In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “After Big Holiday I found myself re-watching Pee Wee’s Big Adventure for the first time in a few years. And watching them so close together made both even better.”
“Have you heard about those new corduroy pillows?”
Twice as a kid, I lied to my mum, telling her that our VCR had chewed tapes we’d hired so I wouldn’t have to return them to the video shop. I’m sure there were fines involved, but I’m also sure we would have followed our family tradition that occurred whenever we got a video shop fine. Instead of paying it, we’d just get a membership in another family member’s name, or move on to the next shop where our credit was yet to be ruined. One of the movies I lied about destroying was Police Academy 5: Mission Miami Beach. While I’ve never watched it in the years since my early 90s obsession passed, the other movie I lied about so I could keep it is one that has stayed with my ever since.
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is a truly unique piece of film making and art. It was like nothing that came before it and there has been nothing like it since. Paul Reubens’ titular character is so insane, sweet, creepy, wise and naïve, all at once. And his world was so perfectly suited to Tim Burton’s style as a director. I always avoided its maligned sequel, Big Top Pee Wee. Even as a kid, I somehow knew it wasn’t on the same level as the original. Just like this time, I had a feeling that the decades late, Netflix produced sequel would be a worthy successor. So, did my feeling prove correct with Pee Wee’s Big Holiday.
From his alarm going off, to walking in the front door of the diner where he works, Pee Wee Herman’s (Reubens) morning is an elaborate, Rube Goldberg machine that shows just how set in his ways he is. On a first name basis with seemingly everyone in small town Fairville, Pee Wee’s life is one, long, precise routine, and he loves every predictable second of it. Which is why it hits so hard when that routine is disrupted. Thanks to new commitments, the members of his band all have to quit at once. And this one, small change completely throws the usual affable, happy, obliging Pee Wee into a tailspin of resentment and sarcasm.
Until Joe Manganiello (playing himself) walks into the diner. With his motorcycle fueled, rugged good looks, the star of True Blood and Magic Mike couldn’t be more physically different from Pee Wee, but the two have almost identical tastes in absolutely everything. When he discovers that Pee Wee has never left Fairville, Joe challenges him to road trip it to New York for Joe’s penthouse birthday party, declaring that the adventure will help Pee Wee get over the sadness of his band breaking up.
Pee Wee’s Big Holiday is to his Big Adventure what Star Wars: The Force Awakens is to A New Hope. It is so unapologetically paying faithful homage to its predecessor, that’s it’s almost a remake. Pee Wee forced on a cross country trek, where every new friend leads to a new mishap, which leads to a new friend and new mishap wackier than the last is the exact structure of both movies. Also like The Force Awakens, this nostalgic appropriation of my childhood love for the original works gangbusters.
The difference between Big Adventure and Big Holiday is scope. It takes everything that worked from the original, at makes it bigger, longer, more extreme. And it works every time. In the original, Pee Wee was liked and accepted, but even in his home town, he was obviously different. Here, everything and everyone in Fairville is straight out of an idealised version of the 50s. Kids dress like they’re in Stand By Me, and Pee Wee’s adult band mates were knitted, letterman cardigans. Even when he leaves, Pee Wee’s still not the odd man out in the real world, because every single person he meets is just as odd in their own way.
Between Arrested Development, Full House, The Gilmore Girls and Pee Wee’s Big Holiday, Netflix is gambling big on nostalgia. Full House aside, it’s also taking big risks by attempting to revive properties with passionate, fervent, cult audiences. The kind of audiences who are champing at the bit to declare things like these as desecrating the originals.
The general reception to Arrested Development’s fourth season was underwhelming, but I loved it. I have no interest in Fuller House, and I never watched The Gilmore Girls, so I can’t imagine I’ll watch it’s comeback. But if those shows recapture the original tone, and give it a new life has as effectively as Pee Wee’s Big Holiday does, then I’m all for Netlfix mining as much nostalgia as they want. Another testament to how well this move recaptures the spirit of the original is that a few hours later, I found myself re-watching Pee Wee’s Big Adventure for the first time in a few years. And watching them so close together made both even better.