By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Searching for his bike.
Due to the release this weekend of Pee Wee’s Big Holiday I thought it would be appropriate to go back and take a look at the ‘80s classic that started it all. Here we have Pee Wee (Paul Reubens) living with his small pet dog Speck inside a home full of colorful contraptions. His prized possession is his bicycle, which he takes great care of and carefully chains up every time he leaves it alone. However, a hateful bully named Francis (Mark Holton), who is from an affluent household and used to getting whatever he wants, decides that he wants Pee Wee’s bike for himself. When his monetary offer gets rejected he then hires a professional thief to steal it for him, which sends Pee Wee on a mad frenzy across the country to try and retrieve it.
The movie is an exercise in high camp that could’ve easily failed, but instead it succeeds mainly because it doesn’t put the eccentric main character into the real world, but instead pulls the viewer into the quirky 10-year-old mindset of the protagonist. Here we don’t deal with people who reject or mock him, but instead much like with all children he becomes the ‘king of his own domain’ where he is liked and accepted by most everyone he meets and in control of all situations while the harsher realities get ignored or overlooked completely.
The film also manages to accentuate Pee Wee’s odd personality with garishly colorful set-pieces and odd contraptions that almost become the film’s main attraction. Reubens plays the role in an engaging manner, but the character’s persona is one-dimensional and could border on getting annoying had it been the film’s sole avenue of humor, but fortunately director Tim Burton manages to give the film a complete vision by instilling a storyline and visual design that match the weirdness of its protagonist and makes the proceedings come off as fresh and inventive.
I also liked that it wasn’t geared completely towards children, but instead made to attract those of all ages with a taste for the offbeat and absurd. Going the kiddie flick route would’ve made it come off as formulaic and infantile, but instead by emphasizing the surreal it becomes intriguing and impossible to predict.
The loosely structured script, which was co-written by Reubens and actor Phil Hartman, manages to go a long way on what amounts to being pretty much just a one-joke premise, but it does eventually start to lose steam by the 60-minute mark only to recover in grand style at the end with a delightful chase through the backlot of the Warner Brothers studio. It is similar to the ending used in Blazing Saddles where the film breaks the fourth wall and becomes a movie-in-a-movie although I felt this one was funnier than the Mel Brooks version.
The film is sprinkled with a lot of cameo appearances as well with my favorite ones being Milton Berle as well as James Brolin playing Pee Wee in the Hollywood movie version and Morgan Fairchild as the Hollywoodized version of his girlfriend. I also got a kick out of Jason Hervey who is best known for playing Fred Savage’s older brother in ‘The Wonder Years’ and who does a very funny caricature of a spoiled child film star here.
The film is also known for making the ‘50s instrumental ‘Tequila’ by the Champs a very recognizable melody. In fact it is almost impossible to think of the Pee Wee character and not have that melody start to play in your head, or if you do hear the melody playing somewhere you can’t help but have the image of Pee Wee pop-up when you do. However, in the actual film the song ends up being played only briefly.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: July 26, 1985
Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes
Director: Tim Burton
Studio: Warner Brothers