Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

(Second viewing, On TV, March 2017) It had been a very long time since I had watched Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and while some of it stuck (Large Marge, obviously, but also a chain-pulling gag that’s sadly not visible in the widescreen version) much of it hadn’t … and that’s not even talking about the ultra-whimsical vision of the film. Paul Reuben has a checkered history by now, of course, but time softens all scandals and it’s certainly possible to watch this big-screen feature without too much baggage. It helps that the film is so joyously eccentric, from the opening Rube Goldberg machines to the final flip into metafiction. In-between remains, well, a road movie leading to a Hollywood satire. What a program. While Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure may not be strictly hilarious, it is steadily odd and charming at once. It’s a movie almost entirely without peers—a rare quality whether we’re talking about 1985 or 2017. Paul Reuben is unique as Pee-Wee Herman, almost perfectly matching Burton’s vision for the film. It makes for a strong first feature for Burton and one that has aged remarkably well since then.

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