Yeah, but where’s the documentary about Circus Peanuts?
You know you’re famous when they made your head into a PEZ
You know you’re famous when you got candy coming out of your neck
Someday, someday, my collection will be through
I’m sorry to say it won’t…include you
—Chorus of “The PEZ Song” by Nic Pfost
I don’t need to tell you about PEZ. You already know about PEZ. Most novelty candies are fads, short-lived on store shelves. PEZ, however, is the great granddaddy of novelty candies. For more than 80 years, PEZ has charmed customers young and old thanks more to its iconic toy dispensers than the actual sugary candy.
With so many designs of dispensers made over the years, it should come to no surprise that there is a collector’s market for them. What you might not know is how widespread PEZ collectors are, and how they’ve formed their own community over time. Taking things even further, the collectors’ passions for PEZ has inspired decisions made by PEZ Candy, Inc.
Now the secret world of PEZ is not as secret thanks to PEZHeads: The Movie from director Christopher Marshall.
Florida resident Chris Skeene is a PEZ collector, with hundreds of thousands of PEZ dispensers on display inside his Florida home. He and wife Kendra, also a collector, first met and fell in love over PEZ, surprising each other with dispensers as gifts. PEZHeads: The Movie follows Chris as he travels up and down the east coast, visiting other collectors at PEZ conventions, talking PEZ at the country’s largest candy store, walking through a museum devoted solely to PEZ, and, finally, the promised land—a tour of the PEZ factory in Orange, Conn.
PEZHeads: The Movie is a lighthearted, “feel-good” documentary, all about how something as simple as PEZ can form friendships and bring happiness into people’s lives. That’s fine for what it is, but bear in mind that this is the movie’s agenda. The documentary’s subject, Chris Skeene, is also the movie’s producer, so all the talk about “PEZ is so great, we love PEZ so much,” can be considered bias. If you can accept that, though, there’s still a lot of fun to be had.
The various collectors Skeene chats with are fun, quirky characters, each with a lot of stories to tell about the PEZ obsessions. There have not only been hundreds of PEZ dispenser designs over the years, but each dispenser has numerous variants, such as small differences in color, meaning multiple versions of each one are collectible. There are also PEZ dispensers that were only released in certain countries, making them rare and highly sought after. This means that the number of existing PEZ dispensers is seemingly infinite, in that no matter how large a collector’s stash is, there’s PEZ out there that he or she doesn’t yet have. Make no mistake, some of these private collections are appropriately gigantic, with displays of PEZ covering entire walls, and stuffed to the ceiling in closets. With rare dispensers going for hundreds of dollars each, many of these collectors have spent minor fortunes building up their collections, and they show no sign of stopping.
One ongoing theme of the movie is how PEZ collecting has changed over the years thanks to the internet, especially eBay. Many collectors share stories of how thrilled they were years ago to find that rare dispenser at a yard sale, a flea market, or a friend’s attic. Those days are long gone, replaced by collectors sitting in front of their computers for hours on end, scrolling through eBay for those old treasures. Conversely, thanks to the internet, PEZ collecting is no longer a solitary hobby, but a community, as PEZ fans have connected online and formed friendships that otherwise never would have happened.
A couple of semi-famous names show up to lend their voices to the subject, including Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls, who allegedly has one of the world’s largest PEZ collections. Drummer Vinnie (no last name?) of the band Less Than Jake also pontificates on his love of PEZ, and how the band worked PEZ into its song lyrics and album cover art. Plus, if you’ve wondered, “Hey, what ever happened to Wendy the Snapple lady?” then wonder no more. She’s collecting PEZ, and she cameos in this movie as well.
After learning all about the collectors, the latter half of the movie takes us behind closed doors at PEZ Candy, Inc., with a tour of the factory. This is the only time in the movie when the actual candy is mentioned, as more work apparently goes into it than it does into the dispensers. Skeene even gets to enjoy “virgin PEZ” right off the line. This part could have slowed the movie down, but Skeene’s host, a PEZ executive, talks a mile a minute, dropping all kinds of PEZ trivia left and right, so it’s understandable how excited Skeene was to visit there.
Continuing the movie’s upbeat tone, the movie then shows how PEZ collectors, through charity auctions and online fundraisers, have raised money for a number of causes. It’s then explained how their efforts inspired the PEZ company to get in on the act, with special PEZ dispensers designed for the purpose of raising money for charity as well. This is a nice, heartwarming story, but then I’m reminded that one of those collectors produced this movie, and I remember that it’s the movie’s agenda to convince me that PEZ collectors are such great people.
The basic, recorded-on-video look of the movie won’t win any cinematography awards, but the DVD nonetheless shows off the visuals with nice, bright colors. The audio track is decent, with clean dialogue, and highlighted by a few fun songs. There aren’t a lot of extras, but what’s here is quality. The additional collector stories gives the interviewees a chance to tell longer anecdotes than the 73-minute movie allows, and there’s some really fun tales to be told. The convention guide is a nifty interactive map of the U.S. that you navigate with your remote, pointing you to locations of PEZ conventions held throughout the year. Some outtakes and a slideshow round out the extras.
I’m not a PEZ collector, but I collect a lot of other stupid crap, such as comic books, action figures and, shockingly, DVDs. Watching this movie from a collector’s point of view, I have a few questions:
• Whether a PEZ dispenser is more valuable if it’s still on card (a.k.a. still in its original packaging, unopened) isn’t addressed. When the movie shows us the extremely rare, hard-to-find dispensers, they are out in the open, passed around among fans and such, and not sealed away in a glass case, which is where you’d think collectors would put them.
• On the bonus features, one collector shows off a bunch of PEZ dispensers that are broken, but still in their original packaging. Broken-on-card figures are a big controversy among toy collectors. Are they less valuable because they’re broken, or can they can be considered rare variants, or even unique, making them worth more? This debate isn’t addressed in the interview, unfortunately.
• At one point someone mentions a Jar Jar Binks PEZ dispenser. I never knew they made those! Where can I get one? (Warning: This is how it begins…)
Ten PEZ dispensers I’d like to see them make:
10. The female Cenobite from Hellraiser (you know, because she already has the hole in her neck)
9. “The Judge” on the DVD Verdict logo
8. Larry David
7. The swordsman who got shot by Indiana Jones
6. Actor Kirk Lazarus as Sgt. Lincoln Osiris
5. Vork from The Guild
4. That guy who got the toxic waste dumped all over him in Robocop
3. U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes (why not?)
2. A Doctor Who one that regenerates into a new Doctor every time you refill the candy
1. Bruce Campbell, baby!
As for PEZHeads: The Movie, it’s amusing and quirky, but remember it’s made with the purpose of convincing you that PEZ collectors are wonderful, fun people. Maybe somewhere out there, someone’s working on a documentary that answers the big questions of what PEZ collecting mean on a psychological level, etc., but until then, give this one a rental and enjoy it for what it is.