No one could ever claim that the 1980s was the first decade to address the theory of time travel. As any steam punk aficionado would be happy to share, HG Wells put the idea to paper damn near a century before Ronald Reagan took office. No one could even claim that the idea itself hasn’t gone back to the days of cave dwelling. If you can say that you wouldn’t go back in time to change at least once thing, you’re lying to yourself. For shame! All of that being said, when it comes to time travel, not many decades have done it as well as the 1980s. From The Terminator to Time Bandits to Back to the Future, and a dozen more, there are few silver screen flicks that bring back that sense of wonder, hope, and nostalgia that the 80s time traveling films carried along with them. Among those brilliant stories, and with no disrespect to Marty McFly, stand two of the most excellent dudes to ever surf the time stream: Bill S. Preston, Esq., and Ted “Theodore” Logan – You may know them better by their band name, Wyld Stallyns. In case that still isn’t ringing any bells, here’s a quick refresher.
At first glance, audiences’ first outing with Bill and Ted, played to perfection by Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, respectively, seems like little more than an American surfer style rehash of the almost always amazing Doctor Who. Once you get past the telephone booth and time travel, however, the wonderfully dated tales of Bill and Ted couldn’t be more different. Now, almost 30 years after audiences were treated to a second film that took the titular heroes to hell and back, it appears that fans of the series may finally get the long promised threequel for which they have been praying. If recent news is to be believed, it appears that the most non-heinous pair is finally on track for their third outing, after years of delays and setbacks. Still, after decades of time traveling films and stoner duos, does the world really need another Bill and Ted story? You’re god damn right it does.
There’s a reason that Bill and Ted have remained within the hearts of so many and why the franchise continues to entertain. Over the past three decades, the clueless but lovable duo have graced fans through pretty much every medium available to them, though to varying degrees of success.
On television, audiences were presented with an animated take on the story, with 1990’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures. Following the wave of movies-turned-animated-series, which included such, um, gems as The Karate Kid and the holy-God-it’s-so-bad Teen Wolf cartoons, the animated lives of Wyld Stallyns really didn’t have fans of the franchise hoping for much. Luckily, what they were given was a very cool animated series that had Reeves, Winter, and George Carlin all returning to voice the characters they played through the films. The first season was a whole lot of fun and introduced some pretty cool ideas into the Bill and Ted mythos, including the “Squint”, which was a phone booth that could insert the duo into literature, television shows, and even the human body. While the second season was less than stellar, after losing the original acting talent and recasting the voice actors and being shipped off to a different network, the animated series is still loved, and most fans still consider plenty of the material canon.
On the other side of that coin, the live action Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures, unfortunately, managed to remove the heart from the story, while simultaneously attempting to use the same characters fans loved so much. This was just an all around bad series. Not a so-bad-it’s-good type of series, but just a terrible, terrible attempt. Perhaps it was the fact that none of the actors from the films lent their talents to the series, and the replacement actors for these beloved characters seem to have been under the impression that the sillier they were, the more their audience would love them. They were wrong. What makes this show so much more painful is the fact that the delightful animated series was pushed to a new network and lost its voice talent because Fox was gung ho on getting the live action series off the ground. It’s safe to assume that most of the people involved with the selling of the series were given at least a few lashings for the horrible monster that they birthed. Thankfully, the show only aired seven episodes, thus keeping the tainting of the Bill & Ted Legacy to a minimum. Honestly, this one truly should have killed anyone’s desire for a new film entry or, really, any new Bill and Ted stories, period. The fact that it was easily dismissed (and, hopefully, deleted) from fans’ minds is a testament to just how beloved these characters truly are.
And how about that Nintendo Entertainment System classic, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure? Released back in 1991, the game served as a way of presenting the continuing adventures of Bill & Ted without rehashing the movies, and gave players a fun story, in which Bill & Ted must travel throughout time to locate historical figures that have been displaced in time, while battling a countdown to Wyld Stallyns breakout concert. Still, as any gamer will tell you, video game adaptations of big screen films rarely go right, and while many found the game delightful, plenty of others were annoyed with the tough searches for needed items and the fact that it seemed like even the best gamers could wander around for hours without actually finding the item they need to progress. And still, Bill & Ted carried on.
From action figures, to comic books, to a 26 year run at Universal Studios Orlando with the super entertaining (for most) Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure, which just ended last year, the public just can’t seem to get enough of Bill and Ted. What is it about San Dimas’s most famous residents that make them so endearing? Why is it that after three generations, fans are still excited about the possibility of a third entry?
