|"Is this something you can share with the rest of us, Amazing Larry?"|
On the surface, this is the featherweight story of a seemingly naive, innocent man-child -- comedian Paul Reubens as the self-described "loner" Pee-wee Herman -- and his quest to recover his beloved stolen bicycle, which has been taken from him by a jealous and spiteful neighbor. And, yes, Pee-wee is supposed to be a fun, happy, lovable character who will appeal to kids in the audience.
But, admirably, the film does not shy away from showing the dark side of both its title character and the world in which he lives. This is a whimsical movie, sure, but it also contains moments of unsettling surrealism. It even takes some of its visual cues from decidedly adult crime and horror films. At times, director Burton seems as influenced by German Expressionism and film noir as he does by the 1950s children's TV hosts like Soupy Sales, Pinky Lee, and Buffalo Bob Smith who inspired the Pee-wee character.
Surprisingly, Pee-wee's Big Adventure does not flinch when it comes to portraying the negative aspects of the title character's personality, particularly his paranoia and bad temper. It could be argued that what allowed Burton and Ruebens to move Pee-wee Herman from the world of sketch comedy where he was born (Ruebens played the character when he was a member of LA's Groundlings) into the world of feature films was making the character three-dimensional and complicated. A one-note Pee-wee couldn't sustain a whole movie. So Pee-wee is sometimes nice and sometimes not. He's unpredictable.
|An unhinged Pee-wee|
The crime has brought out the worst in Pee-wee, and the scene is a portrait in extreme paranoia. In a very short span of time, he has ceased to be a harmless, free-spirited eccentric and has become a suspicious, angry, accusatory monster with a tendency toward megalomania. What is shocking is that it took so little to bring such a momentous personality shift.
Burton uses lighting very effectively here, casting shadows on Ruebens' face to give him a threatening, unfriendly appearance. Quite often during this scene, Reubens is either partially or completely in shadow. Darkness frequently obscures his facial features, giving him an air of vague menace. And Danny Elfman's score for this scene seems more typical of a tense Alfred Hitchcock thriller. Even Pee-wee's charming, clutter-laden house, seen briefly at the beginning of the scene, looks a little ominous at night. Note, too, that everyone attending this meeting seems to have gotten there on a bicycle. Just another odd, surrealistic touch.
In this scene, Pee-wee Herman is allowed to act in a manner totally unbecoming the star of a children's film. He yells. He paces. He spouts completely nutty conspiracy theories and keeps his "guests" virtual captives for hours on end in a stuffy basement. Even Pee-wee's little dog, Speck, is afraid of him.
Perhaps the most startling moment is when Pee-wee lashes out verbally at Dottie (Elizabeth Daily), the adorable bike shop employee who is the closest thing the film has to a romantic interest. It took real guts on the part of Reubens and Burton to allow their hero to be portrayed so negatively at this early stage in the film. A more timid film might have worried about alienating the audience, but Pee-wee's Big Adventure gives us more credit than that.
Besides, Burton must have rightly figured that audiences would go along with this scene simply because it was so funny. The dialogue throughout this sequence is hilarious. Nearly every line is quotable, so I'll limit myself to excerpting this unhinged monologue, the best of its kind outside of Humphrey Bogart as Fred C. Dobbs in Treasure of the Sierra Madre:
"When you've gone over something again and again and again and again like I have, certain questions get answered. Others spring up! The mind plays tricks on you. You play tricks back! It's like you're unraveling a big cable-knit sweater that someone keeps knitting and knitting and kitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting!"Oliver Stone, eat your heart out. This is the greatest "conspiracy monologue" of all time.
|"Why? What's the significance? I DON'T KNOW!"|