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Pee-Wee, Please Come Home.

By Coury Turczyn

JUNE 12, 2000:  It's the kind of celebrity bio tailor-made for a whole slew of E! True Hollywood Stories or VH1 Behind the... specials: A fame-hungry stand-up comedian climbs over the backs of his friends to become the biggest children's TV entertainer of the decade...before having his career come tumbling down when caught spanking the monkey in a porno theater. Gosh, it almost sounds like the script for one of those dark indie comedies they used to make. But while poring over the sordid details of Paul Reubens' rise and fall may be morbidly fascinating, it overshadows the fact that his work as Pee-Wee Herman was brilliantly funny stuff.

Exhibit #1 is the new DVD reissue of his crowning achievement, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (PG, 1985). Sure, the 1982 HBO special The Pee-Wee Herman Show had already introduced the character (in a somewhat racier form), but it hardly prepared audiences for this explosion of cartoon colors, giddy action, and offbeat characters.

Rarely has there ever been such a happy confluence of young, new talents: Tim Burton making his directorial debut, Oingo Boingo leader Danny Elfman creating only his second film score, and Reubens bringing his little-known character to the big screen. And it all comes together amazingly well.

The story is simple stuff: When Pee-Wee's beloved bicycle is stolen, a fortune-teller informs him that it's been hidden in the basement of the Alamo. Thus, he goes on a cross-country journey of discovery. By keeping the storyline straightforward, Reubens and Burton free themselves to delve into the alternate universe that is Pee-Wee's world, a place where you don't have to really grow up if you don't want to. Pee-Wee's Big Adventure conveys a child's viewpoint with maniacal glee, with classic scenes including Pee-Wee's showdown with a biker gang, his run-in with Large Marge, and his antsy battle with boredom during a tour of the Alamo. Burton's fondness for cartoon imagery works perfectly here, and Elfman's score is a brilliant filching of classic movie music.

Thankfully, there are extras galore on this DVD edition. At long last, we can see deleted scenes that show the "boomerang bow-tie" in action and that reveal the origins of "Amazing Larry's" mohawk.

We also get commentary tracks aplenty, including Reubens, Burton, and Elfman discoursing on their work. (Somewhat sad is the lack of due credit given by Reubens to his co-writer, the late Phil Hartman.) This DVD edition is such a wonderful production that it makes you forget the cheap cardboard packaging and the missing promised extras (like footage from the MTV premiere party and Pee-Wee's stage work).

Perhaps it'll inspire Mr. Reubens to once again don the gray polyester suit and make the nation's children-at-heart laugh some more.


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