DAY 1. FAMILY TIME: Tired of seeing the same faces every day? Look at a movie instead! Rated PG or less. Ease in to it!
In the days before the internet, we could build our own cults. Amongst my family, we were obsessed with Pee-Wee Herman. Just imagine, in a time that could only be predicted by TV Guide, Pee-Wee would randomly show up in movies like Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie and Nice Dreams, where he was only known as “The Hamburger Guy.” As the 80’s began, Pee-Wee started by performing five months of the live The Pee-wee Herman Show at the Roxy Theater in LA and getting a taped special on HBO.
That special dominated my eight-year-old mind, presenting a world that at once childlike and at the other end, strangely sinister and adult. I watched it so many times that I could recite every single word and still can. The end, where Pee-Wee finally learns to fly, can often reduce me to tears.
In the five years between that special and this movie, Paul Reubens pretty much became Pee-Wee, even asking his parents to go by the names Honey and Herman Herman. His David Letterman appearances — major surprises, as we stated before — were riotous bursts of anarchy on a show that was already breaking nearly every rule of television. So when a Pee-Wee movie was announced, we lost our collective minds.
Somehow, Pee-Wee Herman is the rarest of cases of someone who became famous without losing a single ounce of his weirdness. And much like the HBO show that came before, I can still recite every word of this movie, quote it at will throughout the day and get misty-eyed just thinking of moments within it.
The story is incredibly simple: Pee-Wee’s most prized possession — his bike — has been taken by Francis. Now, he must get it back. A psychic tells our hero that his bike is in the basement of the Alamo, so we’re off to adventure.
That’s it. It’s that easy.
From wrestler Silo Sam chasing Pee-Wee around dinosaurs to his speech to Dottie (I actually gave this exact same “I’m a rebel, a loner” speech to a date once and was convinced she was going to slap me; she cried and told me it was the saddest thing she’d ever heard, somehow never seeing this movie before), dancing to “Tequilla” at a biker bar while Satan’s Helpers (look for Elvira) look on and so much more, there are so many moments in this film that simply listing them would take on the feel of Chris Farley talking to Paul McCartney.
I mean, without this film, you may not have Danny Elfman and Tim Burton making big budget movies.
To write the film, Reubens, Phil Hartman and Michael Varhol purchased the book Syd Field’s Screenplay and were as literal as possible. “It’s a 90-minute film, it’s a 90-page script,” said Ruebens. “On page 30 I lose my bike, on page 60 I find it. It’s literally exactly what they said to do in the book.” In my crazed mind, I also wish that Ruebens had followed through with his plan to remake Pollyanna with Pee-Wee in the lead.
There are so many easter eggs in this film, like the magic shop owned being named after Mario Bava, the Chiodo Brothers animating Large Marge, the Aleister Crowley head in the aforementioned magic shop, James Brolin playing Pee-Wee, the start of my crush on E.G. Daily, Professor Toru Tanaka as Francis’ butler and even the first acting role for Darla the dog, who was Queenie in The ‘Burbs and Precious in The Silence of the Lambs.
There are so many lines in this, too. I leave you with my favorite:
Simone: Do you have any dreams?
Pee-Wee Herman: Yeah, I’m all alone. I’m rolling a big doughnut and this snake wearing a vest…
PS: I have just one more ridiculous Pee-Wee story to tell. In 1989, Pee-Wee exchanged fake marriage vows with Chandi Heffner — the adopted daughter of Doris Duke, the richest little girl in the world. Chandi was a Hare Krishna devotee and sister of the third wife of billionaire Nelson Peltz and all of 35-years-old when she was adopted, as Duke believed that she was the reincarnation of her only biological child Arden, who died days after being born. Chandra and Pee-Wee were “married” by Imelda Marcos at Duke’s Honolulu mansion Shangri-La. If you think the world is not amazing and special, you’re a fool.