Last night I saw a movie for the first time that I’m surprised I missed as a child, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. I’m not sure how I made it this long without seeing it, but there were a lot of essentials I didn’t get around to until adulthood. I did watch Pee-Wee’s show when I was little, but then his “sex scandal” hit when I was six or seven and Pee-Wee became a pariah. While my mother thought the whole thing was much ado about nothing, it was hard to be pro-Pee Wee in those days. Luckily, Paul Rubens was able to return to Hollywood (albeit it mostly as creepy weirdos) and Pee-Wee himself has become acceptable once again, so I could watch his big-screen debut in a bar in Brooklyn with a bunch of other 20 somethings.
Pee-Wee Herman is man-child who lives in a kid’s dream house and has the coolest bike on the block. His bike is so awesome that fellow man-child, the spoiled rotten rich brat Francis, will stop at nothing to have it. While running a few errands, Pee-Wee returns to find his bike missing and is willing to do whatever it takes to find it, including traveling to Texas based on a psychic’s reading.
This is Tim Burton’s directorial debut and you can see the beginnings of his signature style all over this film. Burton loves quirky loners and while you laugh at Pee-Wee when he calls himself a loner and a rebel, he fits the definition. He seems to prefer solitude, entertaining himself in his playground of a home and definitely marches to the beat of his own drum. The mise-en-scene is very early Burton. Pee-Wee’s house could easily be nestled between the house from Beetlejuice and house from Edward Sissorhands. While he is now know for darkness and gloom, his earlier work had more of a circus theme. This was also the first film for frequent Burton collaborated Danny Elfman. Burton and Paul Reubens discovered Elfman when he was in the 80s band Oingo Bongo and asked him to do the music for the film. Burton and Elfman have now worked on thirteen more films together.
This film can be equally enjoyed by children and adults. This is mostly due to the fact that, while Pee-Wee is completely over the top, everyone he encounters plays it completely straight. It also has moments that are somewhat adult while still being kid friendly, like the Tequilla scene. I hate when kids’ movies slip dirty jokes in there to “keep the parents’ entertained”. A well-constructed story doesn’t need that.
This film features cameos from pre-Saturday Night Live Phil Hartman and Jan Hooks, who worked with Ruebens in the improv group The Groundlings, where Rubens developed the Pee-Wee Herman character. Hartman also co-wrote the script. There is also a random performance by Twisted Sister. If you’ve never seen this film or it’s been awhile, I’d suggest checking it out. It holds up surprisingly well and isn’t dated at all.