Pee-wee Herman was a big fixture in our young lives whether we liked it or not. Ever since the character’s first appearance at The Groundlings Theater, he amassed a large audience that grew infinitely beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Both he and Tim Burton realized their big screen dreams with “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” and then he had his own Saturday morning show with “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” Then he disappeared for a time, and if we were sick of him his absence made us realize how much we liked and got used to having him around.
Well in the past couple of years he has made a welcome comeback, and now it culminates in his first big screen adventure in decades, “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday.” Don’t let the fact that it is debuting on Netflix turn you off (and why should it?). It’s an infinitely giddy movie that will have kids and adults alike laughing hysterically more often than not. While it seems to take place in an alternate universe where “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” never took place, rest assured that Pee-wee has never changed and still hasn’t aged a day.
When we meet up with Pee-wee this time, he lives in the picturesque town of Fairville where everyone seems more than willing to help him out with his Rube Goldberg-like devices and machines that get him up and out of his house in the morning. He is perfectly happy to work as a cook at Dan’s Diner and rehearse with his rock group to where the thought of going outside the city limits seems unthinkable. But that all changes when Joe Manganiello shows up as he plays… Well, you’ll have to see for yourself.
Anyway, Manganiello encourages Pee-wee to go beyond Fairville’s city limits and find out more about life, and he even invites him to a birthday party taking place in New York City. Despite some hesitation, Pee-wee jumps at the chance and endures all sorts of adventures and mishaps as he makes his way from one side of America to the other.
What’s great about “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” is how the humor succeeds in appealing to both kids and adults without condescending to either group. The kids will definitely enjoy Pee-wee’s antics as he braves a snake farm that is not all it appears to be and performs a balloon trick which has to be seen to be believed. Adults on the other hand will get a huge kick out of the subversive elements and of references to cult classics like Russ Meyers’ “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” There’s even a great moment where “Magic Mike” is mentioned, and I wouldn’t dream of spoiling it for you here.
Tim Burton and Danny Elfman, whose careers in movies exploded after the success of “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” weren’t around for this one. This adventure was instead directed by John Lee who became best known for his work on the MTV2 comedy series “Wonder Showzen” and also directed episodes of “Inside Amy Schumer.” Lee keeps the pace of “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” tight to where the movie never drags. Granted, the jokes are at times hit and miss, but the ones that do hit had me laughing harder than I had in some time.
Composing the score for this movie is Devo lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh, and he seems like a natural choice to succeed Elfman. Both Mothersbaugh and Elfman have had long working relationships with unique film directors (Elfman with Burton, and Mothersbaugh with Wes Anderson), and their scores perfectly capture the playfulness and creativity we see unfolding onscreen, Whether or not you think Mothersbaugh’s work equals what Elfman pulled off years before, he is a terrific fit for this material and captures the infinite innocence of Pee-wee.
But what’s really nice is how Paul Reubens brings his man child alter-ego of Pee-wee Herman back to life after such a long hiatus. I figured Reubens had long since grown tired of this character to where it seemed like he had engineered a rather embarrassing escape from playing him. Reubens even went on to show his acting range with terrific performances in “Blow” and “Life During Wartime,” proving to the world that there was way more to him than Pee-wee. Having said that, you can see on Reubens’ face throughout this movie that he was super enthusiastic about bringing this iconic character back to life, and he makes you realize just how much we have missed Pee-wee after so many years.
The only thing that could possibly take away from Reubens’ thunder here is Manganiello who steals every scene he’s in. He could have easily screwed up here by playing his role like he was in on the joke, but the fact that he doesn’t makes “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” all the more fun to watch. Manganiello looks like he’s having a blast here, and his fun is very contagious.
There have been a lot of popular characters from the 1980’s resurrected over the past few years with varying degrees of success, and Reubens’ is more successful than most in doing so. Seeing “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” makes you realize how much we missed this guy more than we ever cared to admit. Whether or not you think it is better than “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” this one is definitely more kid friendly and still has something for adults who have refused to let the kid in themselves die away.
Copyright Ben Kenber 2016