Pee-wee’s Big Adventure put an irremovable imprint on our popular culture in a mere 92 minutes back in 1985.
The film, produced on a shoe-string budget of $6 million, not only converted Paul Reubens’ Pee-wee Herman character from a quirky cult figure to a household name, it also jump-started the cinematic careers of both Tim Burton and Danny Elfman, the powerhouse duo that have since gone on to collaborate on more than a dozen films.
The film was among the 20 highest grossing films of 1985, along with Back to the Future, The Color Purple, The Breakfast Club, and The Goonies, despite having never played in more than 900 theaters at a given time. How is it possible that a film about a man-child trying to find his bike, a tricked-out vintage Schwinn, could have achieved such a degree of success?
Like most things in life, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure seems to have benefited by being released at the right place and right time. The film was green-lit by Warner Brothers, primarily on the success of Pee-wee’s national tour, which included a sold-out performance at Carnegie Hall, and his regular appearances on Late Night with David Letterman.
The script was turned out fairly quickly, co-written with Phil Hartman and Michael Varhol, and shot almost entirely based on its first draft. Barring some changes made in the editing room, what was in the script is virtually identical to what appears on the screen. However, as detailed as the script was, it was Tim Burton who ultimately gave the film it’s unique sense of style. Under his watch, the breakfast machine sequence went from a one-line description in the script to a nearly three-minute extravaganza that has made for numerous YouTube parodies.
So, Happy 30th Birthday to a truly amazing film that despite it’s cult status is still under-appreciated by the mainstream.