I Know You Are, But What Am I?

It’s Guilty Pleasure Friday again, and I needed to add one more movie to the list of Strange Films You Watched as a Child.  I can’t believe I forgot this one!  So, it’s getting it’s very own post on Guilty Pleasures.

     Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

     IMDB describes this movie as: Eccentric man-child Pee-Wee Herman embarks on the big adventure of his life across the US mainland, as he sets out to find his beloved bike, when it is stolen in broad daylight.

He’s childish, naive, a crazy inventor, and his favorite thing in the whole world is his bike.  When Pee Wee gets a visit from his arch-nemesis, Francis Buxton, he learns not only is it Francis’ birthday, but that his one birthday wish is to have Pee Wee’s bike.

Imagine his great surprise then, when in broad daylight, while Pee Wee is buying a new bike horn, his bike is stolen!  A man without his bicycle is no man at all.  So Pee Wee sets out on a cross-country adventure to track down his sweet ride.

This mission is no easy task.  If Pee Wee wants his bike back, he’ll have to wage a war against super scary clowns, meet with a psychic, hitchhike with Large Marge, get to the Alamo, survive a rodeo, work as a dishwasher, outrun Andy the jealous boyfriend, crash through a couple of Hollywood film sets, pretend to be a nun, and battle Francis.

Here are a few great scenes you may remember.  (Technical issue:  Some of the clips require a second clink on the youtube link to view.  Sorry for the inconvenience, but enjoy the clips!)

Pee Wee’s Bike Flip

I Know You Are But What Am I?  (I know I used this tactic against my siblings on occasion.)

Pee Wee Battles Francis

Large Marge


And then there are the quotes to remember.  I don’t know about your house, but we quoted a lot of these at mine.

Mr. Breakfast: Good morning, Pee-wee!
Pee-wee: Good morning, Mr. Breakfast!
Mr. Breakfast: Can I have some Mr. T cereal?
Pee-wee: Okay!
[imitates Mr. T as he prepares his Mr. T cereal]
Pee-wee: I pity the poor fool who don’t eat my cereal!

Pee-wee: There’s a lotta things about me you don’t know anything about, Dottie. Things you wouldn’t understand. Things you couldn’t understand. Things you shouldn’t understand.
Dottie: I don’t understand.
Pee-wee: You don’t wanna get mixed up with a guy like me. I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel. So long, Dott.

Pee-wee: The mind plays tricks on you. You play tricks back! It’s like you’re unraveling a big cable-knit sweater that someone keeps knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting…

Simone: I know you’re right, Pee-wee, but…
Pee-wee: But what? Everyone I know has a big “But…? C’mon, Simone, let’s talk about *your* big “But”.

Pee-wee: What did you do?
Mickey: Well, I lost my temper and I took a knife and I uh-. Do you know those “Do Not Remove Under the Penalty of Law” labels they put on mattresses?
Pee-wee: Yeah.
Mickey: Well I CUT one of them off!
Pee-wee: Jee.
Mickey: Yeah, I have a real bad temper.
Pee-wee: Boy, I always thought that was the dumbest law.

What makes Pee Wee’s Big Adventure so iconic is the story behind the creation.  Pee Wee played by Paul Reubens began the The Pee Wee Herman Show after failing to make the cast for Saturday Night Live.   He received $3000 from his parents and support from the acting group, The Groundlings, and set up The Pee Wee Herman Show in the Roxy Theater.  It was sold out immediately.  Interestingly enough, he’s hosted for SNL a number of times as Pee Wee Herman.

Photo courtesy The Distracted Globe

The original idea for a Pee Wee Herman movie was a take on Disney’s Pollyanna, a feel good movie where Pee Wee moves into a sleepy little town and makes everyone happy.  But when touring the set, Paul Reubens noticed everyone there had a bicycle.  Suddenly they were starting from square one.  Once Tim Burton got involved, the rest is history.  The wacky sense of art direction that is typical Burton got an early start with Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, which was made three years before Beetlejuice and five years before Edward Scissorhands.

Critics loved Big Adventure.  It did receive a PG rating in the end, which I credit a nod to Burton’s influence, but the humor appealed to kids and had subtle jokes for parents too.  It had adventure, comedy, romance, and let’s face it, great lines of dialogue for fighting childishly.  “I know you are, but what am I?”

Do you remember watching Pee Wee’s Big Adventure?  Or Pee Wee’s Playhouse?  Ever get into a fight with your own Francis Buxton?  What are your favorite scenes in this movie?  Or perhaps you’d like to take a moment and tell me about your big “But”.

