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Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure

Updated: Dec 26, 2021

We were going to visit my wife’s parents in Chicago over the holidays. Omicron put an end to that plan. It would have been our first trip in two years. But looking at the caseloads skyrocket ever’s not worth it.

So we’re home for the duration and I realized—hey, the kids (twin girls, almost seven and a half) are getting to be the age where I can show them stuff I like!

I figured, The Exorcist is about a little girl—let’s start with that. (That’s a joke, folks.)

But last night I showed them (on my phone) the “Breakfast Machine” scene from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.

I saw this in a theater (I was 10) and remember laughing so hard I thought I would pass out. They didn’t laugh as loud as I did, but they liked it, and today asked to watch the whole movie. And it’s on HBOMax, so—no problem!

They liked it fine. It didn’t seem to captivate them. I think I enjoyed it more! I have not seen the whole thing in a long time and I was really impressed by its simplicity, creativity and inagination.

Pee-Wee, Tim Burton, Danny Elfman—what great creators! I didn’t realize Phil Hartman cowrote the script.

It’s really a testament to the power of being original and different, and the the mileage you can get out of a unique character, without spending a lot of money. It’s all about the ideas, and execution.

I remember at the time (1985), I had no idea who Pee-Wee Herman was. We didn’t have HBO and, of course, I had never seen his stage show. I remember seeing the title on a “coming soon” flier from the Martha’s Vineyard movie theaters and I assumed it was a Smurfs sequel! There was a Smurfs movie, different from the Saturday morning cartoon, released in the U.S. the previous year called Smurfs and the Magic Flute, which had a human boy character named Pee-Wee. So I thought it was that!

This is the Smurfs Pee-Wee:

Pee-Wee Herman latched into the imaginations of us ’80s kids! He has two voices he uses, the loud one and the quieter, breathy one. The loud one is fairly easy to imitate, but I still can’t even come close to the quieter one. His biggest laughs, of course, come from switching from one voice to the other.

Also—“I know you are, but what am I?” Oh man, did that dominate playgrounds.

I remember one other thing about going to see the movie in 1985: the music I wanted to hear was “Tequila,” which was all over the television advertising:

So I was, if anything, annoyed by the Elfman score—because it wasn’t “Tequila”! In hindsight, I love it, and, well, the same point as the movie—it’s a testament to the power of imagination.

I also remember seeing Big-Top Pee Wee in 1988. And boy...that was not good.

Finally, it turns out that Pee-Wee’s house in the film is not far from us in South Pasadena. It’s actually around the corner from the kids’ elementary school.

This is also not far from George’s house and Lorraine’s house in 1955 in Back to the Future—and, in the other direction, Michael Myers’ house from Halloween (1978).

And, for that matter, the restaurant where Sarah Connor works in The Terminator (1984).

Popular neighborhood!

P.S. I forgot to mention that I noticed the Warner Bros. Fanfare that plays twice at the end of the film—for the movie-within-a-movie—appears to be the recording Miklós Rózsa made for Time After Time (as it segues to a different key on the last note).

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