In the past few years, Pee-wee Herman, the comic creation of actor Paul Reubens, found a bit of a resurgence. The character went on tour and Judd Apatow produced a movie for Netflix, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday. And yet it appears that Reubens, who is going on tour this year for the 35th anniversary of the classic Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, has a radically different take that’s having some trouble gaining traction.
According to a long profile on Reubens in THR, “In it, Pee-wee emerges from prison to become an unlikely yodeling star; then moves to Hollywood and becomes a movie star; then he develops a severe pill and alcohol addiction that turns him into a monster. ‘I’ve referred to it as the Valley of the Dolls Pee-wee movie,’ Reubens says, dead serious. ‘It’s about fame.’
Reubens first started working on the script in the late 90s and has been tinkering with it ever since. However, Judd Apatow convinced Reubens to work on something more light-hearted, which is how Big Holiday came about. But then Reubens was unhappy with how he looked in the movie. “Judd kept going, ‘You look great.’ And I’d be like, ‘No. Sorry. It doesn’t work for Pee-wee Herman. I don’t mind looking my age in something else, but I don’t want to look like that in a Pee-wee movie. There’s a creepy weirdness to it. It looks like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?'”
That’s where digital de-aging comes in. Reubens believes that he can do his dark Pee-wee movie for $15 million even though his quote $3 million and digital de-aging would cost at least $1.5, so that only leaves $10.5 for the rest of the production. Netflix balked because it “doesn’t check all the boxes” for a Pee-wee movie, and Apatow still isn’t interested. However, Reubens did reach out to Uncut Gems filmmakers Josh and Benny Safdie about directing and they’re reportedly considering it.
Personally, I think Reubens’ pitch for a dark Pee-wee movie sounds great. Admittedly, I’m not the die-hard fan like others (I watched Pee-wee’s Playhouse when I was a kid, I think Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is fantastic, but I never got around to Big Holiday), but I admire an artist taking his signature creation and blowing it up because he has something he wants to say. The fact that others are trying to tell him “This isn’t a Pee-wee movie” is kind of offensive. If they don’t want to make it because of cost or some other factor, that’s fine, but Pee-wee belongs to Reubens. You may not like his approach, but if anyone knows what qualifies as Pee-wee, it’s him. He should at least have the opportunity to try it out.
The road to a dark Pee-wee movie seems like an uphill battle, but I’d love to see this come to fruition.