Monday, April 4, 2016

I saw Pee-wee's Big Holiday...

Paul Reuben’s Pee-wee Herman has always possessed mass appeal, regardless of the controversy/scandal thrown at him, and his forced absence in our lives should be perceived as an unjust turn. Nonetheless, better late than never to have our deprivation squashed, for Netflix has blessed us with a new Pee-wee story, a third movie, in essence, and a dream come true for Reubens’ fans.  

Directed by John Lee and written by Ruebens and Paul Rust, “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” contains the same, surreal splendor of “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure”, “Big Top Pee-wee” and the beloved Saturday morn series, “Pee-wee’s Playhouse”. (It also mirrors Rowan Atkinson’s “Mr. Bean’s Holiday”: another enchanting, man-child misadventure of on-the-road self-discovery).  

"Pee-wee's Big Holiday" is, above all, about breaking free from one’s safety zone, growing as a person through experience, but never losing the core of one’s identity (including one's appreciation for root beer barrel candy). To convey its message, “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” acts as an odd, fun dream caught on film: a memory stored and refashioned by an adult through deep slumber, who totters between mature responsibility and the carefree, wide-eyed wonderment that none of us should ever lose.

The movie commences with Pee-wee doing his daily routine, graced by cartoonish, mechanical devices and a jubilant drive in his kiddish car. He gets a wake-up call, however, at the diner where he works, when his band mates stop by to tell him they're breaking up, so that they can move on with their lives: something Pee-wee has no desire to do. 

Later that day, when the diner’s owner (Richard Riehle) leaves the disgruntled Pee-wee to mind the store, a mysterious, rough-edged visitor arrives. His name is Joe…Joe Manganiello, that is (yep, playing himself), who encourages Pee-wee to be bold and adventurous, to leave his cozy confines and embark on a trip to find his true self. In other words, Joe asks Pee-wee to attend his big, NYC birthday bash, but when a Big Apple mishap ultimately leaves our hero in a mighty snag, it's up to good ol' Joe to rescue him, or is it the other way around? We learn, after all, that Joe harbors as much childlike glee as his new friend, though few around the celebrity seem to appreciate this the way Pee-wee does. 

In the tradition of previous Pee-wee tales, our hero meets many kooky characters along the way, including a "Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" bank-robbing trio (Jessica Pohly, Stephanie Beatriz and Alia Shawkat); a comical traveling salesman (Patrick Egan); snake-farm proprietors (Frank Collison and Lynne Marie Stewart, who's best known as Miss Yvonne to "Playhouse" fans); a life-loving aviator (Diane Salinger of "Pee-wee's Big Adventure"); a scary, wilderness recluse (Brad William Henke); an affable Amish leader (Christopher Heyerdahl, paying homage to his Thor Gunderson "Hell on Wheels" character); a group of enthusiastic hairstylists (Anthony Alabi, Sonya Eddie, Dionne Gipson, Darryl Stephens) and Farmer Brown (Hal Landon) and his many hankerin'-to-be-hitched daughters. 

Whether befriending or running away from them, Pee-wee learns something from each. Though he remains his childish, goofy self throughout, we also get the sense that he's furthering his courage and insight with each strange encounter, achieving just what Joe recommended, which is all part of the thematic tit-for-tat exchange that distinguishes this particular fable. 

Its story is, therefore, a traditional odyssey, which contains the best ingredients of any quality imagi-movie. The film certainly can't be categorized as science-fiction or horror, but then (even with Mark Mothersbaugh's delightfully boyish score) it isn't quite classic Disney, either. Perhaps, if anything, it's all of the above: weird, fantastic and mind-expanding. You'll also have fun learning a thing or two along the way: heck, a Pee-wee trademark if ever there was one.

I give Netflix accolades galore for setting this one in motion. The production value is great (better than most theatrical releases) and for the sake of linking new to old, this one does it even more seamlessly than "Force Awakens", and that's saying something! 

Check out "Pee-wee's Big Holiday" as soon as you can, and if you're not already a Netflix subscriber, this ought to give you darn good cause to become one. 

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