Today I read Alden Ford's review on Pee-Wee Herman first movie, Pee Wee's Big Adventure, on Splitsider.com. Although Ford isn't a fan of the movie - he says it underachieves and "feels like an experiment in style and character that doesn’t do justice to the potential of either the character or the director (Tim Burton)" - I disagree. And because it is one my all-time favorite films, here is an essay I wrote about movie way back in 2002.
A Classic Quest
Throughout cinematic history, many great movies have been made about people’s quests for objects of deep meaning. Such examples include Indiana Jones’s hunts for both the lost ark and the holy grail; Sam Spade and many others searching for the Maltese Falcon; and the duo of Rosa Klebb and Konsteen and their search for a Russian decoding device in the James Bond classic From Russia, with Love. Sometimes the story goes beyond just the mere search. That is the case in the 1985 masterpiece Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, starring Paul Reubens as Pee Wee Herman.
Pee Wee is the most “happening” guy in his neighborhood. Along with a house full of gizmos and doo-dads and a dog named Speck, he has the most fantastic bicycle ever. It is his pride and joy. His love for his bike is evident when keeps it in a secure secret area and has custom-made upgrades made for it.
Unfortunately for Pee Wee, he also has a very jealous neighbor, Francis Buckston. Francis is the son of Mr. Buckston, a very wealthy man who has told his son he can have anything he desires for his birthday. Francis wants Pee Wee’s bike.
One day, after taking the necessary precautions and chaining his bicycle up, Pee Wee goes to the local bike shop to pick up an extra-loud horn. When he returns, his bicycle is missing. Pee Wee first accuses Francis of stealing the bike, but with no proof, he must look elsewhere. And so begins his epic adventure.
Pee Wee’s love for his bike takes him on a cross-country journey, to such notable places as the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas and Warner Brothers Studios, Hollywood, California. Along the way he makes friends with various people from different walks of life, from Mickey, the prison escapee found guilty of cutting the “Do Not Remove” labels off mattresses, to Simone, the truck stop waitress with dreams of visiting Paris. Each of the new friends helps Pee Wee in their own way.
Pee Wee also benefits from his own quick thinking. He always seems to escape dangerous situations by out-smarting his enemies. One of the highlights of the movie occurs when the members of the Satan’s Helpers bike gang surround Pee Wee. Pee Wee defuses the potentially ugly scene by raucously dancing to “Tequila”, much to the delight of the gang.
Pee Wee eventually makes his way to Warner Brothers Studio, where he must again use his quick wits. Several movie sets are destroyed as Pee Wee attempts to elude the authorities in order to reclaim his prize possession. Although the adventure never ends, the excitement and suspense peaks when Pee Wee rescues hundreds of animals from a burning pet store outside of the studio, only to be confronted by the cops one final time. Is he to be deemed an outlaw or a hero?
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is more than a movie about a guy searching for his missing bicycle. It is a story about dreams, and the quest to make those dreams a reality with the help of some great friends. For this reason, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure will continue to be a timeless classic.