As a boy growing up in the mid-to-late ’80s, Saturday Mornings meant one thing…staying in your PJs until noontime and watching Saturday Morning cartoons like Dungeons and Dragons, Pac-Man, Hulk Hogan’s Rockin’ Wrestling, Mr. T and the Smurfs. In the Fall of 1986 (I was eleven at the time) several new series premiered including Galaxy High, Real Ghostbusters, Lazer Tag Academy and Teen Wolf, but perhaps the most memorable of all was the crazy, wacky, and cuckoo mix of live action, puppetry and animation that was Pee-wee’s Playhouse. The series starred Paul Reubens, reprising his role of the suit and bow-tie-wearing man-child from the very successful 1985 feature film, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, and the series was a throwback to kids shows of the 1950’s like Howdy Doody.
Featuring a catchy theme-song, loads of characters, Pee-wee’s Playhouse was instantly a hit with both of my brothers and myself. In each episode, Pee-wee invites the viewers (kids) into his magical playhouse “where anything can happen”. Conky reveals the secret word, we visit Pee-wee’s animated toy shelf, meet his playhouse friends, jump into Magic Screen for the connect the dot adventure, see a giant foil ball and there’s even a genie who grants a wish.
The show ran for five seasons until 1990 and every week it was the highlight of our Saturday morning marathon of TV viewing. Long after the episode was over we’d repeat lines from the series and scream ‘real loud’ for the rest of the day whenever one of us accidentally said that day’s secret word. It was a great show.
Fast forward 28 years and now there is Shout! Factory’s brand-new, remastered blu-ray box set of the entire series available for fans (like me) to relive all of their fond memories of the series and introduce Pee-wee to a brand new generation of viewers…ie. my 5 and 7.5 year-old daughters. Before exposing them to the series, I honestly wasn’t sure what my two little girls would think of Pee-wee. I hadn’t seen the series since I was a kid, would it even still hold up? Would they think Pee-wee was too weird?
Fortunately even after all these years, the series holds up remarkably well and quickly brought back all sorts of fond memories. Even at 39 years old I found myself still laughing at the same jokes that kept me entertained all those years ago. As for the girls…THEY LOVED IT. They were laughing along with the show, repeating lines, impersonating characters in their own little skits and screaming whenever the secret word was said. They’ve even tried out a few of Pee-wee’s craft projects all on their own afterwards.
I had forgotten how perfectly designed the show is for kids with a number of repetitive elements that kids especially look forward to appearing in each episode.The show does a nice job of adding some good life lessons into the mix and there’s even some humor for adults which obviously went right over my naive little head as a kid. At my daughters’ constant requests for ‘just one more episode’ and ‘more Pee-wee’ we’ve already watched through nearly half the series.
The complete five-season series set comes in an 8 Blu-ray set with over 20 hours of content including 4 hours of brand-new bonus featurettes, with cast and crew interviews as well as never-seen behind the scenes footage. Filmed especially for this set, these featurettes are really fascinating to watch and give you a great sense of the origins of the show and just what it was like behind the scenes of this groundbreaking, Emmy Award-winning series. You also realize just how many famous people had a hand in making the series and how many of them actively and eagerly sought out the chance to be a part of it. Sure, I knew that Laurence Fishburne played the part of Cowboy Curtis, but Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo) and Danny Elfman did some of the music, Peter Lord and David Sproxton (Wallace & Gromit) did some of the animation and many more people like Cyndi Lauper and even John Singleton had roles to play in the series’ production as well.
The only thing missing from the featurettes was an appearance from Paul Reubens himself.
As for the episodes themselves, this is easily the best this show has ever looked. One of the featurettes, describes all of the work that went into carefully remastering each episode, including some side-by side comparisons and the difference is like night and day. That being said, there was the occasional segment that had an ants crawling-like pulsating motion effect, but this usually passed quickly and the 1.33:1 picture looked crisp on my 55″ screen, the stereo audio track was more than sufficient for the material and all of the dialogue and music is clear and easy to hear.
- All 45 episodes of the series plus the Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special
- 1080p / 1.33:1
- Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0
- English Subtitles
All menus and bonus features are presented in anamorphic widescreen format and cover everything from the origins of the series from its start on stage, the music, set design, cast, puppets animation and even the Christmas special. A number of celebrities make appearances and I found these to be quite engaging and well-produced.
- Building The Playhouse (51:49)
- Opening The Playhouse (10:54)
- Writing For The Playhouse (18:42)
- The Look of The Playhouse (29:50)
- Music of The Playhouse (17:40)
- The Cast of The Playhouse (48:19)
- Puppets of The Playhouse (30:20)
- Animating The Playhouse (20:39)
- A Very Merry Christmas Special (10:03)
- Fans and Memorabilia of The Playhouse (13:36)
Shout Factory! has done a superb job delivering fans the complete Pee-wee’s Playhouse series in a form that looks even better than when they originally watched it. This is a must-have set for fans of the series and a stellar way to introduce newcomers. With hours of entertainment and a wealth of interesting and informative bonus materials to enhance the experience, you definitely get your money’s worth.