens
- Director: Tim Burton
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Adventures
- Character strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic material
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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