By: Anthony Miglieri
Pee-Wee Herman, Paul Reubens’s beloved man-child creation of nearly 40 years, is back on the screen, if not the big screen. Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday, the character’s third feature film, is out on Netflix for all subscribers to enjoy, and while Pee-Wee’s latest big escapade is predictably not as endearing as the 1985 classic, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, it is a mildly enjoyable return to the character’s unique brand of goofiness.
Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday centers on the ever-quirky Pee-Wee Herman, who resides in the nondescript town of Fairville, USA and lives comfortably in monotony. He wakes up every day, greets the many residents of Fairville on his way to work, and cooks for local diner. One day though, a rugged stranger (Joe Manganiello, playing himself and quite funny) materializes in town on the back of a motorcycle, and invites Pee-Wee to his spectacular birthday bash in New York City. Joe urges him to spice up his life, and the perpetually bow-tied Pee-Wee sets off alone, past the confines of Fairville.
Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday borrows much of its structure from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, the feature film debut of both Pee-Wee as well as director Tim Burton. Like the 1985 film, the new movie revolves around a cross-country road trip that Pee-Wee is compelled to embark on, this time for a party instead of his stolen bike. Also per the original film’s structure, Pee-Wee runs across several strange characters and situations, making for a bouncy, episodic, and loosely connected tale.
Granted, it was a wise decision to return to the formula of the original, because the familiarity makes it easy to become re-ingratiated with the character, and also because Big Top Pee-Wee’s (1988) attempt to sculpt a different type of story around him (Pee-Wee plays host to a circus and romances a sensual trapeze artist. What?) mostly failed miserably. None of the short misadventures in Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday are outright bad, but they offer their share of eyeroll-worthy moments, and most importantly, none are even half as memorable as the best of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure; unsurprisingly, nothing here rivals the sublimity of ghost trucker Large Marge, Mr. Buxton shrieking in pain from Pee-Wee’s trick gum, or Pee-Wee wooing of the Satan’s Helpers biker gang by righteously dancing in platform shoes on a bar top to “Tequila.”
In short, Pee-Wee’s latest adventure is at least mildly amusing for most of its 90-minute runtime, especially for fans. Reubens is bubbly as ever as Pee-Wee, and Joe Manganiello makes for a surprisingly funny foil to the amiable oddball. Befitting its home on Netflix, Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday is somewhat disposable, but ultimately competent for what it is: a blatantly nostalgic embrace of a classic character.