25 responses

  1. Because it’s guilty pleasure day, I’ll give you a guilty confession. I didn’t like Pee Wee Herman when I was growing up. I just didn’t get what was funny. As I’ve aged, I’ve learned to appreciate his unique humor.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. 😀

    1. Cue an annoying Pee Wee Herman laugh. Ha ha! Glad you finally grew to like him!

  2. I think it’s cool that you liked Pee Wee Herman. He was a bit after my time so what I remember most about him was when society pilloried him for being exactly what he appeared to be. Fun blog, Jess!

    1. Yah, I opted to leave his extra curricular activities and post Pee Wee films out. Interesting career.

  3. I HAVE to get that movie TODAY! I don’t remember ever seeing it although I watched Pee Wee’s television series often…and loved it. I watched all your trailers and I just laughed out loud. Thank you so much for this post – made my day!

    1. Yay! I totally sat at the kitchen table watching clip after clip from this movie laughing out loud to myself. My roommate walked in and heard tequila playing and ran over, “That’s my favorite scene!” He knew right away what it was. LOL

  4. I was a mom of a 3 yr old at the time, she was way to young to get the humor, obviously. I didn’t like him then and never acquired a taste for his humor, buit i know my hubs will get me to watch the movie one day soon! He loves Pee Wee! (I promise to watch with an open mind).
    I remember a lot of negativity thrown his way, too. You did a great job reviewing and presenting him and his movie in fun way!

    1. I give him big time props for making a smart business move with his career by changing his dream of being on SNL to hosting his own show as Pee Wee. That’s a dramatic and brave life decision, and it worked well for him. IMDB says he’s working on a Pee Wee revival for film…hmm.

  5. I remember when my closest friend, home on leave after Marine Corps basic, drug me to see PeeWee’s Big Adventure and we had to sit in the front row, of course. Can’t wait to see what story that therapy treasure comes out in *twitches*

    Great post, Jess. Very fun 🙂

    1. I immediately like your friend.

  6. My mom hate the movie and show, but my dad and I loved it!

    1. I don’t think my parents were all too thrilled about it, but man, all my siblings and I could quote lots from this movie. And my brother bought a lot of those weird toys like blood capsules and fake handcuffs or knives or weird glasses. His sense of humor was right along with Pee Wee’s for awhile. If my brother could’ve have found the gross flavored gum Pee Wee used against Francis, he totally would have owned some.

  7. That’s funny. I didn’t know a lot of that information about SNL, how interesting. I remember Peewee’s Playhouse, but I wasn’t a huge fan. I did like Chair-y though 🙂

    1. LOL. Yep, Chair-y. There’s another creature from his Playhouse days that looks a lot like Mike from Pixar’s Monster Inc. There’s debate whether they took that character idea from Playhouse. Really interesting.

  8. Actually, I agree with Catie – which is why this is another movie I’ve never seen! Then again, I hated Napoleon Dynamite the first time I saw it. Thought it was kinda funny the second time, and brilliantly hilarious the third. Go figure…

    1. I guess you’ll just have to plan for three film showings. Might I suggest a pairing dish of Mr. T cereal?

  9. I remember giggling about the “big buts.” Fit right in with my eternal 5th grade sense of humor : )! Loved the way you presented this – I haven’t thought about Pee Wee in forever!

    1. I give credit to my sis. When she mentioned it, I was literally like “OH MY GOD! Can’t BELIEVE I forgot that one?!” Clearly, he needed a post of his own. LOL

  10. […] Witkins’ post I Know You Are, But What Am I took me back to the brilliant, quirky humor of Pee-Wee Herman in “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.”  […]

  11. Clueless about Pee Wee. So, to be honest, I’ve never seen any. I know Sesame Street but somehow, Pee Wee Herman didn’t reach my side of the world growing up.

    1. I’d say watch it now, but then you’ll just think, “What was Jess doing recommending THIS?!” LOL Classic kids humor of my day.

  12. hahahaa
    though i never saw it , it looks like an interesting one:)

    1. You know you want to now.

  13. This is the first movie I ever bought. Picture it: there was a time when my entire film collection consisted of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure on VHS, sitting alone on a bookshelf. It’s still one of my favorites, and my son and I quote from it all the time. (“Oh, I think we all know what this is supposed to mean!”)

    My favorite scene is when Pee-Wee is on the Alamo tour, and he keeps rolling his eyes. Try to watch that scene without laughing — but you have to watch his eyes. And when he talks to his dog Speck on the phone.

    Great movie and a great post. Thanks, Jess!

    1. I just picked this number up from the library and will be reliving all its glorious charm with my roommates. I can’t wait. “What’s the significance? I DON’T KNOW!!!”

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