Thursday, July 4, 2013

Beetlejuly: Pee Wee's Big Adventure

Tim Burton had left the Disney Company and although his short films garnished positive feedback, they were never given the proper releases they deserved. However, Paul Reubens aka Pee Wee Herman had grown attracted to Burton's films and thought he was the perfect guy to direct his feature length debut, Pee Wee's Big Adventure. Not only was this Burton's full length debut, but it was the start of a long and still lasting relationship with composer Danny Elfman who at the time was the lead singer of the band, Oingo Boingo. Pee Wee's Big Adventure is a grand movie but like Vincent and Frankenweenie before it, it has some pretty intense stuff that the kiddies might not be too fond of at first viewing. Nevertheless, the first word that comes to mind with this film is fun, pure, nonstop fun that lasts until the end credits start rolling. This is probably Burton's funniest flick and when you hear the name Pee Wee Herman, you know you are in for some crazy, off the wall and erratic excitement. This film is without a doubt a never-ending realm of madness.

Pee Wee Herman lives in a house with an ingenious breakfast making machine and a dog named Speck. His most favorite thing in the world is a bike and when the spoiled neighbor Francis demands that Pee Wee sell him the bike, Pee Wee obviously declines. Things change when Pee Wee's bike mysteriously vanishes and in an act of nervousness and rage, he goes after Francis and interrogates every other person he knows to see if they know anything about the missing bike. Pee Wee then visits a fortune teller who tells him that the bike is hidden in the basement of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. As he makes his way there, he realizes that the Alamo has no basement, but he eventually finds out that the bike is in the possession of a spoiled child actor. Disguising himself as a nun, he makes his way to Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank and after being chased throughout the studio, he rescues a bunch of animals from a burning pet shop and even gets an entire movie based around him starring James Brolin and Morgan Fairchild. Pretty complex plot, huh? I like to think of this movie as a cross country road trip kind of movie, only it involves an immature man going after his ridiculous looking bike. What makes this movie so grand is the perils and pickles Pee Wee gets himself into on his quest to find his bike and the people he meets along the way. He meets a hobo, a fugitive, a waitress who dreams of going to Paris, a bunch of bikers and Large Marge. Anyone who has seen this movie can't deny that this is the part where our jaws dropped to the floor.

The character of Pee Wee Herman is a childish, egocentric fellow, but then again, it's Pee Wee Herman, what do you expect? Paul Reubens has a lot of energy while portraying the character and this is something that would carry on in the television show, Pee Wee's Playhouse and the film's sequel Big Top Pee Wee (it has a talking pig in it!). I think what I like most about the character is that you don't know what he will do next. One minute, he's dancing to "Tequila", the next minute, he's impersonating Mr. T, the next minute, he's scaring away muggers in an alleyway in the pouring down rain. He can be cheerful one second and intimidating as heck the next which makes him all the more fascinating and fun to watch. I think my favorite scene is the scene where he is talking to his breakfast and he pours Mr T. Cereal all over it, singing Lalalalala as he does it. That scene always made me chuckle for some reason. Another favorite scene of mine is the breakfast making machine sequence. I think we all dreamt of having a machine like this and I think it's the perfect homage to the great Rube Goldberg. The Danny Elfman score that plays over it is probably the film's most well known and cherished composition and it has been heard on television commercials, television series and other movies. Every time you hear the tune, you immediately think of this scene and it made the movie even more iconic than it already was. In fact, all of Danny Elfman's compositions are marvelous, giving us that sense of wonder and suspense when it is most needed. There's a calm harmonica tune in some scenes and then there's a full force orchestrated tune in others. Danny Elfman is one of the greatest film composers of all time and his score for this film is one of his finest.

Now let's talk about some of the film's unpleasant moments. I was never too fond of the dream scene where Pee Wee sees his bike get destroyed by demented doctors and Francis dressed as a devil. It's a real frightening sequence and turned me off of this movie when I was younger. I was also never fond of the Large Marge scene or the scene where Pee Wee tackles Francis in the swimming pool. I was one of those kids that never liked to go underwater in the swimming pool, so you can see why I didn't like this scene when I was a toddler. But the scene that really dropped the ball was the scene where Pee Wee is driving with the fugitive in the dead of night and he sees all these signs on what turns to make. Holy crud, that was an intense piece of cinema and Danny Elfman's score really made my heart beat even faster. This film has a lot of intense moments that may make you pee yourself or hide in the closet, but in the end, the film is a comedy of madness and one of the funniest films ever made in my opinion. Like I said before, Pee Wee Herman is a riot and although I see why some may be annoyed by him, he's still charming and witty and worth half a million laughs. The scene where he and the fugitive disguise themselves as husband and wife is sure to make you chuckle endlessly and the scene where Pee Wee is out in the forest with all the woodland creatures is also laugh worthy. I also think that the chase through the Warner Bros. lot is the supreme highlight of the movie and it's fun to see the menagerie that unfolds as Pee Wee races through the place on his newly found bike. He runs into Santa Claus, a guy dressed up as Godzilla, and even the heavy metal band Twisted Sister. The final scene where we see Pee Wee's movie gives us one more laugh before the time is up (Paging Mr. Herman, Mr. Herman) and to give us a happy ending, we see Pee Wee and his new squeeze Dottie ride their bikes across the drive thru movie screen. It's iconic, it wraps up the movie well and leaves us with a feeling of satisfaction, a upbeat feeling. The film was followed by a sequel entitled Big Top Pee Wee and although it's considered to be inferior to the original, it's still a laugh fest and has Danny Elfman return for the film's score. Did I also mention that there's a talking pig? They are always awesome.

Pee Wee's Big Adventure is one of my all time favorite comedies and it was only the beginning for Burton in the feature film director's chair. This flick prompted Warner Bros. to hire Burton to direct a film involving a guy who dresses up like a bat, but the film wouldn't get off the ground for some time. In the meantime, Burton got busy directing another cult movie about dead people and a guy named after a star. Tune in next time and we'll talk all about it.

By the way, Happy 4th of July!

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