Stream On: ‘Pee-wee’s Big Adventure’ (has ended—RIP)

By on August 10, 2023

Paul Reubens, the creator of Pee-wee Herman (Pee-wee’s Playhouse), died last week at the age of 70. Born Paul Rubenfeld in Peekskill, New York, his father had been one of the founding pilots of the Israeli Air Force in 1948. Paul went into comedy and then acting, when he developed the character of Pee-wee, and starred in The Pee-wee Herman Show for five months in 1980 at the Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles. It was recorded and broadcast on HBO in 1981, and Paul was hired by the Warner Brothers Film Studio, where he, Phil Hartman (NewsRadio) and a few others wrote Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, a comic odyssey loosely inspired by Vittorio de Sica’s Bicycle Thieves.


/Amazon /Streaming /🍅87%🍿79% /Trailer /1985 /PG

“Innocence is a kind of insanity.” (Graham Greene, The Quiet American)

Paul Reubens was born in New York, but grew up in Sarasota, Florida, the winter headquarters for the Ringling Brothers Circus, and so got the chance to live out many a child’s dream: he went to circus camp, and thought that there was where his future lay. As a young man he chose the next best thing, joining the Groundlings, the improvisational sketch comedy troupe in Los Angeles, where he developed the character of a failed stand-up comedian. This would become Pee-wee Herman, the child trapped in a man’s body, the eternal innocent, whose innocence was so transcendent that it affected all around him.

And in his first movie, Pee-wee’s costar was every child’s friend: his bicycle. (Pee-wee’s Big Adventure also encouraged adults to get back in touch with their inner children, on bicycles.) As the movie opens, Pee-wee dreams of winning the Tour de France—in his habitual grey suit, with white shirt and shoes, and red bow-tie, on his beloved red and white 1953 Schwinn DX Cruiser.

His house, which he shares with his little dog Speck, is dreamlike in itself—or hallucinogenic—tomato, tomahto. It’s filled with Rube-Goldberg-esque gizmos that help him get dressed, eat breakfast, etc. in the most complicated and fun ways. Outside, the yard is a riot of Native American Indian statues with a totem pole and a tipi, plus livestock, a Santa Claus and a space ship.

Two big names in Hollywood got their start on Pee-wee’s Big Adventure: Tim Burton, animator, storyboard artist, graphic designer, art director, and concept artist at Walt Disney Productions, had been fired for spending the company’s resources on a short film that was too dark and scary for children to see—his 1984 animated featurette Frankenweenie. Paul Reubens was so impressed by it that he hired Burton to direct the Big Adventure, beginning a stellar career. Oingo-Boingo bandleader Danny Elfman sent Reubens a demo cassette of original music and was hired to score the film, the first of more than a hundred, including nineteen for Tim Burton. The film—and worldview—created by these three newcomers, Reubens, Burton and Elfman, turned out so iconic that CBS-TV approached Reubens to produce a kids’ show, Pee-wee’s Playhouse, that itself quickly acquired a cult of fans.

When Pee-wee loses his beloved bicycle to theft, he begins an odyssey to recover it that takes him to the Alamo in Texas, with encounters at a truck stop (taken there by a truck-driving ghost), a biker’s bar (this time, motorcyclists—and mean ones at that!), a rodeo and the Alamo, during which he sees his bike on TV being used as a prop at Warner Brothers studio in Burbank.

Pee-wee’s interactions with everyone turn out positively; this flamboyant, frenetic little man who moves like Charlie Chaplin and speaks in strangled childlike exclamations brings out the best in everyone. This was Pee-wee’s enduring message, that however weird you might feel, just go with it, and everything will be alright—to thine own self be true. The motorcycle gang, for example, rallies around Pee-wee and they give him a Harley-Davidson chopper to take him on his quest (which he crashes).

In Burbank, Pee-wee’s story is picked up by Warner Brothers for a feature film, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, starring James Brolin as Pee-wee and Morgan Fairchild as his girlfriend, a movie in the movie that ramps up the crazy even more (Pee-wee himself gets a cameo as a bellhop) in a closed loop of a story that cemented Pee-wee’s place among Hollywood’s greats.

In 1991 Reubens, no longer innocent, was arrested for indecent exposure in an adult theater in Sarasota. His arrest set off a chain reaction of national media attention, though he received support from people in the entertainment industry—and $40 from one of the arresting officers, a fan, so he could make bail. In 1999, as Paul Reubens, he was back, taking cameo parts in films and TV shows, like 30 Rock, all apparently forgiven. He said, in an interview, “I don’t know why they still love me, but you could have worse problems, right?”

(Pete Hummers is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to earn fees by linking Amazon.com and affiliate sites. This adds nothing to Amazon’s prices.)

Click here for more Stream On: What to watch on TV columns by Pete Hummers. Columns are archived and updated when necessary on Substack.


Barnhill Contracting Company will receive sealed proposals for Manns Harbor – EMS/Fire Facility (EMS-8), Kitty Hawk – EMS/Fire Facility (EMS-9), Manteo – Youth Center on January 09, 2024. Times to be given on via addendum #01. See the following SCOPE OF WORK: BP 100 – General Trades, BP 105 – Final Cleaning, BP 205 – Demolition, BP 390 – Turnkey Concrete, BP 400 – Turnkey Masonry, BP 500 – Turnkey Structural Steel & Misc. Steel, BP 505 – Light Gauge Metal Trusses, BP 740 – Roofing, BP750 – Siding, BP 790 – Caulking/Sealants, BP 800 – Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware/Toilet Specialties/Accessories/Division 10, BP 840 – Curtainwall/Storefront/Glass/Glazing, BP 925 – Drywall/Framing, BP 960 – Resilient Flooring/Carpet/Base/Epoxy, BP 980 – Acoustical Ceilings, BP 990 – Painting and Wall Coverings, BP 1230 – Finish Carpentry and Casework, BP 1250 – Window Treatments, BP 2100 – Fire Protection, BP 2200 – Plumbing, BP 2300 – HVAC, BP 2600 – Electrical, BP 3100 – Earthwork/Turnkey Site, BP 3213- Site Concrete, BP 3290 – Landscaping. Scopes of work may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager.

Bid Location and Time: Bid opening will be held in the Barnhill Contracting Rocky Mount Training & GPS Technology Room: 800 Tiffany Bvld, Rocky Mount, NC 27804. Time is as follows: January 09, 2024 at 10:00am and 2:00pm. Times per packages to be given on via addendum #01.

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