‘Pee-wee’s Big Adventure’ turns the big 3-0 this week. Ha! Ha!
I know you are, but what am I?!?!?
You are Paul Reubens and you are celebrating the 30th anniversary of your masterpiece Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Co-written with Phil Hartman and Michael Varhol and directed by Tim Burton, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure took the bowtie-wearing, bicycle-loving, prank-pulling eternal goofball character nurtured on stage and in MTV appearances and put him on a cross-country trek direct to cult status. Along the way, Pee-wee and his playmates said (and, a lot of times, shouted) lines that have since become bedrock references for fans of Gen X pop culture.
The time has come not just to list the best lines from this essential work, but to recognize and champion utterances that deserve a tad more reverence.
Best Classic Lines
5 – “Paging Mr. Herman”
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is textbook surrealism. Oh, it has a plot and all, but good luck trying to make it make sense. The big finish includes Pee-wee himself appearing on the big screen in the movie version of his life. While it’s James Brolin playing Pee-wee and Morgan Fairchild as Dottie (more on her in a bit), Pee-wee does get a cameo — as a bellhop looking straight into the camera. When it’s time for his one line, it’s clearly dubbed by someone with an insanely deep voice.
4 – “I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel.”
Elizabeth Daily’s Dottie wants nothing more than to be Pee-wee’s special gal, but “Ewwwwww, girls!” is the only reasonable response. Pee-wee demurring her overtures with quiet, brooding talk reaches the highest levels of absurdity. The dude’s wearing a bowtie and buying toys at a magic shop! Of course, Pee-wee is something of a rebel, as his Big Adventure will prove.
3 – “I remember . . .the Alamo!”
Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is hilarious, but there aren’t an awful lot of “jokes.” This is one of the few that’s a clear zinger and it kills. Pee-wee is traveling cross-country to find his stolen bicycle which he has been led to believe is stashed in the basement of the Alamo. (The Alamo doesn’t have a basement but that’s not important right now.) Anyway, at some point during Pee-wee’s shenanigans he ends up riding a bull in a rodeo. He’s flung off, knocked out and when he wakes up, the assembled cowboys ask if he remembers anything. “I remember . . .the Alamo!” Yeeee-haw!
2 – “The Stars At Night . . . Are Big And Bright!”
Texas is big enough for two memorable lines. When Pee-wee calls Dottie and tells her where he is, she doesn’t believe him, and he has to prove it. So he turns away from the payphone and calls out “The stars at night, are big and bright!” to which passersby all respond with clapping and the natural response: “deep in the heart of Texas!”
For those of you who doubt, I have been to Texas and this absolutely always works every time and the locals never get annoyed at you for trying it out.
1 – “Large Marge Sent Me”
In a film loaded with shaggy diversions, nothing tops Pee-wee’s swerve into the supernatural. He hitches a ride with a truck drivin’ mama who tells him a spooky story, then drops him off at a truck stop. She asks him to drop her name once he gets there and, of course, once he does, he realizes that he’d just be driving with …. a ghost! Pee-wee, you and your wacky adventures!
Lines We Should Be Quoting More
5 – “I pity the fool who don’t eat my cereal!”
The opening magical breakfast sequence in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is the full culmination of cinema. What more could the Lumière Brothers have hoped for? Amid the wacky Rube Goldberg-esque machines and all around screaming (“Good morning Mr. Breakfast!!!!”), Pee-wee opens a box of Mr. T. cereal — something that actually existed. He then paraphrases that uniquely 80s icon with regard to food choices. Even people too young to get the reference should still be saying this each morning.
4 – “Fruit, please.”
Pee-wee is correct in assuming that rich snot Francis Buxton is the one who stole his bicycle. After he charges into his bath/pool, Francis’s father comes to break it up. Trying to smooth things over, Pee-wee offers a stick of gum. Would he like spearmint or fruit? “Fruit, please,” is Mr. Buxton’s response, and the way he says it is so strange and sincere, there’s no reason people aren’t quoting it every day.
The jokes on him, of course, as Pee-wee has slipped him some trick gum that makes black gunk ooze out of his mouth.
3 – “Is this something you can share with the rest of us, Amazing Larry???!!!!”
When Pee-wee’s bike is stolen, he gets a little dark. He assembles all of his wacky friends to listen to his mad theories about where it can possibly be. During this endless tirade, a man dressed as an American Indian whispers something, and that’s when angry Pee-wee barks at him. It’s a rare look at a nastier side of our hero, but everyone has their breaking point. Don’t mess with Pee-wee and his bike.
2 – “Shhh. I’m listening to reason.”
This is a pretty hilarious line that deserves more attention, but it’s couched in a scene with wall-to-wall jokes. Pee-wee and Francis are shouting at each other, and just pounding each other with immature and ludicrous remarks. (“I don’t make monkeys, I just train ’em.”) When Francis asks Pee-wee to listen to reason, our hero shuts his belligerent neighbor up. “Shhh. I’m listening to reason,” he says, cupping his ear. It’s a wonderfully annoying moment.
1 – “Yeah, I’m all alone. I’m rolling a big doughnut and this snake wearing a vest…”
Out there on the road Pee-wee meets a lot of strange people. We already discussed Marge. There’s also the escaped con Mickey. (He pulled off a mattress tag.) He also meets a French waitress named Simone. They have a late night chat (near a road stop with fake dinosaurs) and get into a deep conversation. “Do you have any dreams?” she asks. And Pee-wee takes this philosophical query and answers from the heart. “Yeah, I’m all alone. I’m rolling a big doughnut and this snake wearing a vest…” She cuts him off before we can ever hear the rest.
Maybe we’ll finally get to learn the second part in Pee-wee’s forthcoming Netflix project.
Surely I left one of your favorites off the list? Here’s your time to tell me what a fool I am in the comments.