DirectorWayne Orr & Paul Reubens
Release Date(s)1988 (October 6, 2015)
Studio(s)Herman World, Inc. (Shout! Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C
Pee-Wee Herman was, and still is, an 80’s icon. Both adults and kids alike enjoyed him for how charming he was and all of the crazy adventures he would get into. It all started with Paul Reubens’ HBO stage show that morphed into the cult classic Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (one of my personal favorite movies), and then later, the Saturday morning extravaganza Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. It was such a beloved show by its fans that it even managed to get its own Christmas special, simply titled Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special. Everything contained within this special is an encapsulation of both the show itself and the era that it came out of.
During the 1980’s, and to some extent the 1990’s, it was still a great time to be a kid watching TV. In today’s world of hyperactive cartoons and both movies & TV shows with little to no agenda other than to reach a plateau of family-friendly or widespread appeal, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse still feels like a breath of fresh air. It’s a completely zany show that’s on the verge of being both performance art and expressionism, but at the same time, still manages to garner both child and adult appeal without ever treating its audience with kid gloves. It’s a shame that this so-called “nonsense” doesn’t exist anymore. Sure you have things like Adult Swim, but for kids? Nothing even comes close to this.
That zaniness is never more apparent than in the Christmas Special. It attempts to be a normal episode of the show with all of the usual visits with Chairry, Cowboy Curtis, Jambi, and The King of Cartoons (amongst many others), but it also attempts to graft a Christmas message onto it. It doesn’t really work, in hindsight, but the point was more about the entertainment than the message. This special also features a cavalcade of cameos from various tiers of celebrities of the era. It’s an odd assortment, to be sure, and feels like the creators were getting whomever wanted to be involved and/or whomever would agree to do it. You have Annette Funacello, Frankie Avalon, Cher, Little Richard, Dinah Shore, Whoopie Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Charo, Grace Jones, and several others. It’s certainly dated in that respect, but again, this is a show concerned with Pee-Wee’s antics and not much else.
Looking back at something like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special, you realize that a lot of kids today just don’t get this kind of programming anymore where it’s all about pure silliness, and the exploits of Pee-Wee Herman had that in spades. In today’s world, most people watch this show purely for nostalgia... or through a drug-induced haze. In any case, it’s nice that shows like this were saved and are still around for those who remember and appreciate them.
The video quality found on the Blu-ray release of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special is quite excellent. It has been remastered from the original elements and it certainly shows. It’s a show that was always a little on the soft side, but it now looks better than it ever has. There’s a very nice amount of fine detail on display with a very lush color palette. Black levels, as well as shadow details, are also impressive. There are also satisfactory brightness and contrast levels with no apparent signs of digital enhancement, nor are there any major flaws from the footage itself left behind. The only audio track available is an English 2.0 DTS-HD track stemmed from the original mono. It’s just as lively and kinetic as you could want, with clear dialogue and ample amount of breathing room for both music and sound effects. It’s also a very clean soundtrack, with little to no intruding hiss. It’s a terrific presentation, overall. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
This special was released once before as a standalone DVD by Image Entertainment and then later as a part of Shout! Factory’s boxed set of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse: The Complete Series. This release is a port of the disc found within that boxed set, and all of the extras from both of those releases have been carried over. Originally found on the Image Entertainment DVD were two audio commentaries: one with Paul Reubens, co-writer John Paragon, animation producer Prudence Fenton, and actress Lynne Marie Stewart, and the other with puppeteers Kevin Carlson, Ric Heitzman, George McGrath, Alison Mork, John Paragon, and Wayne White. Shout! Factory has also added a new featurette entitled A Very Merry Christmas Special, which delves into the making of the show, speaking to various people behind the scenes.
Although I think most hardcore fans of Pee-Wee might have already forked over the cash for The Complete Series set of shows, there are also some people out there who simply have nostalgia glasses on for this particular show, so it makes sense to give it a considerably cheaper, separate release. If you enjoy the exploits of Pee-Wee Herman, this is a nice trip into a time machine to an era where shows like this existed, and that’s certainly not a bad thing.
- Tim Salmons