Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is a touchstone for everyone who lived through the '80s. Not only was it the world’s first extended look at Pee-wee Herman, but it was also Tim Burton's first feature film, and he pulled out all the stops. The movie emphasizes the best of Burton's strange visual style while playing with the ridiculousness that is Pee-wee Herman.
If you haven’t watched this movie in 20 years or so, you probably remember it as a delightful romp, but take another look and you’ll see that for every goofy moment and “au revoir Simone” there’s a traumatic scene to follow.
Chances are, if you watched this movie as a kid, it’s the reason you have an innate fear of clowns, or why you jump straight to violence whenever someone does you wrong. Or maybe you have an obsession with giant heads you've never quite understood. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is common ground for the scared weird kid in all of us.
After escaping from the Warner Bros. lot with his bike, Pee-wee stumbles upon a pet store that's engulfed in flames. Pee-wee, being the hero he is, runs inside and the scene gets even more upsetting.
Although Pee-wee's rescue attempt is a noble effort, the poor pets inside have to rely on a grown man in a red bow tie to make it out. Luckily, Pee-wee saves just about everything in the building, including an especially frightening moment when he runs out of the fire with handfuls of snakes. Unfortunately the fish don't make it because, after all, Pee-wee is just one man.
One of the quickest gags in Pee-wee's Big Adventure is also one of its most traumatizing. After Mr. Buxton catches Pee-wee trying to maim his son, Pee-wee gets out of the whole thing by offering both of the Buxton men a stick of gum. They each take the gum and black liquid begins spilling out of their mouths like blood as Pee-wee makes his escape.
After discovering that his bike is stolen, Pee-wee goes straight to Francis Buxton's house and tries to drown his nemesis while he takes a bath. Is Francis a creep? Absolutely. Did he hire goons to steal Pee-wee's bike? Definitely. Murder via bath tub might not be the proper way to address the problem, however.
Pee-wee dives into battle with Francis by sabotaging him in the swimming pool-sized-bath and trying to push his head under the water. In what's ostensibly a children's movie, the main character (who is of adult age) immediately decides that death is the answer.
In the end, Pee-wee gets his bike back and Francis is thrown into the stratosphere.
Tim Burton films have been described as a "wild-and-woolly exuberant gothic dementia." They are ruminations of childhood with a disturbing twist. Pee-wee's Big Adventure, like Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice, is about an obsessive adult who sticks out like a sore thumb in his pastel suburban neighborhood.
Big Adventure is filled with lighting cues straight out of 1930s horror cinema and classic jump scare music. On top of that, there's a Danny Elfman score that sounds more Danny Elfman than anything else the composer has ever done.