Although a spin-off from the children’s TV series, this big-screen adventure is inventive enough to paste together its slim narrative with great charm.
Pee-Wee Herman, all rubbery limbs, ultra-tight grey suit, red bowtie and made-up face, loses his precious shiny red bicycle – the keenest bike in the world – and chases it all the way to Hollywood.
The chief suspect is Pee-Wee’s portly and rich neighbour, the equally child-like Francis Buxton (Mark Holton), who has attempted to buy the bicycle many times without success.
Pee-Wee consults disreputable psychic Madame Ruby (Erica Yohn) who tells him the bike is being held in the basement at the Alamo.
He duly sets off on an epic road trip, encountering riotous adventures with bikers, bums, cowboys, cons, phantom trucker Large Marge (Alice Nunn) and a love-starved waitress with wanderlust.
Warner Brothers eventually buy Pee-Wee’s story and turn it into a film with James Brolin as “PW Herman” and Morgan Fairchild as Dottie. Pee-Wee is dubbed in a cameo as a bellhop.
Tim Burton’s full-length movie directorial debut did modest business on release but is generally regarded to be a minor cult classic now thanks to the whimsical, almost plotless, strange and sometimes delightful nature of the picture which is awash with inventive ideas and rich designs and capped by a great score by Danny Elfman – who uses circus-themed music to mesh with the colourful visuals and Pee-Wee’s singularly weird and wonderful little universe.
A familiar route is enlivened by Herman’s engaging innocence and energy, as well as the surreal, brightly-coloured world created around him. The result is surprisingly very funny.