Friday, July 13, 2012

Tim Burton Tribute: Pee-wee's Big Adventure with Les

Hey everyone, welcome back to our tribute to everyone's favorite eccentric, dark, yet goofy mastermind of film, Tim Burton. Today we're going to cover his very first film that he ever directed. A movie that has a combination of everything; laughs, scares, atmospheric scenes, convicts, bikers, hobos, the coolest bike in the world, the Alamo, and so much more. I'm talking, of course, about Pee-wee's Big Adventure.

After Tim was fired from Disney due to the fact that they thought that Frankenweenie was too scary for kids, he was giving many scripts from many movie studios for him to direct. Tim, uninterested in every single one of them due to it not using his creativity to his full potential, rejected them all. However, the same movie that got him fired would inspire one man to use Tim as a director for his first feature length film. That man's name was Paul Reubens, who played the crazy, zany, and lovable man-child Pee-wee Herman.

Already becoming a cult hit among many people thanks to his stage show that was filmed by HBO, The Pee-wee Herman Show.

His many appearances on late night talk shows such as David Letterman.

As well as being one of the first mascots for MTV.

For his first feature film, he needed a director that was very artistic and eccentric. When he went to a screening of Frankenweenie, 30 seconds into the movie, Paul knew that Tim was the one. Long story short, Tim accepted and the movie Pee-wee's Big Adventure was made. 

Joining me today is Manic Expression's beloved administrator, talented piano man, and long time Pee-wee Herman fan, my buddy Les. Thank you so much for joining me, Les.

Les-  Thanks for having me here, my friend.  I’ve been looking forward to doing a collaboration blog with you, so WOOT!

Patricia- Now, before we begin on the review, how were you first introduced to Pee-wee?

Les-  Believe it or not, my father found it while flipping tv channels.  We landed on Pee-wee’s Big Adventure right as he was trying to escape the Warner Brothers Studio Lot on his bicycle, and from there, we sought out the tv show and have been fans ever since.

Patricia- I was first introduced to Pee-wee when I saw Pee-wee's Playhouse. I was around 3 or 4-years-old. I didn't see it all the time because my family and I are Seventh-Day Adventists and we would go to church every Saturday. Even if we didn't go, TV was still forbidden to watch unless it was a nature show or a Christian program. However, I still snuck downstairs early in the morning to watch Jim Henson's Muppet Babies, Pee-wee's Playhouse, and more. To this day, I still faintly remember sitting in my living room seeing Pee-wee interacting with his friends Chairry, Clockey, Globey, Ms. Yvonne, Cowboy Curtis, and watching the cartoons like the Penny cartoons and El Hombre.

Les-  Yep, that show was pure unadulterated fun, alright.  It’s like he managed to bottle up all the joy, creativity and playfulness of childhood and shared it once a week to forget about the rigors and stresses of real life while you were with him.

Patricia- Alright then. Let's get this review started. Does this movie still ride our way to our hearts after over 25 years after its release or does it crash and burn for its obscurity? Let's journey our way into Pee-wee's Big Adventure

Warning:  Spoilers and awesome silliness ahead.....

The movie starts off with a group of bikers riding the Tour de France. The race is going smoothly until Pee-wee rides his bike swiftly towards the finish line. Yay! He's crowned by Miss France and wakes up to find out it was all a dream. He plays with his toys, crashes a Mr. Potato Head with his fire truck, slides down a pole, and suddenly wears his iconic tight gray glen plaid suit, red bow tie, and white loafers. Seriously, where did he get that pole? Did he borrow it from Batman and Robin? Is there a factory of poles that when you slide down, it changes your clothes when you land? If so, I want one.

Les-  Oh HELL YES, I want one of those poles too, only mine would put me in a Superman Outfit LOL!

Patricia- He activates his breakfast machine that looks like he's stole the blueprints from Rube Goldberg from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. 

He's has his breakfast containing eggs, pancakes, a strawberry nose, and a bacon mouth and pours Mr. T cereal all over it.


Patricia- Speaking of which, have you ever tried Mr. T cereal? If so, what does it taste like? Because everytime I see that cereal, I've always wanted to know what it tasted like.

Les-  Yes, tasted like Kellogg’s Corn Pops, actually.....

