Pee-wee's Big Adventure - Featured

Tim Burton Takes Toronto – Part 1

Tim Burton at TIFF Bell Lightbox
Tim Burton at the Bell Lightbox (Photo by Christopher Drost/Torontoist)

From 7 p.m. on Friday, November 26 to some ungodly hour on the morning of Sunday, November 28th, Torontonians were invited to TIFF Bell Lightbox to screen the entirety of Tim Burton’s filmography (excluding the two shorts Frankenweenie and Vincent). This was in celebration of the Burton exhibit coming to town, which was first curated by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. For some, myself included, the prospect of sitting through sixteen feature films by Burton was intriguing — a Burton Blitz of sorts. Others might call it “Hell on Earth”.

Since the screening started on Friday, I didn’t get to have an extra nap before arriving at the theatre. Unfortunately, I woke up at 7 a.m., commuted downtown and had to get some work done. By 6:00 p.m., with only one hour before the first screening, I was already exhausted. What do I do to alleviate said exhaustion? Well, I walked over to a coffee shop and downed two mochaccinos. Yeah, this wasn’t the smartest idea in retrospect but it seemed perfectly reasonable at the time.

By the time I walked down King Street toward the Lightbox, I was a little wired. I spent about a minute fumbling with the doors of the building before my laughing friends informed me I was trying to open the door completely wrong. This was not a good start to the Burton blitz.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

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Pee-Wee's Big Adventure - Tim Burton

Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) loves his bike more than anything else in the world. So, when it’s stolen by his neighbor, Pee-wee travels cross-country to where a psychic has (lyingly) told him the bike is hidden — in the basement of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas.

So, those two mochaccinos drunk in relatively quick succession? Yeah, it is very apparent to me now that I have a very low tolerance for espresso and chocolate syrup. To no one’s surprise but my own, I was on one of the worst sugar highs known to man during the screening of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Everything was hilarious — hilarious. When Pee-wee says, “Do you have something to share with us, Amazing Larry?”, I laughed somewhat uncontrollably. I talked and made jokes during the majority of the film. An old man shushed me. In short, I was in the perfect mind set for Tim Burton’s debut film.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is jammed pack with visionary ridiculousness while remaining (nearly) unblemished by Burton’s penchant for the macabre. For the majority of the film, it’s all bright colours and hammy jokes, which is a breath of fresh air within the Burton filmography. It opens as Pee-wee wakes up on the day his bike will be stolen. His home is amazingly odd and eccentric, filled with Rube-Goldberg machines and fish tanks instead of a windows.

When he leaves his house in search of his beloved bike, you know you’re in for a “fish out of water” treat. He meets a plethora of bizarre characters — from a wanna-be Parisian waitress to a fugitive prosecuted for (apparently) removing the “Do Not Remove” label off of a mattress. Of course each and every one of them falls for the quirky charm of Pee-wee Herman. One police officer even blatantly hits on a cross-dressing Pee-wee in front of “her” “husband”. All of these madcap adventures are set to the catchy — and sadly underused — score of Danny Elfman. It was a pleasant surprise to see that Elfman and Burton had been together from the beginning.

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To understand how slightly insane on espresso and chocolate I was during this screening, let’s give you another example. On his travels toward the Alamo, Pee-wee stops by that dinosaur park that is heavily featured in The Wizard, which was part of a DorkShelf.com double-bill two weeks ago. What did my friends and I do when we saw the dinosaurs? Well, we stage-whispered (read: not whispering at all), “CAL-I-FOR-NI-A!” with as much false reverence as we could muster.

Beetlejuice (1988)

Beetlejuice - Tim Burton

While driving home, Barbara (Geena Davis) swerves to avoid a dog wandering the roadway, and crashes through a covered bridge, plunging into the river below, killing both she and her husband (Alec Baldwin). Slightly damp, they return to their beloved home and find a copy of Handbook for the Recently Deceased waiting for them.

By the time Beetlejuice started playing, this marked the beginning of the downward spiral that is the Sugar Crash, the unfunny, uncool brother of the party animal that is the Sugar High. I could — physically — feel the sickness and slight depression taking over my body during the screening.

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This is in no way a reflection of the film, however, as it is probably the most significant and memorable Burton film from my childhood. It is the first of Burton’s feature-length films that feels truly his — and the first of many films under the theme of suburban nightmares. My mother has always loved Burton films, being a young outsider stuck in suburbia herself. When Johnny Depp came into the mix, Tim Burton films became a staple within my house growing up, for better or worse. My mother’s name is Lydia (much like Winona Ryder’s character), so, it’s not really shocking to me that Beetlejuice was played a little more than the other VHS tapes.

Much like in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, the musical theme from Beetlejuice is largely underused throughout the film — a fact that Elfman eventually makes up for in spades with his overuse of theme in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If you listen closely enough throughout Beetlejuice, however, you can catch a lot of references to reggae music and Jamaica, which is a lead-up to the greatest dinner scene in cinematic history. That scene alone justifies repeated viewing of this film. I have probably seen Beetlejuice upwards to thirty times in my life, and I foresee many more repeats in my future.

Next time on Tim Burton Takes Toronto…

Sasha, thoroughly depressed after her sugar crash, ruins Batman and Batman Returns for Andrew of the Toronto Underground Cinema — permanently. Some thoughts on Edward Scissorhands and the arrival of Johnny Depp in the Tim Burton filmscape will also occur.

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Want to read more from Sasha?

Well, she’s got a website called The Final Girl Project and has a Twitter account to which she is addicted. Also, she and Jeff are organizing a special director-focused series that will be published on Dork Shelf in the near future.



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