Saturday, October 31, 2015

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)

They say in art, context matters.  It refers to the fact that the artist imparts a certain amount of meaning to the art piece.  Take two different artists.  Even if they create the same work, it’s not the same.  Then again, no two artists will generally create the same piece.  This tends to be more evident with certain actors and directors.  Take Paul Reubens.  Anyone that grew up in the 80s (or raised a kid in the 80s) knows him primarily as Pee-Wee Herman.

From what I gather, Rubens was given an HBO special way back in 1981 called The Pee-Wee Herman Show.  This was supposed to have had more of an adult spin to it.  (It’s available on Netflix, but not streaming at the moment.  I’ll have to check it out some other time.)  In 1985, Tim Burton directed the more kid-friendly Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, which apparently led to the TV show that I remember watching as a kid.  (For some reason, I remember thinking it was the other way around as a kid.)

Anyway, the story goes that Pee-Wee is a really big kid.  He lives in a house that Rube Goldberg would be proud of.  We get to see an overly complicated breakfast routine before Pee-Wee goes to see his beloved bicycle.  He takes the bicycle into town to pick up a few things, most notably a bike horn modified to be really loud.  When Pee-Wee goes back to his bicycle, he finds that it’s been stolen.  He files a police report, but is told that there’s not much they can do, due to lack of evidence.

There’s only one person that could have stolen it, though:  Francis Buxton.  Francis is a similarly adult-sized child who seems to have a thing for Pee-Wee’s bicycle and it’s Francis’s birthday.  Francis oh so desperately wants the bicycle.  In fact, it turns out that Francis paid someone to steal it.  Now that it’s hot, though, Francis has to get rid of it.  With the help of a psychic, Pee-Wee believes that his bicycle is in the basement of the Alamo.

This is one of those movies that people will either love or hate.  I can deal with surreal humor.  I can even deal with a movie that takes a while to get going, assuming the buildup is good.  However, I’ll admit that part of watching the movie was the nostalgia.  I didn’t remember much of the film’s beginning except for Francis‘s pool/bathtub.  I remember the dinosaurs, which apparently still exists in Cabzon, CA.  I remember the scene at the drive-in, which apparently doesn’t still exist.  (It’s also safe to say that I remember the Alamo.)

I think part of the problem is that it’s geared towards kids, almost to the point of excluding parents.  Like Masters of the Universe, I can also see a lot of parents sitting through this, begging for a quick end.  The childishness of Pee-Wee is over the top throughout the entire movie.  In fact, it wasn’t the 1991 incident in Florida that did the character in.  Rubens had decided to retire the character due to exhaustion.  (I remember seeing once that all public appearances during that period were in character.)

The movie is goofy and will probably appeal to anyone willing to give it a chance.  Not everyone can take that kind of intensity, though.  There are a few scenes that make it worth it.  The bar scene alone is memorable.  (Just shout “Tequila” to anyone who’s seen the movie.)  I’d recommend getting it streaming.  You’ll probably know in the first five minutes whether or not you can take the rest of the movie.

Interestingly, there appears to be a new movie scheduled for 2016 called Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday, set to be released through Netflix.  I’m hoping it will be streaming, as I’d like to check it out.  It will be interesting to see how the character does, considering that he hasn’t been on air much over the past 20+ years.  Paul Rubens will be reprising his role.  To be honest, I doubt any other actor could portray Pee-Wee Herman.  Except maybe James Brolin.

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