Pee-Wee Herman finally returns with a new movie outing nearly 30 years after Big Top Pee-Wee and this welcome return comes courtesy of Netflix, director John Lee and producer Judd Apatow who helped make Paul Reubens' long gestating project a reality.
Pee-Wee's Big Holiday sees everyone's favourite 60 year-old man-child having seemingly moved on with his life somewhat since he chased his beloved bicycle all over the country in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and grew hot dog trees on the farm: he's got a job working in a diner, he hasn't left small town Fairville in ages and he's in a rut with the world changing around him, much to his despair. That's until he meets and befriends actor Joe Manganiello who invites him to his birthday party in New York and urges Pee-Wee to go on a journey across America and live a little. Which he, of course, does. Pee-Wee may be in a rut and you actually see him in a more miserable state than ever before, but his wacky lifestyle is still as entertaining and creative as ever with his house and even the town itself contributing to his gadget-filled routine.
Pee-Wee's Big Holiday owes a lot to Jacques Tati and Tim Burton's first Pee-Wee movie, the film essentially being a sort-of remake of the latter with a fresh plot and new characters. And while there's no Danny Elfman providing the score this time and Pee-Wee himself looks a lot older, everyone involved does their best to insure that the spirit of the originals is well and truly present. Unlike most sequels/reboots these days, the film doesn't go out of its way to make lots of pop culture references and cram in endless cameos (see Zoolander 2), instead keeping the focus on the story and the main character's journey. In his travels, Pee-Wee encounters a trio of women thieves, an Amish family, a farmer with nine keen daughters, an eccentric loon (Diane Salinger who played Simone in Pee-Wee's big Adventure), a wacko living in the woods and a goofy salesman among others.
Not every joke works here but, luckily, most do and the simplicity which made the old Pee-Wee movies so charming and fun is in this movie, which is refreshing. Whether it's the plot itself (going to a birthday party) or just Pee-Wee making a milkshake, making funny noises with a balloon or driving down his street in a tiny car, it's the simple moments which make Pee-Wee's Big Holiday a success and a worthy/deserved comeback for Paul Reubens and his iconic alter-ego. The cast is easy to warm up to, Joe Manganiello proving himself throughout to be a believable ally as does Alia Shawcat's rebel and, ultimately, the film delivers an unexpected emotional punch and a valid message about living life to the fullest and making friends. There are also some more grown-up jokes sneakily placed in there so older viewers can still enjoy.
It may not be quite as good as Pee-Wee's Big Adventure but Pee-Wee's Big Holiday is more fun and charming than Big Top plus it's a really enjoyable ride from start to finish and a treat for fans of the off-beat character.
I, for one, was pleasantly surprised and look forward to perhaps more movie adventures for Mr Herman, hopefully on the big screen this time!