Pee-Wee's Big Adventure

1985, Movie, PG, 90 mins


Pee-wee Herman is not like the other boys. "I'm a loner... a rebel," he announces to his would-be girlfriend. He's a comic rebel without a pause. Inspired lunacy, PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE is one of the most inventive films in recent memory. This clever and wholly original work incorporates a wide variety of cinematic tools with a fresh and unique sense of style. Pee-wee Herman, a creation of writer-comedian Paul Reubens, is a great comic creation on a par with Chaplin's Little Tramp. Somewhat reminiscent of the most popular Jerry Lewis screen persona, Pee-wee is a magical, happy-go-lucky, occasionally mischievous little boy living in an adult body. What makes this seemingly moronic character work on an intelligent level is the cartoonlike environment he inhabits. In both structure and content, PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE often resembles a Warner Brothers cartoon. Like those classic animations, this film thrives on easily identifiable characterizations, simple plot motivations, throwaway gags, and an often surreal sense of logic, all mixed together with talent and ingenuity. The story gets started when the pride and joy of Pee-wee's life, his shiny red bicycle, is stolen. The police are of no help, so a crazed Pee-wee consults a fraudulent fortune-teller who tells him his bike is in the basement of the Alamo in Texas. Naturally, Pee-wee takes to the road.

The episodic plot is a perfect format for Reuben's comedy. For many this character was rather hard to take prior to this marvelous movie. In his nightclub act and numerous appearances on "Late Night with David Letterman," Pee-wee was bit too disturbingly manic, regressive, and grotesquely fey for some genteel sensibilities. He's just as frenetic and sexually ambiguous here but he is so thoroughly contextualized within his own beautifully realized world that he allows even the most traditional among us to get the joke. The smart and wacky script by Rubens and Phil Hartman (of television's "Saturday Night Live" and "The Simpsons) is given added vibrance by director Tim Burton (BEETLEJUICE, BATMAN, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, and FRANKENWEENIE). Burton's background as a Disney animator is perfect for the film; he gives PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE a wonderfully cartoonish look through design, lighting, and camera angles. Two stars were born with the release of this film--one in front of the camera and one behind it. One could also make a case for a third star here: Soundtrack composer Danny Elfman from the rock group Oingo Bongo provides a witty and manic score that bolsters every scene. leave a comment

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