Pee Wee’s Big Adventure–Burton’s Debut

The very talented Tim Burton made his feature directing debut with “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” a goofy, silly, and campy tale, co-written by Paul Reubens and Phil Hartman.
Reubens plays the titular role, an overgrown child-man, who sports a molded Princeton cut, white make-up, red lipstick, a shrunken gray flannel suit over a white shirt and red tie, and white sneakers.

The movie is basically plotless, sort of a series of vignettes loosely tied together. Pee Wee seems to live an idyllic life in a bizarre home, decorated by colorful furniture and toys. His most prized possession is a fire engine-red customized bicycle. In the first scene, he is seen biking ferociously, beating all the others on the road. He mostly socializes with adolescents half his age; the joke is that Pee Wee is ageless! He spends his time shopping for toys, masks, and gadgets.

When his bike is stolen, Pee Wee embarks on a cross-country journey to find his lost love. Along the way, he encounters all kinds of oddball characters, visits the Alamo, endures various hallucinatory nightmares, and has a supernatural run-in with a spectral trucker.

The film is a reprisal of Pee Wee’s popular standup routine, meant to broaden the comedian’s fan base. For a while, Reubens is charming as the nerdy man child. He plays the part in a broad, goofy mode, giggling, laughing and talking, whether or not he is in the company of other individuals.

The score by Danny Elfman, influenced by Italian composer Nino Rotta and Bernard Herrmann (Hitchcock’s frequent collaborator) is by turn rousing, boisterous, and ominous, but always brilliant, elevating and helping to digest the tale whenever it loses momentum.

When the movie came out, it represented a fresh and inventive comedy that, for better or worse, could not be compared to any other film.
Among the funny and memorable moments are the opening sequence, which depicts Pee Wee’s morning routines, including wearing bunny slippers and sitting to a talking breakfast.
Other noteworthy scenes are set at a truck stop, or at a private home, where Pee Wee seeks revenge on an obese guy whom he suspects as the thief of his cherished bicycle.
At the surprising ending, we see the “Hollywood” version of Pee Wee’s story, starring James Brolin and Morgan Fairchild in cameos.
Several major (and older) critics did not know what to make of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure when it came out. But the film proved to be commercially popular, delighting children and mature viewers. The PG rating helped broaden the picture’s appeal
A series of less successful sequels followed this picture. But perhaps more important is the fact that “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” launched the career of Tim Burton, who became a major Hollywood player after directing the first two Batman movies. From the beginning of his career, in his shorts and first film, Burton impressed critics as an auteur with unique sensibility, stamping each of his films (regardless of their source material) with his idiosyncratic sensibility and quirky trademark style.

Running time: 92 Minute
Directed byTim Burton
Screenplay: Phil Hartman, Paul Reubens

Paul Reubens as Pee-Wee Herman
Elizabeth Daily Dottie
Mark Holton as Francis
Diane Salinger as Simone
Judd Omen as Mickey
Jon Harris as Andy