It’s been a long time since Pee-wee Herman was a household name, his face adorning movie posters, a television show, anti-drug PSAs, toys and games, almost long enough for audiences to forget that bewildering sense of innocence and wonderment the character brought with him wherever he traveled. In this newest addition to the Pee-wee legacy, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, creator Paul Reubens and Netflix (mostly) remind us of what we’ve been missing for all of these years, successfully resurrecting an old friend we may not have been ready to part with.
Unlike Pee-wee’s last feature film outing, 1988’s Big Top Pee-wee, this newest installment follows the original film fairly closely. It brings the character out on the road again, leading him from one misadventure to another, giving Paul Reubens free reign to make bad snake-related puns, poke fun at the Amish, and capture snippets of over-exaggerated Americana only a mind like Reubens could conjure. Though not every one of these jokes land, the tone of the movie is a tone that has been sorely missing in film. Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is unapologetically chipper.
In a year where Hollywood super heroes are pitted against each other and polarizing political discourse reaches a deafening crescendo, it’s unexpected to see a movie so sweetly innocent and shamelessly silly, stupid and heartwarming. Where other films look to ramp up the melodrama, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday aims at recapturing the wonderment of a child-like fascination with the world, and to its credit, it manages to maintain a consistent, light-hearted mood throughout.
That’s the beauty of Pee-wee. It’s why now, some 31 years after the character’s feature film debut, a new adventure that plays to formula feels oddly refreshing.
In Big Holiday, we’re introduced to Pee-wee living a simple life in the picture-perfect town of Fairville. He’s a big fish in a small pond, loved by all, and not wanting for anything more than his day job at Dan’s Diner, his scuba-related adventure books and practice with local band The Renegades. It isn’t until his band breaks up that Pee-wee finds himself at a loss. His world crumbling, Fate intervenes when Joe Manganiello (playing himself) rolls into town. Joe and Pee-wee become fast friends, bonding over a mutual love of root beer barrel candy. It’s ultimately this budding bromance that compels Pee-wee to travel cross-country to visit Joe for his birthday in New York City.
As mentioned previously, not every joke lands, and there are a few long stretches in the middle of Big Holiday that feel like missteps merely there to connect the dots on Pee-wee’s trip. Still, the chipper mood throughout is endearing, lowering our guard as Reubens shows us the colorful world he sees, and it’s simply magical.
Throughout Pee-wee’s trip across the United States, our gleeful man-child succumbs to vivid dream sequences of Joe and himself sharing in a variety of birthday festivities. They’re ridiculous, over-the-top and arguably the funniest moments in the film. Though painted as visions of unabashed friendship, these sequences carry a dual purpose, carefully crafting a love story behind splashes of color. True to Reubens’ nature, there is greater meaning veiled behind the insurmountable innocence, conveying ideas and sentiments that adults could appreciate.
Ultimately, it’s why this film, despite its flaws, succeeds. Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is overflowing with heart. It’s a delightful breeze in a year of brooding heavy hitters, showcasing beauty in the simplicity of a child’s eyes when media pundits would have us ripping at our own throats. To put it succinctly, its name makes good on its promise to give us what we all need — a holiday.
Pee-Wee's Big Holiday
Starring: Paul Reubens
Directed by: John Lee
Written by: Paul Reubens & Paul Rust
Running time: 89 minutes