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SXSW Review: Pee-wee's Big Holiday

Pee-wee Herman takes off on another adventure in the new Netflix original movie "Pee-wee's Big Holiday" (Courtesy: Netflix)

Children's pop culture is built to be disposable, yet some things endure long past their expiration date, which is why guys like me still wear t-shirts with Optimus Prime on them, mall gift shops sell shot glasses with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles staring back at you, and Netflix has already green-lit a second season of "Fuller House." The online streaming service picked up another archaeological artifact from the '80s recently: Paul Reubens' Pee-wee Herman. And, with the help of celebrated comedy producer and director Judd Apatow, the latest Netflix original film, "Pee-wee's Big Holiday" has finally been released into the world, premiering at SXSW in Austin, Texas.

Apart from all time and space constraints and unrelated to any previous movie or TV show, we once again find eternal man-child Pee-wee Herman living in a whimsical, Rube Goldberg-ian house in a small, Tim Burton-ish town--named Fairville--seemingly frozen in all the best parts of the 1960s. Like clockwork, an elaborate contraption propels Pee-wee out of bed and on his way to work at a local diner, whipping up omelets and French toast for a band of colorful locals. Pee-wee loves his life in Fairville, which he has never left and has no desire to leave. He follows the rules and never takes any chances--until a mysterious stranger (Joe Manganiello) shows up at the diner, inspiring Pee-wee to take his very first holiday.

Unashamedly shaped in the mold of the 1985 modern comedy classic "Pee-wee's Big Adventure," this latest cross-country trek hits quite a few more bumps than Pee-wee's quest to find his stolen bicycle did. Even though this isn't a sequel at all, "Pee-wee's Big Holiday" inevitably begs comparison to its obvious inspiration, and often pales in comparison. Similar beats are hit, and some of them strike gold, like Pee-wee's encounter with a gag salesman (Patrick Egan), while things like Herman's encounter with a trio of Russ Meyer-esque femme fatales fall flat.

In the end, the nostalgia center of your brain gets fired up enough by Reubens' performance as Pee-wee Herman to power the film initially, and there are enough absurd laughs along the way to help the movie end its long, long journey as a success. Reubens may need an Oscar-winning makeup artist (Ve Neil) and costly digital de-aging (seriously!) to keep playing Pee-wee now that he's in his mid-60s, and my guess is that Netflix--itching to become the go-to network for new programming featuring dusted-off relics kids from the '80s and '90s will greedily devour--won't mind footing the bill again.

"Pee-wee's Big Holiday" is streaming now on Netflix.

  • Grade: B-
  • Starring: Paul Reubens, Joe Manganiello, Alia Shawkat
  • Directed by: John Lee ("Broad City")
  • Written by: Paul Reubens ("Pee-wee's Big Adventure") & Paul Rust ("Love")

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