Written by Dylan Brandsema
Not since 1988 has there been a feature film involving the Pee-Wee-Herman character, and it’s been over 20 years since he was last seen on television. Now, in March of 2016, we get both, and it’s as if he never left. From the very start, Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday is classic Pee-Wee. The film, which has debuted on Netflix and select theaters, begins with Pee-Wee sitting on a rock with an alien exchanging friendship bracelets before said alien departs back into space — but of course, this is a dream, and Pee-Wee springs out of bed, gets himself ready, and begins riding around Fairville in his comically small car, joyously greeting everyone in the town, and making corny jokes in classic Pee-Wee Herman fashion (“Have you heard about the new corduroy pillows? They’re making headlines!”). If one is thing is clear from the get-go, it’s that after three decades, Paul Rubens, now aged 63, hasn’t lost an ounce of his Pee-Wee touch.
The film’s plot revolves around Pee-Wee’s daily routine in Fairville being turned upside down when he meets actor and professional cool guy Joe Manganiello, playing himself, who tells him he needs to be freer man — get out of Fairville, go on an adventure. “Live a little”, he says. He invites Pee-Wee to his birthday party in New York City, where, as expected, Pee-Wee has never been. Alas, Joe goes on his merry way, and Pee-Wee’s new, long-awaited adventure (or, “holiday”, as it’s repeatedly called) begins. It’s a simple film, as it well should be — it’s not as overly plot-driven as the largely disliked Big Top Pee-Wee — it has room to grow. It gives Pee-Wee a new sense of discovery.
Despite its well design and good intentions, Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday begins to suffer from what can only be referred to as the dread second act slump. After things pick up and Pee-Wee’s holiday is in full swing, the scenarios and gags become slowly stale and predictable. Pee-Wee gets kidnapped by an all-girl gang straight out of a Jack Hill movie, visits a false anti-joke based prehistoric museum, jumps out of a plane, and after about the third Spanish spark-filled Joe Manganiello daydream, and the third hitch pitched girlish Pee-Wee scream, it becomes evidently clear, at a certain point, that the movie starts to run out of new things for the character to do begins recycling it’s previous successes. There’s a particularly tedious and overdone bit where Pee-Wee winds up on a farm, and stays the night with Farmer Fred and his nine daughters. When we first meet them, the all walk up in a line individually to Pee-Wee, present him with a food, and Pee-Wee makes a silly comment. Later that night, Pee Wee is trying to go to sleep and he hears a knock on the door. It’s one of the daughters wanting to come in the room, but he denies entry. He goes back to bed and there’s another knock. Guess what happens next.
The film certainly takes a nosedive in the middle, but it finds it feet again later. There’s a handful of laugh-out-loud moments during his time at in Amish community – the best of which involves a particularly hilarious moment with a balloon(s) – and when Pee-Wee finally reaches New York, it’s a delight. The film does an excellent job of bringing the Pee-Wee character into modern times without having him talk to celebrities, or twerk, or use a selfie stick. Anyone who saw the 2012 Three Stooges redo or Dumb and Dumber To would likely expect to see Pee-Wee Herman interacting with technology, frollocking through shopping malls, and signing whatever the popular pop song is. But none of that ever happens. The film stays absolutely true to the character, and that is the one ground on which the film, despite anyone’s opinion of it, can not be faulted – the passion.
Paul Reubens’ passion, love and devotion toward the character of Pee-Wee Herman is still abundantly clear, and I’m sure the hardcore fans who have been watching since the 1980s are right there with him. There’s been no shortage of documentation on how much trouble there’s been in getting new major Pee-Wee Herman projects off the ground since the end of the beloved Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, but Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday is finally here, and it is good. And it’s good that it’s good. It doesn’t break any sort of new ground for the series or the character, but it doesn’t need to nor does it want to. It does most of what it sets out to do, and hardcore fans, as well as even the moderate ones, will surely be satisfied. I know I was.
And concerning any future Pee-Wee Herman projects – and Reubens has said he does intend on making more – this is one franchise that has yet to overstay it’s welcome and probably never will. Pee-Wee Herman is a timeless character, and as long more Pee-Wee films continue to get made, people (myself included) will continue to watch.
Hat’s off, Pee-Wee. You’ve done it again.
OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10
PEE-WEE’S BIG HOLIDAY IS CURRENTLY STREAMING ON NETFLIX
Dylan Brandsema is a staff writer for Pop-Break specializing in film and television. When he isn’t writing reviews or spending too much analyzing the medium, he’s writing and directing his own independent films as well as drinking way too much soda. Currently at full-time film major at Full Sail University, Dylan eats, sleeps, and breathes everything related to the cinema. You can follow him on Twitter @SneakyOstrich69.