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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Pee-wee's Playhouse is filled with silly slapstick comedy that many adults love as much as kids do. This '80s cult classic's creative incorporation of puppetry and various animation styles gives it visual appeal, and a recurring cast of quirky characters keep things unpredictable. Pee-wee sometimes behaves disagreeably and rudely, but it's meant for laughs and never has a negative impact on the other characters. Some of the show's humor is a bit subversive, but that part will probably go right over most kids' heads.
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What's the story?
PEE-WEE'S PLAYHOUSE stars Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman, the exuberant man-child who spends his days in a whimsical playhouse in Puppetland with an assortment of human and puppet friends. Mixing live animation, puppetry, animation, and vintage cartoons, the show introduces viewers to an array of wacky characters, including Captain Carl (Phil Hartman), Reba the Mail Lady (S. Epatha Merkerson), and Cowboy Curtis (Laurence Fishburne). The playhouse also is home to talking furniture such as Chairry the armchair (voiced by Alison Monk), Magic Screen (Monk again), and Mr. Window (Ric Heitzman). Running gags such as a secret word that prompts the characters to scream, and a wish that usually has unexpected consequences, make for even more laughs.
Is it any good?
Reubens pulls off a kind of Bugs Bunny trick in this show, entertaining the kiddies while giving grown-ups something to smirk at. The magic of Pee-Wee's Playhouse is its dual audience: Children notice only the show's imaginative charm, while adults warm to the sly subversive nature of many of the characters and situations. With decades having passed since the show's production, it's also fun to watch the early work of now-well-known actors Fishburne and Merkerson.
Most of the Playhouse gags still seem quite innovative today, and its incorporative animation style is a nice change of pace from today's CGI-heavy series. Pee-wee's cooking segments are particularly choice, as are any interactions with Jambi the Genie (John Paragon). Because so many adults find Pee-wee's zaniness enchanting, this '80s series is quite the cult classic. That said, though, Reubens' unique entertainment style can be an acquired taste, and it may not strike your fancy the first time you watch. Kids, on the other hand, won't think twice about loving it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether Pee-wee's behavior is suitable in Pee-wee's Playhouse. Is he a role model for kids? Should he be? How could kids approach a situation from the show differently, and why shouldn't they emulate his rudeness?
What, if anything, can you learn from these characters about friendship? Do they always get along? How do they resolve problems that come up?
Why does this show continue to be popular with viewers? Can you think of another character who can match Pee-wee's wackiness? Does he ever seem concerned about how other people react to his unique personality?
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