Though his work has certain themes that run through them, if you look closer Tim Burton’s catalogue of work is really very varied. He’s not afraid to dabble in different genres and, although some would say he’s a one trick pony, his work traverses different paths to tell similar stories. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure came years before the likes of Beetlejuice, Batman and Sleepy Hollow and sees Burton tackling an already established character.
Eccentric man-child Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) leads a mischievous life in which his prized possession is his bike, a bike that overshadows all other elements of his life. His encounters are child-like (we’re presented with a strange playground-like argument held between Pee-wee and his adult next door neighbour) and the glee he takes in his naughty escapades soon wear thin. Horror soon hits Pee-wee’s idyllic life when his bike is stolen and, when the townsfolk fail to help him find it, he sets off on the titular adventure.
The storyline is minimal here; rather than being presented with a big adventure, we watch as Pee-wee speaks in a strangely over-enthused voice. He’s surrounded by those who care about him and yet he shows no compassion to those who seek it. Yes, we may be looking far further than we should be into what is essentially a kid’s film (a kid’s film with some horror undertones), but it is Pee-wee’s semi-psychotic nature that implores us to do so. Almost a magnet for trouble, Pee-wee seems to be indulging himself in strange childlike qualities to hide a much bigger secret.
Tim Burton’s presence behind the camera can be seen intermittently throughout the film. There’s the occasional flare for the macabre and his recognisable stop-motion promises he’s around somewhere, but his natural flare isn’t given much room to shine in this crowded mix of misplaced slapstick and outdated humour. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is sure to feature on Tim Burton fan’s DVD shelves but may not be a crowd pleaser for a wider audience.