Surely there are few tastes more "acquired" than the one for Pee-wee Herman. No one could be blamed for not "getting" the bizarro character created on stage by actor Paul Reubens and lovingly made into a movie star by director Tim Burton, in his feature-film debut Pee-wee's Big Adventure. You kinda sorta either love Pee-wee or you hate him, and I'm firmly in the former category.
For my money, Burton's never made a better film than Pee-wee's Big Adventure. It's a purely creative movie that one must admit has no equal in cinema history (for better or worse). Scripted by Reubens, his Groundlings colleague Phil Hartman, and Michael Varhol, the film finds man-child Pee-wee living in a Rube Goldbergian funhouse of his own design. Pee-wee's suburban bliss can only be interrupted by another overgrown child, jealous rival Francis Buxton (Mark Holton). Francis wants Pee-wee's tricked-out, cherry-red bike, so when our hero refuses to sell, Francis has the bike stolen. Narrowly avoiding total insanity, Pee-wee heads off on a cross-country journey to track down his beloved bike. The picaresque mondo road movie that follows puts the innocent Pee-wee in constant danger at every stop he makes in lunatic-fringe America, and none more so than his final destination of the Warner Brothers lot.
Pee-wee is pretty much the show here, and Reubens delivers a brilliant comic performance as the adenoidal, naive, immature, blithely selfish, but ultimately good-hearted Pee-wee. Only this guy would believe a psychic's Hail Mary lie that the bike has been stashed in the basement of the Alamo. Only this guy would make his last request, on threat of death, to dance to the Champs' "Tequila" (and the dance Reubens invents for the occasion is brilliantly insane). Pee-Wee's Big Adventure delivers non-stop hilarity, in no small part because the concept is like nothing ever seen on screen before: imagine if Mr. Rogers got brain damage and fell in love with a bike, and you'll still only be close to grasping how weird, and wonderful, this highly original comedy can be (not so incidentally, Reubens would make Pee-wee the successful star of his own Saturday morning kiddie show a year later).
If Pee-wee is the show, Burton is the showman, letting his imagination run wild with loopy camera angles and lenses, crazed sets (brought to life by production designer David L. Snyder), a scary-funny dream sequence, a unique vision of postcard America, and a mad, mad, mad, mad climax filmed in Hollywood's backyard. Topping it all is what may be the finest comedy score ever written, by first-time film composer Danny Elfman, of suitably weird rock band Oingo Bongo. Pee-wee's Big Adventure was film history in the making...call me crazy, and I'll know you are, but what am I?
In its Blu-ray debut from Warner, Pee-wee's Big Adventure sports the natural look. Film grain remains intact, and Warner has admirably resisted any digital tampering with the source. So here is the film, warts and all, as it first appeared in 1985, with its relatively low budget photographic effects helping to erode the film's sharpness from time to time. If the film looks soft (with so-so black level endemic to the source), it also has noticably improved detail over DVD and truer color, both of which will please Pee-wee and Burton fans no end. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix similarly gives the source materials a boost: though it's not very impressive at capitalizing on rear channel support, it's all about that Danny Elfman score, which sounds bouncier and fuller than ever.
The Blu-ray preserves the bonus features first made available on the 2000 DVD issue, beginning with a commentary with director Tim Burton and actor/co-writer Paul Reubens. It helps Burton to be in conversation: the talkative Reubens picks up the slack from the typically quiet director.
Also here are "Production Sketches and Storyboards" (11:25, SD), narrated by production designer David L. Snyder; four "Deleted Scenes" (11:10, SD); a Music-Only Track with Commentary by Danny Elfman (Dolby Digital 5.1, so not lossless, but also worth a listen for Elfman's comments), and the "Theatrical Trailer" (1:26, SD). With the simultaneous release of Pee-wee's Broadway show, it's time for fans to dance on the nearest bartop.
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