Hired primarily for his work on "Vincent" and "Frankenweenie," Tim Burton turned out to be the perfect director for the adaptation of the über-wackiness of The Pee-wee Herman Show. Brightly lit and full of obnoxious, circus-like color, it doesn't immediately strike you as the sort of material usually associated with the gothic filmmaker, but hidden deep within the comedy's flamboyant and dazzling display of richly-saturated primaries, we see bits and pieces of his darkly macabre quirkiness that would soon become commonplace in his follow-up films. Gaudy, strikingly unconventional and overall just plain silly, 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure' is a freakishly funny kids flick mostly because Burton embraces the story's eccentrically gonzo edge and explores it to the fullest.
The movie was mostly born from the success of Paul Reubens portraying the weird man-child Pee-wee Herman on stage. The original show was very much adult-oriented with several in-your-face innuendoes — a twisted homage and adoration of 1950s children's television. With the help of close-friend Phil Hartman, he wrote a heavily tone-down version the average family could enjoy. Once Reubens received his own bicycle to ride around the Warner backlot and Burton was hired, Hartman and he rewrote the script into a crazy road movie where Pee-wee is a fully-developed personality. We're never told of his origins or history. Audiences simply accept he's a grown man who basically refused to grow up, developing an amusing obsession with 1950s memorabilia and inventions.
When his bicycle is mysteriously stolen while out shopping, Pee-wee is sent into a manic frenzy to retrieve his beloved and totally customized Schwinn DX. Deciding his friends were going to be of little help — except for the enamored Dottie (Elizabeth Daily) — Pee-wee hits the road like the true devil-may-care rebel he is. During his quest to find his missing bike, he's introduced to a wonderfully line-up of peculiar characters, like lonely-hearts Simone (Diane Salinger) and bad-tempered fugitive Mickey (Judd Omen). The adventure also has him bumping into a tough biker gang where Cassandra "Elvira" Peterson shows an interest in him, and Pee-wee interrupts a Twisted Sister music video. Most memorable, of course, is the hilarious Large Marge (Alice Nunn) segment and Pee-wee's dance to The Champs surfer tune "Tequila."
Along with Burton and Reubens making their big-screen debuts, Danny Elfman, frontman of the immensely popular and whimsical Oingo Boingo, makes a name for himself as film composer. For Boingo fans, undoubtedly, Elfman originally made his debut writing the score for his older brother's musical comedy, 'Forbidden Zone.' But in all honesty, that weirdly eclectic little flick featuring Fantasy Island star Hervé Villechaize didn't exactly open doors for the highly-talented musician the way 'Big Adventure' obviously did. Nevertheless, his brand of mischievous, carnival-like orchestration adds to the film's flight of the imagination exuberance.
In total, the three men make the perfect harmonized blend of outlandish escapism adults can laugh at along with the kiddies in the audience. We can even dare to go so far as to say the film was made for grown-ups to enjoy without having to excuse it as a guilty pleasure. There's an element to the story and Pee-Wee's characterization where we see a little of our own childhood behavior and attitude towards the world on display, the kind of immaturity we eventually grow out of. And it's made all the funnier in an adult who never gave up being a kid. Over the years, 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure' has become a cult favorite of the 1980s, almost iconic in the minds of its fans because it somehow encapsulates the decade's more animated and high-spirited flare for life. That and it continues to deliver the laughs without disappointment.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Home Video brings 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD25 disc and housed inside a blue eco-case. Once in the player, the disc goes straight to the main menu with the standard selection, music and a static still of the cover art.
Pee-wee rides his fantastical bike to Blu-ray with a great-looking AVC-encoded transfer that's every bit the loud, colorfully rambunctious comedy it's ever been. Immediately apparent when compared to the previous DVD release, the palette is saturated with richer, full-bodied primaries and fairly bold secondary hues, giving the movie a playful, jolly appeal. Contrast is comfortably bright with vibrant, crisp whites from beginning to end. Black levels are quite robust and opulent for a 26-year-old film with great, steady fluctuation in the grayscale. Visibility in the darker portions of the image and the few nighttime scenes remain strong throughout, although grain appears thicker and more evident during those same segments. Definition and resolution are a terrific improvement with more distinct detailing in the finer objects and textures.
Only noticeable issues are age-related, such as softness or a significant change in quality during the poorly-lit sequences. But aside from that, Tim Burton's debut film looks excellent on high-definition video.
On the audio front, things are looking equally good with an entertaining DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that brings all the clownish delights to life.
All the action is keep in the fronts, which is expected of a stereo design, but imaging feels spacious and welcoming with excellent balance between the channels. Dialogue is precise and intelligible in the center of the screen, allowing for every childish, outrageous remark from Pee-wee perfectly audible and clear. Dynamic range shows terrific clarity and differentiation between the mids and highs so that listeners never miss a single detail of the film's eccentricity and absurd action. Low-frequencies effects are not wholly impressive, but do provide a bit of depth to the overall mix with some added punch for certain scenes requiring it. The rears are primarily reserved for lightly extending Danny Elfman's wonderful score, making the entire lossless presentation a memorable and satisfying experience to a fun, whimsical little film.
For this Blu-ray edition of 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure,' Warner Bros. offers the same assortment of supplements as the previous DVD releases.
Paul Reubens, Tim Burton, and Danny Elfman made their big-screen debuts on the eccentrically outlandish children's comedy 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure.' As the tagline announces, it's the story of a rebel and his bike, but it's a flight of the imagination road movie as the hilarious man-child Pee-wee Herman goes in cross country search for his beloved bicycle. It's a comedy that continues to entertain. The Blu-ray comes with upgraded audio and video even though the movie did not receive the remastered treatment. Supplements are the same as the DVD release, but the overall package is a great buy for fans of Paul Reubens, Tim Burton, Danny Elfman and the Pee-wee Herman persona.