In three words: manic goofy weirdness.
This marked Tim Burton's directorial debut, and, not only was it a big breakthrough for him, but a big stepping stone for co-writer and star Paul Reubens (credited as Pee-wee Herman) and composer Danny Elfman.
The story follows the adventure of Pee-wee Herman, a lovable goofy man child who sets out on a cross country trip to recover his beloved bicycle that was stolen from him. Along the way he meets a wide variety of zany colorful characters, gets into some nutty situations, and truly does have a big adventure.
The film is extremely offbeat, but that's probbbaly why it has become such a beloved cult classic. It's also an exercise in style and genre hopping, from road movies to German expressionism, with bits of surrealism and a whole lot more. This is an utterly wacky and lovable movie, and I can't beieve it took me so long to finally see it.
I always sorta dug Pee-wee, even though a little bit of his shtick goes a long way. You really have to admire Reubens for his dedication to keeping in character, which isn't easy to do, especially with someone so delirious off kilter as Herman. Elizabeth Daily is good as Pee-wee's friend (who wants to be more than friends) Dottie, Diane Salinger is fun as a waitress named Simone who longs to see Paris, and Judd Omen is great as Mickey- the criminal on the lam who Pee-wee hitches a ride from.
Lots of Tim Burton trademarks started here, from the misunderstood social outcast protagonist, to the partnership with Elfman, the offbeat style and crazy art direction. Speaking of all of that: it's top notch, especially Elfman's delightful score.
All in all, this is a real gem. It's definitely not for all tastes, but if you crave something wacky, and odd, but still pretty harmless, then this is the film for you.