Movie Review: Pee-wee’s Big Holiday – The Secret Word Is “Fun”

Written by Jesse Gelinas March 26, 2016

Pee wee makes a new friend in "Pee wee's Big Holiday"I didn’t grow up with Pee-wee Herman on the TV. Unfortunately, he was a bit before my time. I didn’t get a chance to appreciate his Playhouse, or his Big Adventure (and to a lesser extent, Big Top Pee-wee) until years later when he had already withdrawn from the public eye. But through the years of jadedness and cynicism, this daffy, bowtied man-child has endured, a classic throwback to a time of practical jokes, magic shops, red bicycles, and white low-tops. After almost three decades away from the big screen, Netflix has revitalized Pee wee, and sent him on a Big Holiday. And golly gee, it sure is a heck of a lot of fun!

Pee-wee’s Big Holiday begins like most Pee-wee stories, with our boyish hero waking up with a long, complex mechanically automated morning routine. Afterward while working at the local diner, Pee-wee meets Joe Manganiello (of True Blood fame). the pair immediately hit it off, but when Joe discovers that Pee-wee lives life way too safely, and has never taken a trip (ignoring the events of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure), he challenges Pee-wee to leave Fairville, and meet him in New York City for his birthday party. What follows is a by-the-numbers road movie, complete with various pitfalls, detours, and slapstick. It’s classic Pee-wee.

“May my hand be steady. Here I come, Pee wee!”

Fans of the old Pee-wee movies may be a bit thrown when the movie’s setup is revealed. Pee-wee has never left his town of Fairville. This negates the events of Big Adventure. Then again, in Big Top Pee-wee, he lived on a big farm, so I suppose each movie has its own little universe. Regardless, the setup works just fine, and Pee-wee is soon on the road and off to bigger and better things. Accosted by thieves, taken to a snake farm, trapped by horny farmers, and hosted by fun-hating Amish, Pee-wee’s holiday takes a lot of strange turns. it doesn’t flow quite as organically as its predecessor, but then again, zaniness never really had to flow.

Pee wee's big holiday is off to a perfec start

Pee-wee’s big holiday is off to a PERFECT START!

Where the film does show its failings is in the characters Pee-wee meets along the way. While Playhouse, Big Adventure and Big Top had plenty of memorable side characters dotting Pee-wee’s journey (who here doesn’t remember Large Marge?), his big holiday just doesn’t have the same deep roster. Fairville itself is even a pretty dull place. No Amazing Larry, no Chuck’s Bike O Rama. So, much of the comedy relies on the man-child himself. Which is fine; he can carry a movie, but he shouldn’t have to. Luckily, he isn’t completely without support.

“A traffic light! Just like I’ve seen in National Geographic!”

Where the film gets an unexpected boost is in the inclusion of Joe Manganiello, playing himself. The True Blood star brings some big comedy chops to the movie, and has a lot more fun with it than you’d rightly expect. He and Pee-wee play off each other perfectly, which allows for some great bromance scenes. There are a number of surreal, Spanish birthday dreams Pee-wee has about the two of them, that’ll leave you giggling like mad and scratching your head.

Pee wee buggy

In the end, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday doesn’t bring much new to the table, and it doesn’t quite live up to the classic Big Adventure. It sticks to a tested and true formula, but tries to branch out at the same time. Some of it works, some doesn’t. But it’s still a great chance to introduce a new audience to the good old-fashioned fun of Pee-wee Herman, a beloved character that has been absent from the mainstream for far too long. It’s a solid installment, and a good jumping off point for another movie or even (hope hope) a Pee-wee’s Playhouse revival. Paul Reubens won’t be around forever (he’s 63 if you can believe it), but I truly believe he’s got years of entertainment left in him, and we should be so lucky.

My Rating: 7/10

Poster for Netflix's "Pee wee's Big Holiday"

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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