Patricia- Oh, really? Interesting. So, Pee-wee rides his bike to the Promenade and stops by Mario's Joke Shop. He picks up a few items there and stops by at Chuck's Bike-o-Rama. He picks up a horn from Dottie, one of the co-workers from the bike shop. She tells Pee-wee that she would like to have a date with him at the drive-in, but Pee-wee tells her no in one of the most memorable quotes in the whole movie. "There are some things that you wouldn't understand. Things you couldn't understand. Things you shouldn't understand. I'm a loner, Dottie. A rebel".

Les-  Ah...don’t forget his rivalry with next door neighbor spoiled rich kid, Francis, who was pestering him to let him ride his bike in the classic Kindergartener argument....It’s sort of a plot point later on, but I digress.......

Patricia- I remember that scene. So funny! 

Anyway, he leaves the bike shop to find that...oh no! His bike has been stolen! He looks frantically everywhere for it, but can't find it anywhere. He runs back to Chuck's Bike-o-Rama, screams, knocks down all the bikes on display, and faints. After recovering, he knows that he must find his bike quickly or else it'll be too late. 

Les-  Naturally, he goes to the Police to try and put out an APB on his valuable bike, but they can’t really do that, but during the questioning, Pee-wee comes to the conclusion that Francis had the bike stolen....he rushes over....has a battle of wits with the butler(Who resembles Oddjob from Goldfinger) and attacks Francis in his Olympic sized bathtub(one of the funniest scenes in a film ever....).  Francis’ Dad breaks it up and makes Pee-wee and Francis shake hands and apologize to each other....Pee-wee gets even with some Joke Gum before leaving.

Patricia- Knowing that he has to find the bike alone, he goes to the most reliable source of information: Madam Ruby's Fortune Telling. While walking to the fortune teller in the pouring rain, he's approached by a bunch of thugs who wish for him to leave their turf. Pee-wee hisses at them and they ran away scared. An interesting fact about this scene is that Tim Burton is playing one of the thugs in the movie. 

Madam Ruby tells Pee-wee (falsely, of course) that his bike is located in the basement of the Alamo. So, our adventure begins! 

He meets up with Mickey, a convict who commited a questionable crime of ripping off the Do Not Remove label from a mattress. While driving, a slew of cops block the road trying to find Mickey. Mickey pulls out his gun, but Pee-wee comes up with a better idea. They disguise each other as a married couple. It works flawlessly, but hilariously when Pee-wee is disguised as the wife. 

Les-  Yep, one of the goofier drag queen disguises in a film, then Pee-wee accidentally drives the car off a cliff and they both have a screaming moment during the fall that I think Bill and Ted spoofed on their fall to Hell in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.  Fortunately, the soft top of the convertible works as a parachute and they survive.  Mickey ends their partnership immediately after.

Patricia- After Mickey drops him off, Pee-wee is picked up by a trucker simply known as Large Marge. She starts telling him a story of the worst accident she had ever seen. While describing it to him, she pulls out something that no one ever expect it. "And when they finally pulled the driver's body from the twisted, burning wreck, it looked like this...

Holy crap! That scared the hell out of me when I first saw it!

The stop motion animation was done by Rick Heinrichs, who has done a lot of work for Tim Burton. If you're looking for someone to blame for giving you nightmares due to Large Marge, that'll be Rick. Also to a small extent, the Chiodo Brothers.Looking at it now, I laugh at this scene because its just comes out of freaking nowhere! It's something that you can show kids to this day and it catches them off guard. It's awesome! 

Les-  Yeah, I’ll second that.  It’s almost as good a shock scene as the chestburster in 1979’s Alien.  Both scenes were unexpected, shocking and had never been done before and were endlessly copied since...the difference?  Large Marge’s surprise made me laugh my ass off!

Patricia- Finally, he makes it to the Alamo. Making his way to a tour through to the Alamo, the guide named Tina tells the history of the Alamo and its people. Can you say "adobe?"

Les-  OMG!  If this scene doesn’t piss you off, I don’t know what to tell you.  Who hasn’t had something really important to do, but was stalled by someone official who had something endlessly trivial and annoying as hell that they forced you to suffer through before you could do what you wanted to do?COUGH! DMV COUGH!.....

Patricia- After waiting patiently for the tour to end, he asks the question of where the basement is. Tina laughs and tells him that there is no basement in the Alamo. Pee-wee was shocked and runs away from the Alamo. Still to this day, the term of "There's no basement in the Alamo" is being used. Whenever people go to the Alamo, they've asked tour guides that same question after the tours end. Some of them get the joke. Others don't. In the end, it has made the Alamo a more iconic place to visit like the Cabazon Dinosaurs. 