Could it be the fact that Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is pretty much the best history class anyone could ever have? Sure, most adult viewers that flocked theaters to see the movie on the big screen had knowledge of the history behind Napoleon Bonaparte, Billy the Kid, Socrates, Joan of Arc, Sigmund Freud, Ludwig van Beethoven, Abraham Lincoln, and Genghis Khan, but the youngsters that sat along side them in the theater? Not so much. While the portrayals of the characters could, likely, be no further from historical accuracy, Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure truly gave the young (and young at heart) a new way to look at these icons of history. And while those parents may not have quite been ready to let their eight year olds jump into the history of Freud or his teachings, there is no doubt that plenty of parents were more than happy to guide their children to the biography section of their local library (that’s what we did before the internet…), so that the youngsters could learn more about these important people. It made it not only fun to learn, not only did it inspire learning, but Bill and Ted actually made it cool to walk around with a book on Abraham Lincoln tucked under your arm. And when it came to the presentation that helped Bill and Ted pass history, damn, who wouldn’t love history class after seeing that?
Maybe it’s the fact that not only did Bill and Ted travel through time, but they also made their mark on the afterlife. After experiencing their excellent adventures, fans of Bill and Ted wanted more, and two years later, in 1991, those fans got their wish with Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey…kind of. Most people had imagined that a new Bill & Ted entry would mean more of the same history jumping that propelled imaginations the way the first movie had. Instead of simply replaying the formula of the first film, however, audiences were surprised to find Bill and Ted murdered by robot versions of themselves from the future, sent to hell with the creepiest grandmother and Easter bunny ever put on film, then challenging Death himself to games of skill to bring them back to life. And that’s just the first half. Initially, audiences had no idea what to think of the sequel. It was such a stark turn from the first film that instead of audiences flocking to the film, it was more of a trickle. Word eventually got around and fans soon realized that it wasn’t the time travel that they craved – it was Bill and Ted. The duo was still every bit as amazing together in Bogus Journey as they were during their first outing, and while it would have been interesting to see them interacting with more historical figures, having them meet God, who then sends them to a couple of alien scientists who are capable of not only creating a pair of robots to destroy Evil Bill and Ted, but can actually become one being, to create a bigger, smarter scientist (with a sweet butt) was a master stroke. And, after all of this, Death is not only their friend, but he slaps a mean bass for Wyld Stallyns. Well, until he went solo, but that is a story for another day.
Is it the fact that everyone loves the cool stoner character in any movie? The whole “lovable stoner” trope is been in play for as long as lovable stoners have existed. For many of a certain generation, Cheech and Chong or Fast Times at Ridgemont High’s Jeff Spicoli were the standards to be beaten when it came to this particular token. Then came Bill and Ted, and Excellent Adventure writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon did something truly interesting: they wrote the lovable stoner characters without making them actual stoners. Sure, the whole Valley Girl thing was around at the time, and sure, there were probably a few skater or stoner types around that were abstaining from the devil’s lettuce (maybe) but there is no question that Bill and Ted would feel right at home with Jay and Silent Bob or somewhere between Seth Rogan and Dave Franco (not sure anyone would feel too at home sitting next to James Franco, these days…). Through both films, the duo seems to remain consistently high, almost to the point where you could swear you remember them hitting a bong in some scene before. But, no, that’s just them. It’s an amazing contradiction and only adds to their loveability.
No, it’s something much simpler. While Bill & Ted may continue to be loved and to be a mainstay in pop culture for all of these reasons, and more, the fact of the matter is that what makes Bill & Ted such relevant characters, nay, heroes, 30 years after their first outing is their simple, yet timeless message:
During Excellent Adventure, after escaping King Henry VI, the duo wind up in the year 2692 – a utopian future where Bill and Ted are revered. As they can tell, the group that has assembled around them would like to hear from them. As ditzy as they may be, as out of touch with reality as they may be, the simplicity in the five words spoken by Bill at this moment is brilliant: “Be excellent to each other.” This simple philosophy seems to be the basis to this peaceful future, and in Bogus Journey, it is even inscribed on a statue of Bill and Ted at Bill and Ted University. Honestly, though, is it really any wonder? It is a pure message; a message that not only transcends all religions, nationalities, and backgrounds, but a message that could truly bring about peace. Given the current state of affairs around the globe and the ugliness and violence and greed that seems to be almost celebrated by some, could there be a message any more important? These two lovable characters are almost the embodiment of love, themselves, when it comes right down to it: they aren’t too bright, they make mistakes, they constantly have obstacles thrown at them but, in the end, they know what they want – they know what they need to do, even if they don’t know how to get there. They are kind but know how to fight, when it comes to that, and when the chips are down, they never accept defeat. If that isn’t an accurate description of love as a character, well, then nothing is. And when it all boils down to the heart of the matter, everyone needs a bit more love. Everyone needs a bit more understanding, a bit more patience. Everyone could use a bit more Bill & Ted in their lives and if more people could just live by those five simple words, perhaps the world would be a brighter place. So, does the world truly need another Bill & Ted right now? I repeat, you’re god damn right it does.
What are some of the reasons you love BIll and Ted? Sound off below!