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Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday: A movie that ages well without growing old

by Eric Melin on March 23, 2016

in Print Reviews,Reviews

If it weren’t for shots of an iPhone or two and the 30 years on Paul Reubens’ face that are intermittently visible to varying degrees, it would be really easy for someone to watch the brand-new Pee-wee’s Big Holiday and think that it was a 1986 sequel to 1985’s now-classic Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.

This 2016 direct-to-Netflix feature film shows almost zero signs of modernity, and it’s all the better for it. Director John Lee (MTV2’s subversive Wonder Showzen) mines the same 50s-era cult eccentricities of Tim Burton’s original while keeping the special effects lo-fi and cheesy.

As far as the story goes, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, which is co-written by Reubens and Paul Rust, is as interested in all of its strange side characters—who also seem to appear from a different era entirely—as much as its ageless kid’s-comedy icon. There’s the outlaw girlie gang who look like they just stepped out of a film by Russ Meyer (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!), Farmer Brown and his nine daughters, and an Amelia Earhart-Katharine Hepburn composite (played by Diane Salinger—Simone from Big Adventure) who drives a flying car.

The meta-looney main thrust of the story (which has hunky Magic Mike co-star Joe Manganiello playing himself) acknowledges a homo-erotic subtext in ways that will remain invisible to younger viewers but are a kick for adults. Meanwhile, there’s enough innocent, joyous lunacy to keep the film afloat, even in its thinner moments (such as Brad William Henke’s underwritten Grizzly Adams knockoff).

What’s interesting about Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is that it must do the impossible: Measure up as a sequel (let’s just agree to forget about 1988’sBig Top Pee-wee) to a true original. By its nature, this latest Pee-wee film retreads some of the same material, though in the most respectful way. That said, it does the best possible job rekindling the spirit that made Pee-wee’s Big Adventure a timeless delight.

This review is part of Eric Melin’s “LM Screen” column that appears in the summer 2016 edition of Lawrence Magazine.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of and writes for The Pitch. He’s former President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls, Ultimate Fakebook, and Truck Stop Love . He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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