Early in the morning and Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) is dreaming of the Tour de France, which he has entered on his beloved bicycle and soundly beats all the other competitors: just as he is about to be crowned the winner, he hears a bell and wakes up. It is his alarm clock, but no lie-ins for him, as he jumps out of bed to face the day brimming with energy, setting off the contraptions in his house which prepare breakfast, not only for him but for his dog Speck as well. He barely pauses to finish his meal, so excited about getting on his bike is he... but wouldn't it be terrible if it was stolen?
Some will tell you that Pee-wee's Big Adventure is actually an uncredited remake of Vittorio De Sica's gutwrenching classic Bicycle Thieves, but although they share a premise of sorts, unless you believe that De Sica missed a trick in not putting a dinosaur in his film, this is very much its own entity. It was the feature debut for director Tim Burton, an ex-Disney animator proving himself a safe pair of hands for such works of whimsy as this, with little of the darkness that would shade his later films, although if you squint, you can see a decidedly twisted aspect to the adventures going on here.
Proof that an imaginative children's movie is just one shift away from a nightmare perhaps, and it is certainly a the worst of all possible days for Pee-wee when his prized possession is taken away. He thinks he knows who has stolen it, and although he cannot prove it he is right: the culprit is neighbour Francis (Mark Holton), a fellow just as petty as he is, but noticeably lacking in Pee-wee's charm. He lives in a large mansion nearby with his father, so our hero goes to visit him with a view to retrieving his bike; alas, it does not go well and he after some swimming pool wrestling, he is sent on his way.
Following the crazed logic of the kind of dream its protagonist presumably enjoys every night, Pee-wee goes to a fortune teller to find out where his bike has gone, unaware that Francis has gotten rid of it as a liability. This leads him cross country to Texas and The Alamo, where he feels sure he will find his transport, along the way in cheerfully episodic fashion meeting a variety of singular characters, from an escaped convict or a biker gang won over by a dance to "Tequila" on the juke box to an accident-obsessed trucker calling herself Large Marge who it turns out may well be... a ghost.
Pee-wee would happily accept he can be an irritant and indeed embraces this persona, but curiously this never makes us dislike him, in fact as with his clearest predecessor Jerry Lewis at his best these awkward qualities endear him to us all the more, especially when it gets him into such wacky situations. He appears to be resistant to commitment judging by his avoidance of getting close to the bicycle shop assistant Dottie (E.G. Daily) who is so fond of him, his idea of wit is "I know you are but what am I?" and he is insanely self-centred at best, but Reubens, with co-scripters Phil Hartman and Michael Varhol manage to fill his life with so much that is colourful and captivating that you gladly go along with him. There's enough invention here for a hundred cartoons, never mind one ninety minute film, and if its studied nerviness can mean too much of a good thing, it is a delight for the most part. Music by Danny Elfman.
American director, producer and writer, frequently of Gothic flavoured fantasy who has acquired a cult following in spite of the huge mainstream success of many of his projects. He began as an animator at Disney, who allowed him to work on his own projects while animating the likes of The Fox and the Hound, which garnered the attention of Paul Reubens to direct Pee Wee's Big Adventure.