Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Series present a tribute to the late Paul Reubens with a screening of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985), the directorial debut of acclaimed filmmaker Tim Burton, at the Royal on Monday, August 28 at 7 pm. Reubens, a comic celebrity here in L.A., was catapulted to national fame with his inspired creation, the man-child Pee-wee Herman.
The movie, basically a live-action cartoon, has a simple plot: Pee-wee Herman, a nerdy pre-pubescent boy in an adult’s body, searches for his most prized possession, a fire-engine red-and-white bicycle, which has been stolen. His comic odyssey takes him across the country, where he encounters an assortment of kooky characters. Former animator Burton previews his trademark quirky visual style in a series of vignettes scripted by Reubens and Phil Hartman. Both Reubens and Burton, working in a heightened natural landscape, make the zany and surreal trip seem credible as Pee-wee’s journey is suffused with rampant silliness, aided by tyro film composer Danny Elfman’s distinctive music. Pee-wee’s uninhibited antics and giddiness found reviewers both perplexed and enchanted. Some critics of the day made comparisons with notable and classic clowns of earlier eras such as Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Jerry Lewis. Others, such as the Christian Science Monitor, saw “a true original—a comedy maverick and film like no other.”
Two additional films (Big Top Pee-wee in 1988, and Pee-wee’s Big Holiday in 2016), a Saturday morning children’s series, “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” and a live Broadway show in 2010 among numerous other appearances would all demonstrate the cross-generational appeal of Reubens’ creation. Burton would go on to helm films which defined his Hollywood generation, including Beetlejuice, Batman, Ed Wood, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Alice in Wonderland, all in a decades-long collaboration with Elfman. But all that big-screen success started with Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, a comic lark with lasting pop culture significance. As Robert Lloyd, television critic of the Los Angeles Times, noted in a recent appreciation, “Paul Reubens is gone, but his ‘corny’ alter ego will live on in his own ‘unique’ universe…long live Pee-wee Herman.”