An interesting thing to note is that Jan Hooks, the woman who played Tina, was a Groundlings member, like Paul Reubens. She improvised the entire scene of the tour through the Alamo. That's truly amazing! 

Les-  Yeah, she also put that talent to good use for her stint on SNL.

Patricia- There's actually a YouTube video that you can see in which Pee-wee actually discovers that...there IS a basementt in the Alamo. This took place at August 2011, right after he did the guest apperance in Top Chef: Texas. You might be wondering why I didn't include this in my top 10 Pee-wee Herman moments of 2011. Well, I was a bit disappointed. Sure, we're not allowed to go down there and it's not part of the tour, but knowing that it does exist kind of takes the charm away. Still, I still love that scene and if I ever have a chance to go to San Antonio, the first place I'll go is to the Alamo.

Les-  Yeah...that's just wrong!  There is no basement in the Alamo....NOPE!....No basement.  I can't hear you LA! LA! LA!  LA*fingers in my ears.

Patricia- Now we cut to the infamous biker bar scene. Pee-wee tries to make a phone call, but couldn't hear himself speak due to the bikers speaking too loud. After trying to quiet them down, he upsets him and tells him to leave the bar. He accidentally knocks down all their motorcycles and they force him back in to think of ways to make him pay! He asks for one last request and he does, what is in my opinion, my favorite scene in the movie, he goes into the jukebox, borrows a pair of white capezios from the cook, and he dances the iconic Pee-wee dance or Tequila dance as some people call it.

The song that was playing in the jukebox was the 1958 song "Tequila" by the Champs and it was brought back mainstream again similar to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" when Wayne's World was released. 

Paul Reubens has said that the dance came from a joke that his father use to tell them. It ended with him putting his thumb from his mouth to his rear end and moving them both back and forth. Pretty bizarre, isn't it?

Les-  It also includes his signature walk on his tip toes strut on the bar top.  Try it sometimes, it’s damn hard to pull off, my friends....

Patricia- It's interesting to note that it was one of the most popular dance fads in the 80's. In 1986, Joeski Love released an album with the song "The Pee-wee Herman" that included dance moves. Before the Macarena, before the Dougie, before the LMFAO dance, the Pee-wee dance was the dance of the ages. As you've read in my top 10 Pee-wee Herman moments of 2011, it's still popular to this day, especially to NFL players. 

Les-  Also, my hometown college team, the University of Washington Huskies’ unofficial theme song(after the fight song, Bow Down to Washington) Is Tequila!...YEAH! BABY!  YOU BET WE SAW SOME PEE-WEE DANCE STEPS THAT YEAR LOL!

Patricia- After Pee-wee steals his bike again, he goes through an awesome chase scene. Riding through the Warner Bros. studio, he rides through a filming of a beach movie, a Godzilla movie, a Christmas movie, and a music video by Twisted Sister. Finally escaping from the lot, he sees a pet store on fire. Pee-wee risks his life saving the dogs, cats, birds, monkey, mice, and the snakes. Similar to Indiana Jones, Pee-wee is afraid of snakes, but unlike our whip-weilding hero, Pee-wee gets up the courage to save them from harm. Although he does faint in the end.

Les-  You can’t really do the bike chase justice just by text.  You have to see this scene.  The bike is loaded like Q branch from the James Bond films got their hands on it and accessorized the shit out of it.  Seriously!  Who else has a bicycle with detachable handles in case someone tries to grab them?  I also liked the Tarzan swing over the lagoon scene LOL!  THEN, after the police catch him, what does the studio do?  Press Charges?....Nope!  They offer him a movie deal to film his life story!  This is brilliant!

Patricia- Today Pee-wee's iconic red bike is on display in many places, but the one that is the most known is the Hollywood Museum in Los Angeles. But starting next year, it'll be on display at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. alongside other things from Pee-wee's Playhouse like Chairry and the door.

Les-  Wow!  Yet another reason I really need to go see the Smithsonian Museum LOL!

Patricia- Also, an update! Apparently, a few objects from Pee-wee's Playhouse are going to be on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on July 29th for an exhibition called "Century of the Child". Kevin and I are going to visit that exhibit! We can't wait! 

