Pee-wee Herman has not appeared in a feature film in 28 years sidelined as actor Paul Reubens was by the 1991 indecent exposure arrest that predates the modern internet. We've seen Reubens appear as Pee-wee, of course, in a small handful of late-night and awards-show TV appearances, and Reubens has appeared out of character in the films Mystery Men (1999), Blow (2001), and in a voice-over capacity in several animated TV series. But the Pee-wee character has been essentially shelved for nearly three decades, much to his fans' sadness. That changed at 12:01 a.m. this morning when Pee-wee’s Big Holiday premiered on Netflix as a 90-minute exclusive to the streaming platform that’s “paging Mr. Herman” back into the public spotlight.
The premise of Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday is obviously false to anyone who has seen Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but Paul Reubens is still in hilarious mid-1980s form as Pee-wee, despite the passage of four presidential administrations. The plot portrays Pee-wee as having never set foot outside his hometown of Fairville, ignoring the established backstory of the previous Pee-wee films. In fact, Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday is essentially a remake of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, just with a whole new set of gags and a different motivation forcing Pee-wee to take a detour-filled cross-country road trip.
The new movie has less star power and is lower-budget than Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Instead of a Danny Elfman score, Big Holiday has a Mark Mothersbaugh score. Instead of Tim Burton’s innovative direction, the Netflix movie has Judd Apatow as an executive producer and John Lee (best known for MTV2's Wonder Showzen) as director. The only other recognizable star is Joe Manganiello (True Blood, Magic Mike) as himself, whom Pee-wee does not recognize because Pee-wee only watches children's programming.
But this is totally a Pee-wee-centric movie, and Pee-wee appears in virtually every frame of the film (except for pan-out shots that depict Pee-wee’s vehicle moving). Modern jokes and contemporary lingo are weaved in to extremely funny effect. The plot has no real structure, the 90 minutes of vignettes could be rearranged in any order and still make the same amount of narrative sense. Pee Wee’s Big Holiday is simply a gag-reel film that makes consistently makes you LOL every 30 or 60 seconds, a great accomplishment for any comedy film. It’s so funny, you won’t forget to laugh.
Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday is not entirely a Netflix exclusive it is having a brief run on the big screen at a few theaters around the country, including the Alamo Drafthouse in SF (“Remember the Alamo! Haa haaaaa!”). But all of this weekend’s Alamo screenings have sold out. Pee-wee fans can also pleasure themselves at tonight’s Pee-wee themed Red Hots Burlesque show I Know You are But What Am I?, at which all performers will do a Pee-wee inspired number. “We will have a costume contest, a limbo, we will make faces with scotch tape and there will be a word of the day,” promises organizer Dottie Lux.