Combustible Celluloid
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With: Paul Reubens/Pee-wee Herman, Elizabeth Daily, Mark Holton, Diane Salinger, Judd Omen, Jan Hooks, Morgan Fairchild
Written by: Phil Hartman, Paul Reubens, Michael Varhol
Directed by: Tim Burton
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 90
Date: 07/26/1985

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)

4 Stars (out of 4)

A Loner and a Rebel

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Tim Burton made an extraordinary feature debut with this odd, slightly dark, and certainly cartoonish film based on the cult TV series "Pee-wee's Playhouse." Paul Reubens stars as the boy-man Pee-wee Herman, who lives a strange mix of a life, combining childhood pleasures with adult responsibilities; he uses a toy to water his lawn and his "shopping" trip consists of visits to a magic shop and a bike shop. His most prized possession is his super-extraordinary bike (the film opens with a dream sequence of Pee-wee winning the Tour de France with it). Unfortunately, despite a couple of hundred yards of chains and locks, it's stolen. A medium tells him that he will find it in the basement of the Alamo, and he begins a cross-country trip to get it back. Pee-wee uses his strange logic and uncanny good luck to maneuver the harshness of the road, but it helps that this world is only partly real. When he runs out of money, he has to wash dishes in a diner (wearing a hairnet over his tiny slick of hair), but at no other time does money become an issue. Mostly the film is filled with bizarre jokes that only grow funnier as the film's cult appeal increases; it wears its 20 years well. It was made for kids, but I imagine that 90% of its audience now consists of squealing grown-ups. The heavy metal band Twisted Sister makes a cameo, performing "Burn in Hell."

DVD Details: Warner Home Video's DVD is still one of the best. The old laserdisc was matted wrong, so that one could see some of the behind-the-curtain tricks. Now it's properly presented in its 1.85-to-1 ratio. It has a commentary track by Burton and Reubens, and a second music-only track with commentary by composer Danny Elfman. The disc also includes a trailer and production notes.

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