Les- The film concludes with a Drive in screening of the movie they made and Pee-wee and Dottie bringing concession snacks from the snack bar through the parking lot distributing snacks to nearly everyone Pee Wee interacted with in the film while stopping to appreciate the scenes that Pee-wee is in(He plays a Bellboy in the hotel scenes with a hysterically bad voice dub “Paging Mr. Herman.....Mr. P.W. Herman.....”  Playing the character of Pee-wee in the film falls to James Brolin and Dottie is played by Morgan Fairchild.  It’s hysterical seeing the sexy stars doing these roles, and the actual Pee-wee Herman cameos in it are just perfect.

Reaching their bikes, having given all the food away except for the last boxes of candy, Francis shows up giving an interview to reporters attempting to get his chance to sit on the bike.  Pee Wee finally agrees, and Francis’s triumph is short lived as the bike’s ejector seat flings him away.  Pee Wee and Dottie ride off together.

Patricia- Overall, this is a fantastic movie. It has a great balance of humor, atmosphere, and zany fun. This is just as much fun for kids as well as adults. The movie has aged extremely well. The jokes still work, the quotes are memorable, the characters are lovable, and the scenes are eye-popping and atmospheric, just like Tim Burton is known for. It's just a shame that when it comes to Tim Burton movies, this is the least recognized. To quote my buddy Caseen Gaines, the author of Inside Pee-wee's Playhouse, "Although many still choose to view Pee-wee's Big Adventure as Burton's "film before he got famous", that's simply an unfair claim. Pee-wee's Big Adventure is the movie that made Burton famous. By the director's own admission, the success of the film was the catalyst for Warner Bros. giving the green-light not only to Beetlejuice, but to Batman. The collaboration between Burton and Elfman, that began on Big Adventure, has lasted 25 years and will certainly continue for many more, creating memorable themes for films like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Edward Scissorhands". 

Les-  I agree.  These two artistic geniuses were tailor made for each other and the film was just phenomenally great.

Patricia- My hypothesis to why this movie isn't as recognized as much is because of the 1991 "incident" that happened to Paul Reubens. During those years, many people felt uncomfortable and forbade showing Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Big Top Pee-wee, or Pee-wee's Playhouse to their children during movie nights or film screenings. Today, that has completely changed! Thanks to the amazing comeback of Paul Reubens and Pee-wee, many people are remembering how much Pee-wee impacted their lives again. The Broadway show brought them back happy memories of their childhood. 

They're also screening Pee-wee's Big Adventure in drive-in theaters and silver screen theaters again. This year alone, I've heard about 10 events that are doing this. 

Les-  Yeah, I’ve never understood why the media made such a big deal out of the “incident”....honestly!  It’s not like little children would’ve been at the Porno theater to be traumatized by what he did, right?  Now, if he’d done it in the Playhouse...that would’ve been different.  I’m glad he’s made the comeback and a whole new generation can be entertained by the manchild who makes us laugh and remember how much fun being childish really is.

Patricia- So Les, do you recommend Pee-wee's Big Adventure?

Les-  Without hesitation.  You know, I screened it two months ago for my daughters, aged 10 and 11.  They’d never seen Pee-wee Herman or the TV show, and within 20 minutes, they fell in love with him.  It’s now their favorite film, with The Muppets coming in a very close second.  There’s just such a charm and charisma about it and some undeniably funny scenes that would entertain almost anyone.  For anyone out there who’s missed this film.  Go ahead and treat yourselves!  You deserve it, my friends. 

Patricia- Here's hoping that upcoming Pee-wee movie produced by Judd Apatow will be just as memorable as Big Adventure. Regardless if it looks good or not, I'll be the first to buy a ticket.

Les- I will too, my friend. I look forward to Pee-wee's return on the big screen. 

Patricia- Well said. That concludes our review of Pee-wee's Big Adventure. I hope you enjoyed it and I'm hoping that you check it out whenever you have the chance. If you have a favorite quote or scene that you want to mention to us or if you have fond memories of this movie or Pee-wee, post it in the comments below. Les, thank you so much for joining me. I had a lot of fun and I was glad that I was able to go over this movie with you.

Les-  Me too, my friend.  Next time, I’ll have you over on my blog.  

Patricia- Well, hope to see you around Old School Lane real soon. Tune in next time as Kevin and I discuss Beetlejuice. Take care.

-Patricia and Les

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