...the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure

90 min. | Dir. Tim Burton | Rated PG

In recent years, Tim Burton’s palette seems to have shrunk to two clashing tones: pall and sheen. Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd represent the former, while Big Fish and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory represent the latter. The tones cover everything, especially the charm of the source material, like someone who tells all stories in one of two ill-fitting inflections. It wasn’t always so, as a brief perusal of his early movies reveals. These were elastic models of visual wit and verbal economy, celebrating pop-trash culture like the neighbor who goes all-out at Halloween, making his yard into a funhouse for trick-or-treaters to get a little scared in when not laughing in delight. The first of his feature films, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, follows the titular boy-man on a quest to recover his stolen bicycle. Each new chapter of adversity he greets with single-mindedness and a sense of play—witness his look of innocent excitement when he dresses up as the girl of a prison escapee in order to fool the cops at a road block. (The comedy represents the rarest of movie miracles: it's both good-natured and very funny.) Pee-Wee’s nemesis is, on the surface, the same kind of person as him: a boy stuck in a man’s body. But like the earlier and later Tim Burton, there’s a key distinction: one is the embodment of childlike wonder and imagination, the other is stuck in a state of arrested development. (At Mondo Celluloid Friday July 17.) // CHRIS DAVIDSON

[Written for, but, due to space limitations, cut from a July issue of The District Weekly.]


Condiment said...

Pee Wee is undoubtedly Burton's best film; we've been saying this for years. It's also important to point out that the late SNL genius Phil Hartman co-wrote the script. Bravo!

CMD said...

Hey sir. Yes, it's a good one. And it's one you can watch w/ kids, as we did. I'm on board w/ Burton through Ed. Scissorhands, and some of Sleepy Hollow's pretty good. But Pee Wee, oh Pee Wee--Great stuff.