Why a New Pee-wee Herman Movie Is a Bad Idea

Have you heard the news? People who were children in the 1980s are grown-ups now, and they are making movies based on the things they liked when they were kids! Transformers, The A-Team, the Karate Kid remake, TRON: Legacy, the new Nightmare on Elm Street, all that stuff is new again. A Smurfs movie is due this year. There's talk of a Voltron movie and another Masters of the Universe. We live in a brave new world.

This nostalgia has spread to Pee-wee Herman, the iconic man-child character played by Paul Reubens. After a couple decades in exile, Mr. Herman has returned to cash in on Gen X-ers' fond memories of his two movies (Pee-wee's Big Adventure and Big Top Pee-wee) and his cult-classic children's TV show. He did a live Pee-wee Herman Show on Broadway earlier this year that packed the house.

"You are a big Broadway star now!" said fans.

"I know you are, but what am I??" replied Pee-wee, uttering one of the 17 prerecorded phrases that play at random when you pull the string on his back.

Naturally, this has led to the promise of a new Pee-wee Herman movie. Judd Apatow is signed to produce it, and Reubens is working on the screenplay right now. (Note: Maybe not right this minute. He may have gone to lunch.) A great deal of joy has been expressed by people giddy to experience the sublime pleasures of Pee-wee Herman all over again.

Well, not to rain on anyone's parade, but this is a terrible idea, and it will probably suck.

Have we learned nothing from our mistakes? When we remake, reboot, or re-imagine something that we loved as kids, how often does it NOT turn out to be a huge disappointment? Maybe 10 percent of the time? Everyone overreacts about how this sequel or that prequel "ruined" their childhood, yet here we are, just begging to have our hearts broken again.

I'm skeptical of a new Pee-wee Herman movie for several reasons, not least of which is this: Paul Reubens will turn 59 this year. In his 30s, and aided by makeup, he could pull off the perpetually youthful character. I'm not so sure he can do it as a 60-year-old man. Already you can see the cracks in the facade when Pee-wee shows up on Saturday Night Live or The Tonight Show. It's getting harder to suspend disbelief, to buy the premise that this is anything other than an old guy with too much blush and lipstick pretending to be a weird man-child.

But the larger problem is deeper than that. One of the main reasons we're usually disappointed in these nostalgia field trips is that we're trying to re-create the feelings we had when we were 10 years old -- and we're not 10 years old anymore. The Star Wars prequels and the fourth Indiana Jones movie had their flaws, sure. But their most insurmountable obstacle was that they were being viewed by fans who were 20 years older than they were when they first discovered those stories.

Will a new Pee-wee Herman movie be any different? Because remember, we're not talking about re-watching the old stuff. We're talking about new stuff. I watched Pee-wee's Big Adventure again recently and was as delighted by it as ever. It's a bizarre, surrealist treat, a true gem. But recapturing that magic was hard enough then -- Big Top Pee-wee didn't go over nearly as well -- let alone two decades later.

I hope I'm wrong, of course, as I often am. A new Pee-wee film that successfully taps into our old memories would be terrific. We just need to manage our expectations, that's all. We need to brace ourselves for the strong possibility that it will be a sad disaster. There are a lot of things about Pee-wee we don't know anything about. Things we wouldn't understand. Things we couldn't understand. This might be one of those things.

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Eric D. Snider (website) will be in the basement at the Alamo if you need him.