It’s been way too long since we’ve been treated to a new adventure from Pee-wee Herman. Fans will no doubt recall his great 1981 HBO special The Pee-wee Herman Show, his brilliant Saturday morning series Pee-wee’s Playhouse (which ran from 1986 to 1990 and won numerous Emmy awards over five seasons), his still-beloved breakout film Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985), and the slight but amusing Big Top Pee-wee (1988) — but we’ve been clamoring for something new from this weirdly adorable character for way too long.
So here’s some good news! After nearly three decades, everyone’s favorite bow tie-clad man-child is back with a highly amusing new movie. Borrowing smartly from Pee-wee’s first cinematic adventure, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is an endearingly straightforward “road movie” that kicks off with a glorious collection of Rube Goldbergian wackiness, establishes our childlike hero’s role in the quaint little town of Fairville, and then gives the goofy guy a good reason to trek across the country and participate in a series of silly misadventures along the way. And yes, despite a few fleeting moments of suggestive behavior, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is as family-friendly as one would logically expect from good ol’ Pee-wee Herman.
In many ways a “road movie” is a lot like a collection of comedy sketches; you need only the slightest of connective tissue between scenes to keep the plot moving along, and this is where Pee-wee’s Big Holiday scores high marks. Once the intro and exposition are laid down — we open with a very funny bunch of contraptions and a weirdly amusing bromance between Pee-wee and character actor Joe Manganiello (Magic Mike) — the flick hits the road as Pee-wee stumbles across three lovely bank robbers, a pun-laden snake farm, a bizarrely funny collection of farmer’s daughters, a helpful team of hair stylists, an old-fashioned aviatrix, a theatrical mountain man, and a bunch of friendly Amish folks during his trek to attend Mr. Manganiello’s super-swanky birthday party in New York City.
Instead of trading on basic cues of nostalgia or rehashing the best jokes from Pee-wee’s back catalog, screenwriters Paul Rust (Love) and Paul Reubens (a.k.a. Pee-wee himself) seem firmly intent on giving the adorably immature cult hero some new things to do. Particular highlights include the aforementioned “farmer’s daughters” sequence, all of which had me laughing like a child. Plus there’s a single-take balloon-centric joke at the Amish village that’s as funny as anything Pee-wee has ever done.
Best of all, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday rarely slows down and never spends too much time in one place. The film is aided immeasurably by first-time feature director John Lee’s confident approach and brisk pacing, in addition to several inspired gags and a very playful Mark Mothersbaugh score. It’s also great to see a few of Pee-wee’s old co-stars pop up along the way — but mainly it’s just great to see Reubens dive back into the Pee-wee Herman character with such sweet, silly, and satisfying results.
Rating: 4 pee-wee-sized burritos out of 5
In case you get hungry during the movie, here’s a Pee-wee Pumpkin Pie you can make!