(Insomnia Theater) Pee-wee’s Big Adventure Review

Insomniacs Unite for: Pee-wee’s Big Adventure
By Bret Dorman

A sort of personal philosophy of mine is to keep people on their toes. Whether it’s myself, friends, or strangers, I like to shake things up every now and then. Part of this philosophy means that when I am home alone, I will do things (talk in a funny voice, walk in a funny way) that are solely for my pleasure. Part of this philosophy means that when I do something that someone else will see, I don’t need to be there to see them see it. Example: I used to fill out ridiculous comment cards at one of my jobs, cards where I would draw dinosaurs or recommend that we get a giant fish tank. I wasn’t there to see the person’s reaction as they read the cards, but the premise alone is funny enough. Later, I found out that every single one that I wrote was sent to the corporate office. Which means some random person I’ve never met had to look at a comment card that had a bunch of dinosaurs on them. That was part of their job.

I’m not one of these people who doesn’t care what anyone thinks of them. Of course I want people to like me. But I don’t obsess over it and I certainly don’t compromise for it. I have a weird sense of humor and when I’m out with others, I don’t mind showing it. As long as I can keep myself entertained, with offending anyone else in a vulgar way, I’m okay with that. People say that you are your own harshest critic, which is true, but you are also your own best audience.

With that in mind, I can totally relate to a character like Pee-wee as he goes on his Big Adventure. The world he populates is a weird one, but even so Pee-wee stands out as the weirdest of the group. And he’s also his own biggest fan.

Classic Pee-wee poster.

Classic Pee-wee poster.

The Story: Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) lives a simple life full of complicated Goldberg’s machines, childish toys, and the bestest bike in the whole wide world. All of that changes on one fateful day when his bike is stolen. Pee-wee must leave the comforts of his own private little world to get it back safely. Along the way he meets hardened criminals, ghost truckers,a francophile waitress and her Bluto-ish boyfriend, dangerous bikers, a whiney boy actor, and himself… in movie form! Also, The Alamo does NOT have a basement, no matter what any palm reading/income tax-doing psychic tells you.

Pee-wee might come off as a simple character, but as expressed in the intro, it takes a lot to amuse oneself so consistently. Not only does he make extremely complicated machines out of toys to make his breakfast, he plays with his food before only taking a couple of bites and deciding he’s had enough. He leaves the house only to be confronted by his biggest nemesis, but luckily Pee-wee is equipped with all the standard childish comebacks and retorts that he is able to defeat him easily. And even as Pee-wee rummages through the magic shop, full of items he’s seen before I’m sure, he plays with each and every one with the same jokes as always and equally as amused as the first time he did them.

A Hitchcock-ian poster version of this missing bike-thriller.

A Hitchcock-ian poster version of this missing bike-thriller.

Of course all of these moments are Pee-wee in his comfort zone (even when bickering with Francis). Once his bike is stolen, he is forced to go out into the “real world” and confront the scary dangers that he normally avoids. We all laugh when Pee’wee puts on his serious face and says “I’m a loner Dottie, a rebel” but the truth is, he’s right. Other than his dog Speck, Pee-wee lives alone in his own delusional world. He rebels against society by refusing to grow up. Even amongst “normal” rebels like hardened criminals, tough bikers, overly enthusiastic tour guides, and angry brutish boyfriends, Pee-wee still manages to be an outsider amongst these outsiders.

By grounding itself in an absurd reality, Tim Burton and the writers (Paul Reubens & Phil Hartman and Mark Varhol) are able to keep the entire movie one long feverish cartoonish day dream. And amidst all the mayhem, it is Pee-wee himself and his reactions that usually get the biggest laughs. Sometimes it is his seemingly naiveness, or his participation in it, like when Mario, the magic shop owner, teases Pee-wee with fake blood. Even though Pee-wee knows its fake, he still pretends to be grossed out by it, then laugh it off. Or sometimes it is Pee-wee’s signs of frustration. Normally he is happy-go-lucky, but when he is oh so close to his goal, The “Basement of The Alamo” he huffs and puffs his way through Jan Hooks’ tour without repeating any of the Spanish words and even showing signs of disgust at those who do. Wisely, the women of Big Adventure don’t laugh or scoff at Pee-wee, but instead seem overly obsessed and taken with his charm. Elizabeth Daily as Dottie is constantly after his attention and she’s cute to boot, yet Pee-Wee remains singularly focused on the task at hand.

A glimpse into the mind of a mad man.

A glimpse into the mind of a mad man.

To me, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is a model comedy for people looking to make absurd and light comedies. Like Airplane!, Wayne’s World, Wet Hot American Summer, and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World there seems to be a joke a minute injected into the script, whether its word play or visually based. The movie is saturated with tiny moments that prove its the tiny things in a movie that keep people coming back for more.

Like with Insomniac Theater alumni Beetlejuice, Burton once again manages to showcase the madness and scariness of his titular character in one crazy scene. Sure this may be a colorful and silly comedy, but in Pee-wee’s basement, his charcoal gray suit blends in with the dark interior. His obsessiveness over details turns into an excruciatingly long dissection of the day in question and its 217 pieces of evidence that may or may not be connected. When confronted by a pack of thugs, Pee-wee simply hisses them away instead of coming up with some creative gag to win them over. This dark look into Pee-wee’s inner psyche provides a troubling insight that carries through the rest of the film and makes us wonder if Pee-wee really is in control of his happiness or covering up something deeper…

Why This Movie Is Perfect For Insomniacs: We all dream of adventure and greatness, of having a purpose and accomplishing something great with ourselves. The great thing about Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is that Pee-wee Herman acts as a surrogate and allows us to have the dream journey of a lifetime without sacrificing our jobs, bank accounts, or sanity. And if we are going to get to something this crazy, it has to be in the Midnight Hour, where anything seems possible. Lastly, during the renovations at Bow-Tie at Reston Town Center didn’t put in a basement, but rest assured, if they did, that’s where all of the Insomnia Theater Movies would be shown.

Instantly Recognizable.

Instantly Recognizable.

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