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Official Article

Pee-wee's Big Adventure... and my Big Obsession

Like many people my age, one of my childhood staples was Pee-wee Herman, the manchild persona of the very talented Paul Reubens.

Pee-wee was an always-fun force of energy who transcended everything from movies to television to of course toys. While Reubens debuted his alter ego in a rather raunchy HBO stage show in 1982, his first exposure to we kids was in, of course:

Ah, Pee-wee's Big Adventure. Not only did it propel Pee-wee to the top of pop culture in numerous age groups, but it also launched the careers of everyone from director Tim Burton to composer Danny Elfman to even Phil Hartman. 

And thanks to that wonderful device known as the VCR, Pee-wee's new under-18 fan base could watch the adventures of a man and his bike over and over again. We committed "I know you are, but what am I?" and Pee-wee's signature laugh to memory and knew when exactly to hide our faces when Large Marge got to that defining moment in her story:

The movie's cartoon-y, colorful nature really resonated with me and my own entry into the fandom of Pee-Wee Herman was all but sealed. I religiously watched Pee-wee's Playhouse every Saturday morning, had the toys, patiently waited through the 1960s beach movie circle jerk that was Back to the Beach in order to catch Pee-wee's cameo...

...and even suffered through this pile of cinematic sludge.

And, of course, my innocent, idealistic world was shattered when this famous 1991 mugshot began to appear (coincidentally right when Pee-wee began to DISappear)

I still wonder how many parents were forced into giving their kids "the talk" around the time of Reubens' 1991 arrest for public masturbation, purely because their kids were asking why their favorite entertainer was now a felon (and also why he looked like a lame version of Jesus and not the walking well-dressed marionette puppet we all knew and loved).

But I never forgot about that gateway drug: Pee-wee's Big Adventure. For me, my appreciation definitely crossed the line from "enjoyable" to "obsession." 

Using paint, White-Out, and other materials, I transformed a few Lego figures into Pee-wee, his bike, and other characters from the film, re-enacting it in my family's half-finished basement. I also took Lego Pee-wee for new adventures through exotic lands like my family's living room furniture and outdoor front patio.

Whenever I rode my bike around the neighborhood, I'd force myself to forget that I was a scrawny, underweight, bespectacled nerd with more nostrils than friends. Instead, I was our tuxedoed hero, being chased through the sub-developments of suburban Philadelphia by imaginary Warner Bros. back lot personnel, desperate to reclaim the BMX knockoff that my parents had gotten for me at Kmart.

In the wintertime, I would do the same thing...on my parents' ancient exercise bike. Which I may or may not have crudely customized a bit. And which I may or may not have had an audio recording of the studio chase scene playing in accompaniment. 

Speaking of the bike, I found my mom's old, never-used-anymore bike deep in our family's shed and decided that I would transform it into my own version of Pee-wee's bike. After all, every kid (and I would say most adults) who saw that movie thought that the bike was the most awesome element. Now, I would be the envy of the neighborhood (which was filled with kids who were far more interested in Little League) with my very own Pee-Wee bike! Using everything from shoe boxes to poster board to Legos, I spent months transforming that rusty monstrosity into...well...a rusty monstrosity that looked like it had gotten attacked by a D-level arts and crafts student.

Pictures of my final masterpiece do exist, albeit in physical form (as this was in the days before cell phone cameras). I sadly did not dig them out of my parents' massive bin of photographs in time for this piece's deadline.

Years later, when I met Dee Snider, a very nice guy with very bad breath, my sole question to him was "how was it working on the Pee-wee's Big Adventure set?" He explained how Reubens had approached Twisted Sister after a concert and expressed an interest in featuring them in the movie.

Just because I will be turning 34 years old in a few weeks doesn't mean that my soft spot for all things Pee-wee has vaporized. I was of course thrilled to hear of Reubens' decision to resurrect the character for not only a very successful Broadway run but also for two upcoming movies. As I and millions of other 1980s kids eagerly await Pee-wee's triumphant, if not chubbier, return to the screen, I personally satisfied my itch for the character in a way that I have never done so before: I saw Pee-wee's Big Adventure in an actual movie theater.

I missed my chance to do this during the movie's initial run in 1985, as my parents had this crazy notion that hauling a young, fidgety kid to a public place that is supposed to be quiet was a bad idea. Imagine that, right?

A certain theater chain here in Philadelphia offers monthly "midnight movie" screenings, showcasing the best (and worst) from decades past alongside its otherwise artsy fare. Pee-wee's Big Adventure was this most recent week's offering and I accompanied three friends of mine to the theater for the rare chance to enjoy our hero on the silver screen with other fans.

And you know darn well that I brought my talking Pee-wee doll with me.

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echidna64 Posted on Jul 14, 2014 at 04:26 PM

Excellent article Mike! Pee Wee's Big Adventure is one of Burton's best and definitely one of the most quotable! I adore that movie!

Have you ever seen the Pee Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special? It's awesome and has tons of special guests that were popular at the time like Oprah. Plus, seeing Morpheus as Cowboy Curtis never ceases to amaze!

Vaporman87 Posted on Jul 08, 2014 at 03:24 PM

Ah yes. Pee Wee Herman. Such a peculiar character, but fascinating to me as a kid.

I really enjoyed Pee Wee's Big Adventure. And I REALLY wanted that bike. I also wanted to punch Francis in the face. And... I may or may not have had a bit of a crush on Dottie (it irked me greatly that Pee Wee kept avoiding her advances, lol).

Then came the theater incident. I hated that whole thing. It ruined everything about Pee Wee for me. I couldn't get the same enjoyment from the movies or the television show after that, even if just for nostalgic reflection.

He did do a very good job as the "second in command" vampire in Buffy The Vampire Slayer (the movie, not the stupid television show).

But lots of time has passed, and I'd be willing to give Pee Wee another shot.

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