Pee-Wee Herman (Paul Reubens) owns the coolest bicycle in the world, bar none - candy apple red, heavily customized and sporting "James Bond stuff", it is the envy of all, especially spoiled rich kid Francis (Mark Holton, the anti-Pee-Wee), who has it stolen and shipped off to parts unknown; thus begins Pee-Wee's odyssey to find his beloved bike, in a sort of On The Road as directed by Buñuel.
Perhaps the best way to approach Pee-Wee's Big Adventure is as a sort of alternate universe story, like Stuart Little, where the most bizarre happenstances are regarded as normal. No, scratch that... the best way to approach this is with an open mind. Frankly, I went to the theatre not expecting much; I had seen Reubens' HBO special, and expected more of the same; I was astonished and completely delighted by what I got instead, a thoroughly magical and beguiling experience, if rather on the goofy end if the spectrum.
This is Tim Burton's first feature film, and he speaks of it lovingly as an opportunity to direct several film genres under one roof (his career since has seemed an effort to direct each of those genres one-by-one). It's also Danny Elman's first film score. This movie is a laudable example of everything coming together just right, of last-minute commitments bearing sweet fruit. It remains its own creature, one that no one even dares try to imitate. (Well, there was Big Top Pee-Wee, but I think that sort of proves my point.)
It's good to see this movie back in its matted form - the fullscreen videotape and TV prints were infamous for revealing several of the movie-making tricks utilized throughout - in fact, in their commentary track (See Extras) Burton and Reubens share a good laugh over that, and the fact that French critics lauded Burton for exposing the trickery of the filmmaking process! The print is flawless, and the 5.1 sound remix nicely done.
The disc includes nice bios for major cast and crew members (a section devoted to the writers alone!), and a nicely done section of production drawings and storyboards narrated by production designer David L. Snyder.
I always look forward to commentary tracks, and this special edition has two: the first, by Burton and Reubens, has several nice insights, including how Reubens decided to concentrate on the Pee-wee character after barely losing out on the Saturday Night Live cast (his unfortunate and stupid run-in with the law is never mentioned. Sorry, gossip addicts). The other track is music-only, with Danny Elfman commenting in between cues about his trepidation over scoring an entire film after six years of musical inactivity. Elfman is also refreshingly blunt about his lack of formal musical schooling and his influences in film scoring.
But possibly the gem of this collection is three deleted scenes; their exclusion tightened up the film immeasurably, but it is nice to finally find out just who the hell Amazing Larry is, and see the full climactic chase scene through the Warner Brothers lot.
You may not see a lot of family-oriented movies reviewed here at 50 Foot DVD, but this is one that I can definitely recommend for the kiddies (of all ages, it goes without saying). Sure, it has a couple of scary parts, but so does Disney. And I would much rather my kid learn "I know you are, but what am I?" than "Wassup?"
Freeman Williams, 6/21/00