pacing is ideas
who framed roger rabbit and pee wee’s big adventure are both manic, cartoon-logic movies with ironically adult undertones. so why does roger rabbit feel so much slower? why is pee wee better?
at the end of the day, roger rabbit has one idea. one joke. the joke is that the juvenility of cartoons is incongruous with the grit of noir, but both are equally fantastic products of the hollywood industry. i want to say it’s pointing out that cartoons are already dark and noir is already cartoonish, but i don’t know that it’s actually doing that. the movie expects us to find adult cartoons and silly noir too inherently funny for me to really buy that interpretation.
don’t get me wrong, there’s a very cool idea in there, a joke about how looney tunes is funny because it lacks consequences whereas crime is about consequences. but the movie doesn’t do much with that idea. instead it tells its joke a hundred times. it doesn’t complicate the joke. it’s a like a group of writers sat down to brainstorm a single scene, and instead of throwing out all but the best joke at the end of the session, they used every one of them. it doesn’t kill its darlings. it wants us to know all the jokes about cartoons that it can do. this means that despite the fact that it seems like the movie is telling lots of jokes, it feels oddly slow and dragged out because it’s really just telling the one joke.
who framed roger rabbit is tropey in the classic sense: it reminds us of tropes we already know (cartoon, noir), and the pleasure it causes is the pleasure of recognition. the pleasure of the bluntest of remixings. the cartoons in roger rabbit aren’t as funny as the original cartoons because the movie is reminding us of jokes rather than telling them.
pee wee also seems like it has one joke. the joke being: pee wee looks like an adult but behaves like an innocent sexless child. like roger rabbit the movie is a play on a more serious genre, the art house vibe of the bicycle thief. it’s been a long time since i saw the bicycle thief, so i might be remembering incorrectly, but i do not believe that pee wee ever refers to the visual aesthetic of that movie directly. it also doesn’t (again, remind me if i’m wrong) sample from one specific genre of comedy for its lighthearted side.
but pee wee’s joke is only a starting point, and its references provide context rather than content. pee wee has a ton of ideas. it is a classic example of the “but/therefore” writing adage that south park’s writers once talked about. the gist of the advice is that good stories are not a recitation of events, but a procession of cause and effect. pee wee feels fast-paced because every time something happens in it, a new problem develops. a new weird interlude happens. there is, generally, newness. and when something new might happen, you pay attention.
pee wee resembles the original looney tunes more effectively than roger rabbit does because, like them, it plays with a familiar premise (wile e. coyote always tries and fails to catch the roadrunner, bugs bunny always defeats an unsolicited foe with cleverness, despite his childishness pee wee always floats through the world unscathed), but never rehashes.
tropiness is by its nature reverent. reverent of tropes and the affection we have for them. and reverence is joke-stopping. thought-stopping. despite pee wee’s ‘innocence,’ the movie is way more effectively irreverent than roger rabbit and its cynicism because it is irreverent about tropes themselves. it’s not pledging fidelity to reproducing a trope. looney tunes are similarly constantly culturally referential, and similarly, they never take the references seriously.
you can afford to not take references seriously when you have ideas.