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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.
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?
Find more movies that help kids build character.
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