Want to feel old, Generation X? Pee-wee Herman’s television show Pee-wee’s Playhouse ended in 1990. His feature film debut, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, was released in summer 1985. And do you remember the bit at the end of Big Adventure, where a 45-year-old James Brolin played Pee-wee in a movie within a movie? Well, James’ son, Josh, just turned 48. Happy birthday, Josh … and Generation X, you’re welcome.
Luckily, the character of Pee-wee—played, as ever, by Paul Reubens—exists outside of time; he seemed to come to us from an alternate-universe 1950s, where Captain Kangaroo was president. And the new made-for-Netflix movie Pee-wee’s Big Holiday proves that the idea of Pee-wee is timeless, too. It’s terrifically enjoyable from start to finish—whimsical, deftly paced and laugh-out-loud funny. And while Pee-wee isn’t quite as energetic or boyish as he was in his heyday (Reubens is 63), it hardly matters in the context of Big Holiday. This is a movie that could have come out in 1986—or in 1956, for that matter, during peak Kangaroo.
I’m loath to give away much of the plot or the jokes, seeing as the joy of the film lies in discovering these things for yourself. (Also because, just as it was in 1985, the plot doesn’t much matter; the genius of Pee-wee’s humor is almost entirely situational.) I will say that Joe Manganiello—whose appearance in a small town compels Pee-wee to take the film’s titular vacay—has never been more likable than he is here, and that Reubens gives a committed comic performance.
This is the Pee-wee comeback we Gen X types have been awaiting for nearly 30 years, and it’s all we could have hoped for. Now all we need is a new Goonies movie from Josh Brolin, and we can move into our golden years feeling a small degree of closure. ★★★★☆