Review: Pee-Wee's Big Adventure

Perhaps you’ve heard us going on and on lately about the young people of today. These troubled youths, the ones who flock to the skating rinks and the soda shops that are so popular amongst the kids, need some direction. They are bombarded with images to try wearing baggy pants and piercings in their ears and noses. They have no one to turn to that will be a positive role model in these dark times. Yes, the current tide of celebrities are really falling down on the job, what with their tattoos and long hair and all. But it wasn’t so long ago, back in the superior morality of the 1980s, that we had such a celebrity. Someone who could steer the kids away from the wine coolers and the chewing tobacco. Someone who thought nothing of the sacrifice that came from devoting himself tirelessly to the pursuit of being an impeccable example of what it means to be an upright citizen. And he made movies as well. Movies that were warm and lighthearted, and that relied on wit and style to be funny, instead of potty-mouth humor and puerile violence.

That man was Jim Varney, but he is the subject of another article saved for another time. Today I will instead talk about the impish Mr. Pee-Wee Herman. Perhaps he wasn’t up to Mr. Varney’s high standards of conduct and comedy, but he did make a couple of films. A couple of really important films. A couple of films that will forever change the way that common folk like you and I go about our daily lives.

The reason that cycling is such an avid pastime today is due largely to the influence of one sharply-dressed, bowtie-wearing young scrapper by the name of Pee-Wee Herman. His gripping cinematic drama, aptly titled Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, chronicles the tale of his cross-country trek in search of the hooligans and thugs who lifted his beloved bicycle. Throughout the course of the film, amidst dazzling cinematography, sharp dialogue and yes, even some romance, we learn a little bit about perseverance, a little bit about forgiveness, and maybe, just maybe, we learn a little bit about ourselves.

I won’t bother you with an overly long and descriptive summary of the story. We’ve all seen the film, and read the book, and played the video game. Instead, I would like to remind you of some of the lessons we learned while watching this film. Lessons that are so important for the little punk kids of today with no respect for authority to pay attention to:

  1. Pee-Wee begins his morning with a stout and rigorous exercise regime. It is important to note the emphasis that is placed on physical fitness in this movie. From the constant scenes of bike riding, to the display of Pee-Wee in his home gym, we quickly see the benefits to be had from a smart but steady diet of cardiovascular activity mixed with proper weight training. And it’s an excellent way to jumpstart your work day.
  2. Personal hygiene is important, and should be regularly attended to. Pee-Wee understands this fact of life, but takes it one step further. He shows us that through a little heart and a little imagination, even the simple task of brushing your teeth can be made fun. His running commentary of “brusha-brusha” strikes a chord in all of us, because we too remember a time when a little “brusha” was all the entertainment we needed, before Playstations and Xboxes sucked the imagination right out of us. And his playful jab at disease-ridden wild animals by declaring “Mad Dog!” when his mouth is overrun with foamy-white toothpaste, is actually a sobering reminder to get your pets all of their shots. Having pets is a privilege and also a great responsibility. Thank you, Pee-Wee, for showing us the fragile beauty of the phrase “man’s best friend.”
  3. Breakfast. Pee-Wee makes breakfast for himself, and he pulls out all the stops. From the pancakes to the bacon and eggs to the fresh-squeezed orange juice to the buttered toast and capping it off with some Mr. T cereal, it is easy to see why breakfast truly is the most important meal of the day. “Why Mr. T cereal?” you may be asking. Well, because not only should cereal be fun, but it should also be fortified with up to 9 essential vitamins and minerals, as part of a complete breakfast.
  4. Pee-Wee takes care of his toys. Our first sight of the man/boy and his bicycle shows the care and attention to detail that Pee-Wee gives his personal belongings. Does he leave it out in the rain? Does he let the chain get all rusty and stiff? Heck no, he takes care of his bike. Not only does he take care of it, but he hides it away in a secret garage behind a fake shrubbery, where access is only granted by a secret lever and typing in a long access code into a hidden terminal. Then, and only then, can Pee-Wee make his way in to gently wipe away any dust from the vinyl seat of his beloved bicycle. Kids, you should take care of your things in the exact same manner. Oh, and you should also ride a red bicycle with tail fins and handlebar tassels.
  5. Real men don’t solve their problems with fighting. Pee-Wee shows us that all you have to do to get out of a confrontation is use your brain. Notice how well his catchphrase, “I know you are but what am I?” got him out of a run-in with his arch-nemesis, Frances. That’s a classic line. How do you come back from that? You don’t, and that’s the point. It’s like ending a verbal spar by saying, “Your mother.” It pretty much brings the match to an abrupt finish.
  6. Dottie is a conditional friend, and Pee-Wee is smart to avoid her advances. When he goes to the bicycle shop to pick up the new, modified horn for his sweet ride, his woman friend Dottie says that she wants to tell him something first. Excuse me? We’re talking about a bicycle horn here. This is important! Pee-Wee sets her straight right away, explaining that “there are things about me you wouldn’t understand. Things you couldn’t understand. Things you shouldn’t understand.” Chief among them is that pimping out your hog is job one, not fraternizing with girls and their cooties. Good work, Pee-Wee!
  7. Chicks dig big dinosaur monuments. The lovely waitress Simone asks Pee-Wee to watch the sunrise with her from inside a giant tyrannosaurus rex. While nature breathed life into a new day, Simone tells of her dream to visit Paris and how her boyfriend becomes violent whenever she mentions the idea. Pee-Wee seizes his big opportunity and tells her that she has to follow her dream, no matter what, and yadda yadda. But anyway, the point of this little story is that chicks are all about sneaking away into giant dinosaur monuments. So fellas, if a lady ever asks you to join her in one, my suggestion is to go.
  8. Tour guides at the Alamo will laugh in your face for asking stupid questions. Pee-Wee learned the hard way that sometimes southerners can be just plain rude and hurtful. When he asks if they can look at the basement to the Alamo (which, just for the record, seems like a perfectly reasonable question) our poor little Pee-Wee is laughed at by the tour guide, as well as the entire tour group. But did he lash back at them, perhaps pointing at their funny hats and telling them to kiss his backside? No, he showed true poise and dignity by scampering away like a cockroach when you turn the kitchen light on.
  9. Bikers and preppies can get along. When Pee-Wee stumbles into the biker bar home of Satan’s Helpers… well, let’s just say that hilarity ensues as our bow-tie wearing hero gets a little in over his head. And just as they are about to rip him limb from limb, Pee-Wee comes up with the brilliant idea to do a little dance for them. A big-shoed rendition of “Tequila” follows, with the bikers learning to rise above their petty differences with this short-haired stranger and to befriend him as one of their own. In the end they all learn a valuable lesson about accepting those who are different.
  10. Hollywood Studios are eager to make movies about your life, and will generally employ ninjas to help tell that tale. Enough said.

I could go on, but I think that by now you understand the importance of this movie. It’s entertaining enough for the kids (with the action sequences and funny gags that they love so much), but also educational enough to really make you stop and think. I’ve been doing a ton of stopping and a tad bit of thinking since my recent viewing of this movie, and I hope that you will do the same. Because in the end, it’s not just Pee-Wee running around and fighting crime on his shiny red bicycle. It’s all of us. All of us cramped onto the same tiny red bike called life. Think about it.