Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Pee-Wee's Big Adventure

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly rant about one of the many, many movies in my home video library.  Today, we do the film that launched the directorial career of Tim Burton and made Pee-Wee Herman a star, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure.  This rant is originally dated March 15, 2012.

So, after my adventures with The Last Unicorn, I was ready to laugh. Just for the heck of it, I threw in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure.

Tim Burton is, perhaps, the first director I identified with. Well, not so much identified with, as identified. I think it was watching Burton on The Tonight Show plugging Batman Returns that I started learn that a film director is a person and a thing you can be and that's when I really started getting engrossed in how movies are made. So, right when I was discovering all that, Tim Burton was there. As such, I've grown to love his movies, and when DVD became I thing, I vowed that I would get all of Tim Burton's movies on DVD.

(And, as I mention whenever I blog about Burton, I'm still missing Sleepy Hollow and Mars Attacks!, so keep that in mind for Christmas/birthday/I-love-you-and-want-you-badly presents)

So, of course, that means starting at the beginning, and Burton started his feature film directorial career with Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. And for that, we can thank Paul Reubens. A quick history: Reubens created the character of Pee-Wee Herman when he was with the Groundlings, the legendary improv/sketch comedy troupe in LA that's spawned a lot of Saturday Night Live cast members. The character became popular enough that Reubens created a whole stage show about him called The Pee-Wee Herman Show. It was a smash hit in theatres in LA, and Hollywood execs soon approached Reubens about giving Pee-Wee a movie. Reuben's original idea was to do a spoof of Pollyanna. Rather than an adorable little girl coming to a gloomy small town and teaching everyone how to cheer up...it would be Pee-Wee. But, after a few visits to a real movie studio, Reubens saw everyone riding around on bikes, and that's when he got the idea. The movie would be about Pee-Wee and his bike. So they had a movie, but now they needed a director.

Enter Tim Burton. Burton began his career as an animator. And, like all animators in the early-80s, he was working at Disney. He hated working at Disney. He's gone on record as saying it was the unhappiest time in his life. And Disney execs at the time admitted that, with Burton's trademark dark gothic style, they really didn't know what to do with him. But still, some tried to give him a shot. He made his beloved short films Vincent and Frankenweenie with Disney, but eventually he got fired. He liked directing movies, though, and Burton figured he'd try his hand at that. Well, Reubens saw Frankenweenie and figured that was the vibe he wanted for Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Burton signed on to direct, and the rest is history!

I was a child of the 1980s, and I'm sure you'll agree that Pee-Wee was everywhere. Even though Reubens created the character to be a gross parody of the kids' show hosts he remembered from his youth, he became the quintessential 1980s kids show host, and it all started with Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. I must have been 9 or 10 when I first saw it, and I loved it.

I'm sure you remember the film. Pee-Wee Herman is an overgrown manchild, and he loves his bike. Who can blame him? When I was 10, I thought it was the coolest bike in the world, too. And so does the villain in this film, spoiled rich manchild Francis Buxton. Buxton conspires to have Pee-Wee's bike stolen, and of course, Pee-Wee is devastated. Pee-Wee begins a relentless search for his bike, and Buxton starts to feel the heat, and Buxton orders his thug to dispose of the bike. In a moment of desperation, Pee-Wee consults a fraudulent psychic, who tells Pee-Wee that it's in the basement of the Alamo. So, Pee-Wee is off on an Odyssey to Texas to find his bike, and meets all sorts of wacky characters along the way.

Sadly, once he arrives, he discovers that the Alamo has no basement. In his desperation, he winds up in a bar, where he has his famous dance scene. That ends in tragedy, and while recovering in the hospital, Pee-Wee sees his bike on TV! It's in a movie, and being presented to a bratty child star. Pee-Wee heads to Hollywood, gets his bike back, and ends with an amazing chase scene across a Hollywood backlot. Pee-Wee is captured, though, when he stops to save all the animals from a burning pet store.

However, the movie studio chooses not the press charges, instead being fascinated by Pee-Wee's story of his quest for his bike, decides to turn his story into a movie. There's a truly epic movie where all the characters he met on his journey come to the drive-in in Pee-Wee's home town to catch the premiere. And I truly like the ending. It's a nice, quasi-romantic ending. Pee-Wee's watching the movie with Dotti, the woman who's had a crush on him for the entire film. Pee-Wee suggests they take off early. Dotti says, "Don't you want to see how it ends?" and Pee-Wee replies with the classic line, "I don't need to see it, Dotti. I've lived it."

And the Danny Elfman finale soars. My God, the music. This was Danny Elfman's first film score, and one of the scores that made me fall in love with film scores as a music genre. It is just so hummable and catchy and amazing.

But after all these years, the one thing that strikes me is this film is funny.  More than 25 years old this film now is, and things like the Large Marge scene still make me laugh.  And I kind of go "Aww..." at the ending. 

And it's kind of neat getting to see the face behind a famous voice.  The aforementioned Dotti was played Elizabeth Daily, aka E.G. Daily, the renowned voice actress.  Perhaps her best known role is Buttercup on Powerpuff Girls.

But yeah.  It's just a funny, sweet film. 

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