Adventure Movies

Greta Gerwig on how the ‘Pee-wee’ movies inspired ‘Barbie’

August 4, 20233 Mins Read

Movies based on iconic toys have never really been seen as a surefire way to critical and commercial success, with only a small handful of plastic-inspired flicks being worthy of watching. There was Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks!, based on the lesser-known trading card game, the surprisingly hilarious Lego Movie from directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord, and of course, Greta Gerwig’s recent glittering triumph, Barbie.

Starring Margot Robbie as the titular doll, Gerwig’s film is a drama about gender politics that masquerades as a summer blockbuster, expressing how the patriarchy has controlled society for generations. Initially loving life in her own pink world of fantastic colour, Barbie soon starts questioning her own mortality, taking her on a trip to the real world where she meets Mattel, the real-world makers of the doll, and many more.

Gerwig’s third movie, Barbie, continues the filmmaker’s impressive record, having also helmed 2017’s Lady Bird, starring Saoirse Ronan, and 2019’s Little Women, with Florence Pugh, two films that were each nominated for ‘Best Picture’ in their respective years. Her latest is her third writing collaboration with her partner and fellow filmmaker Noah Baumbach.

A student of cinema, Gerwig was inspired by countless movies during the process of making Barbie, with the director outlining many of these during a conversation with Letterboxd.

One somewhat surprising movie she included on the list was the 1985 comedy Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, starring the late Paul Reubens. A family-friendly slapstick comedy in the vein of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, the film, directed by Tim Burton, tells the story of an eccentric man who gets his favourite bike stolen, leading him on an adventure across the United States to get it back.

Speaking about the beloved 1980s flick and how it inspired her own candy-coloured movie, Gerwig stated: “I love Pee-wee’s Big Adventure; that’s the best. Also, like, the rhythm of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, there’s that section where he gets on a train, and he meets a tramp on a train and sings, like, songs, and then he gets bored of it and falls off the train, and it takes like 60 seconds, and it’s hilarious. But it’s just like a really short thing.”

Reubens, the somewhat underrated actor who played the iconic comedy character, passed away on July 31st 2023, with filmmakers and performers across the world of Hollywood writing tributes online to pay their respects.

Elsewhere, Gerwig commented on several other of her inspirations for Barbie, with Victor Fleming’s Wizard of Oz being a major movie in her life. “It does something that I wanted to emulate,” she told the publication, “which is these incredible sound stages and these painted skies and this sense of… I say, ‘authentically artificial’, which I think is very beautiful and emotional. I think of the painted backdrop of the Emerald City as they go towards it. In our movie, we have the Pink Brick Road instead of the Yellow Brick Road.”

Take a look at the full video where Gerwig goes through her Barbie inspirations below.

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