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Strange and Fantastic Tales of the 20th Century: ‘Pee-wee’s Big Adventure’

I know you are, but what am I?

Strange and Fantastic Tales of the 20th Century is a look back at the weirdest, most memorable, and most off center movies of the 20th century. From head turning horror to oddball science fiction this column examines the films that will leave a lasting impression for centuries to come.

It is very difficult to explain the experience of Pee-wee Herman to someone who did not grow up in the 80’s. I recently recommended Pee-wee’s Big Adventure to a colleague. I promised her she would enjoy it. She has not seen it, but I am quite confident that even though she might not have childhood nightmares of Large Marge, she will laugh along at the clever and endless supply of absurd jokes. This week’s strange and fantastic tale is Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.

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Pee-wee is an adult male who wears a red bow tie. He’s an inventor, magic aficionado, and obsessed with his amazing bike. The trouble starts when his nemesis Francis (also a grown man, played by Mark Holton) declares that his father told him he could have anything for his birthday. Francis has set his spoiled sights on Pee-wee’s bicycle. Pee-wee refuses Francis’s money and declares that his bike is priceless. A few scenes later, his bike has been stolen. What follows is an epic hero’s quest for the bike.

Strange and Fantastic Tales of the 20th Century: 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure'

Following the guidelines of any epic romance, Pee-wee’s journey is nothing short of incredible. A fortune teller tells him he can find his bike at the Alamo. Set on his mission, he journeys through the desert. From the Cabazon Dinosaurs outside California to the Alamo in San Antonio, Pee-wee accomplishes insane feats. He charms bikers with a dance, befriends a felon, helps a waitress follow her dreams, and saves hundreds of pets from a fire. He even learns important lessons about bravery and friendship. 

Directed by Tim Burton and written by Reubens, Phil Hartman, and Michael Varhol, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is a timeless classic. This film is rich in fantastic imagery, some scary and some lovely. The dialogue is wonderful and still hilarious. 

Strange and Fantastic Tales of the 20th Century: 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure'

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure holds up to this day. So many movies from the 80’s contain material that just wouldn’t work with today’s sensibilities. Pee-Wee joins the ranks of other heroes like Odysseus, Don Quixote, and Beowulf as he risks his life for what he loves the most.  Pee-wee’s Big Adventure stands the test of time. Watch this film with your favorite felon or best friend.

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