By Matt Shiverdecker
(“Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday” is now streaming on Netflix. If you’d rather have the big screen experience, it has select showtimes this weekend at the Alamo Lakeline and Alamo Slaughter Lane locations.)
It’s been over 30 years since Tim Burton took us all on “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.” There has subsequently been some form of development on a new Pee-Wee Herman film happening for the last decade and a new film has finally surfaced thanks to the deep pockets over at Netflix. While it certainly took a long time, fans will not be disappointed in the end result. Director John Lee manages to capture the playful essence of the Pee-Wee Herman character that has found Paul Reubens delighting audiences for so long.
This story does seem to exist in its own universe, as Pee-Wee lives in the small town of Fairville, where it appears as though everyone is straight out of the 1950s. It’s a place with stores like Nana’s Yarn Barn and Dan’s Diner, where Pee-Wee works as a short order cook. His home is still filled with imaginative inventions and life hacks and he drives around in a comically miniature car. It’s established that (even though “Big Adventure” took him to the Alamo in San Antonio) Pee-Wee has never crossed the railroad tracks to leave Fairville, spending his entire existence within the city limits.
One day Pee-Wee is left to tend to the diner by himself when a mysterious customer arrives on a motorcycle. It turns out to be actor Joe Manganiello (“True Blood,” “Magic Mike”), clearly having a lot of fun as a hysterically alternate universe version of himself where he and Pee-Wee become instant friends. They start to finish each other’s sentences shortly after meeting and have the exact same passions for bizarrely unique things like model town building and root beer barrels. Manganiello tells Pee-Wee that he has to dedicate himself to “breaking rules and breaking hearts,” encouraging him to leave the confines of Fairville to come to his birthday party in New York a mere five days later.
And so Pee-Wee’s new adventure begins, running into everything from a bank robbing trio of young women, an Amish community, a bus full of hairdressers on the way to a competition, and even a flying car along the way. The movie mostly plays out as a serious of unrelated skits (which makes sense given Lee’s history co-creating the gleefully offensive “Wonder Showzen” on MTV2 back in 2005). Produced by Judd Apatow with a screenplay by Reubens and Paul Rust (co-creator and star of the new Netflix series “Love”), the plot is admittedly thin, but it’s all harmless and terribly silly fun.
Reubens, who is now 63, has managed (with the help of an extra round of makeup) to freeze time with this character, looking almost identical to how he did over three decades ago. The laughs are goofy and quick, harmless enough for kids of all ages but absurd enough to please older fans. There are moments when the gags seemingly go on for too long, but after the wait we’ve had for more Pee-Wee, they’re easy enough to forgive. Let’s hope we won’t have to wait nearly as long for Pee-Wee’s next journey.