Friday, January 21, 2011

Pee-Wee and Piety? What I Learned from "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure"

Alright, I’m going to admit it. “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” is one of my favorite movies. Really. I find it hilarious.

This is not to say that I have not seen better or more meaningful movies – in fact, it would be hard to think of many movies that would not be more significant than “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” – but I do have to say that since it was released in 1985, I have seen this movie countless times, and it has been amusing to me every single time. I mean, it’s weird, that’s for sure. But it is one of the few movies that I regularly quote, just because I found it so darned funny.

Now, Paul Reubens (who plays the role of Pee-Wee) has turned out to be, in some ways, a rather unsavory character in real life. This is unfortunate, and I am certainly not promoting any of those immoral events or practices that he has been involved in with this blog entry. I am simply writing this because I have watched this seemingly senseless movie so many times through the years that I have actually picked out a few scenes that seem to have catechetical value. I certainly don’t think that Paul Reubens and Tim Burton had any intention of passing on the faith through this movie – far from it! – but what can I say? I think we can find things that attest to the faith everywhere, even in strange cult movies from the 80s, so now I share them with you!

The premise of “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” is this: Pee-Wee has a very special bike that he values more than anything else in the world, and he would never part with it – not even for the exorbitant amounts of money that his weird neighbor (also a grown man who acts like a child) Francis has offered him. 

Bike = a symbol of the good, the true, and the beautiful (which points to faith or God)

While visiting his friend Dottie, Pee-Wee’s bike is stolen. Beside himself at the loss of his most prized possession, Pee-Wee makes every possible effort to retrieve his bike, and finally resorts to visiting Madame Ruby, a lying fortune teller who says that she ‘sees’ his bike in the basement of the Alamo.

Fortune teller leads him astray, so he can’t find his bike = false idols won’t lead you to the true God 

Pee-Wee decides to travel to the Alamo to find his bike. Along the way, he meets a beautiful young waitress, Simone, who longs to live in Paris, France. He encourages her to follow her heart.

Pee-Wee tells Simone, “You can't just wish and hope for something to come true. You have to make it happen.” = don’t let fear and self-doubt stand in the way of your dreams; God has a good plan for your life 

As his adventure continues, Pee-Wee tries to use the phone at a bar, and accidentally knocks over many motorcycles parked out front, which enrages the biker gang gathered there. Eventually, Pee-Wee earns their respect by dancing to “Tequila” atop a pool table, and they wish him well as his bike-search continues.

Pee-Wee gets mixed up with a group of bikers, but in the end they all become friends = don’t judge a book by its cover 

Pee-Wee eventually gets to the Alamo, only to learn (after a painfully-long and very funny tour, which you can watch here) that there is no basement: 

After having told Dottie that he’s a loner and a rebel earlier in the movie, Pee-Wee now has to call her to ask for her help. 

Pee-Wee admits to Dottie that “I learned something out here on the road. Humility” = we’re all called out of our comfort zones in search of goodness, truth, and beauty and ultimately we all learn humility – we can’t complete this search on our own. We need others, no matter how annoying or unnecessary they might seem at times; we are saved in bunches.

Eventually Pee-Wee does get his bike back, and they make a movie about him because he is now considered a hero. Sorry – not much catechetical content there, unless you really want to stretch the imagination to say that the movie is a type of ‘canonization’ of Pee-Wee. But in the words of Mary Poppins, “That’s going a bit too far, don’t you think?”

So these are the things of faith that I learned from “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.” I just saw an article that claimed that screenwriter/producer Judd Apatow may direct a new Pee-Wee Herman movie, but to be honest, I hope not. While it would have to be better than the pathetic excuse for a sequel that was “Big Top Pee-Wee,” it would still have to pale in comparison to the cinematic gold of the original. In any case, I hope that if you haven’t seen the movie (or haven’t watched it in a long while, like me), you might think of watching it again. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll find a little nugget of inspiration for your own big adventure of faith.


  1. My sister and I have watched one 5-second part of this movie over a hundred times....It's the part where the truck driver lady is telling Pee Wee a scary story, and at the end of her story, her eyes go all cartoony and pop out, and Pee Wee screams in a way that only he can. We still, to this day, find that part to be utterly hysterical. And I think we broke our VCR rewinding it over and over. Of all the writers who could be doing a Pee Wee sequel, Judd Apatow is the least scary. Something tells me he too is a huge fan, and will do it right... Did you see Pee Wees little cameo on Saturday Night Live last week? Cherie makes an appearance too!

  2. LARGE MARGE!!! Yes, that is a great scene, worthy of being watched repeatedly by you & your sis! And no, Andrea, I did not know about Pee-Wee & Cherie on SNL! Did they mention the possibility of the new movie? Thank you for giving me hope with Judd Apatow -- maybe there is potential for greatness, after all!

  3. Anonymous said...
    This post just makes you even more awesome in my eyes, Leslie! This movie is one of our faves too and we still inject quotes from it in our everyday when either Jim or I start to come up with an excuse for something and say "but...." to each other, the other person ALWAYS has to say, "Let's talk about YOUR big butt, Simone" or when we ask the other one to see a movie, the other person ALWAYS has to say, "A MOOOVIEEEE?"...oh gosh, it never ends with us! I love the way you wove such beautiful topics of our faith into the movie, it's given me a new way of looking at it and loving it even more :) Have a great sunny weekend!

  4. MAUREEN! I think you must be a long-lost relative of mine. It's good for us to be re-united. :)