If you’re going to bring back a treasured piece of pop culture that has been out of the mainstream for a while, you’re going to need to make it incredible — especially if it is someone as iconic as Pee-wee Herman. PEE-WEE’S BIG HOLIDAY was Paul Reubens’s big moment to resurrect the beloved character for his loyal – if grown up – fan base, but also to introduce him to a new generation. It was a comeback that was supposed to be welcomed with an uproarious standing ovation and a heaping of praise. Instead, Pee-wee’s return was met with seated applause and a pat on the back — at best.
When we are re-introduced to Pee-wee, he is living a happy life in Fairville, a charming slice of small town America. When the ruggedly handsome Joe Manganiello (played by Joe Manganiello) rides in on his motorcycle, he meets Pee-wee and they immediately bond over candy root beer barrels. As they talk, Pee-wee admits he has never stepped out of Fairville and Joe persuades him to take a road trip to New York City for his big birthday bash. This will give Pee-wee the opportunity to see life outside of Fairville and have a proper holiday. And just like that, Pee-wee’s big holiday begins.
The minds behind Pee-wee’s Big Holiday are a dream team of comedy – albeit an expectedly surreal dream. Reubens co-wrote the screenplay with Love‘s Paul Rust while John Lee of Wonder Showzen was the man behind the camera. And the reigning Godfather of comedy, Judd Apatow, produced it. It’s hard to point out what specifically went wrong with the movie, except to say that it just didn’t deliver. Reubens seemed to struggle with pleasing fans who grew up with Pee-wee while also introducing Pee-wee to an audience who has never heard of him before.
That isn’t to say that the film was a total bust; there were the wide-eyed moments of child-like wonderment and absurdity that we associate with Pee-wee. For one, the overly complicated Rube Goldberg machine at the beginning of the movie gives us pure Pee-wee realness. It’s fun, silly and puts a smile on your face — just like a squeaking balloon bit he does later in the movie. It goes on way longer than it needs to, but is probably one of the funniest bits in the movie.
The unlikely BFF friendship between Pee-wee and Joe is a highlight (there’s real potential for an entire spin-off buddy movie with these two), but the rest of the characters just feel like afterthoughts. When Jessica Pohly, Alia Shawkat, and Stephanie Beatriz enter the movie as three bank robbers on the run, it’s forced, unnecessary and lacks the Pee-wee universe charm. The same goes for a barrage of other characters Pee-wee encounters along the way, who become forgettable sidebars and meandering filler. At some point, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday starts to feel like a John Waters movie that was made without his supervision.
There is no Chairry, Globey, Jambi, or Laurence Fishburne making a cameo as Cowboy Curtis. Granted, those were all characters in Pee-wee’s Playhouse on television, but they are still part of the universe. They all gave fun color and ridiculous nuance to something many of us looked forward to on a Saturday morning.
Reubens definitely came correct as Pee-wee — I wouldn’t expect anything less — but it’s too bad the movie surrounding him didn’t match up. The world will forever love Pee-wee, but Pee-wee’s Big Holiday fails to tap into the same magic that Reubens and Tim Burton found during his Big Adventure.
Score: 2.5 out of 5
Dino-Ray Ramos watches too much TV and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer