Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things movie.

Dominic Corry: In defence of Pee-wee Herman

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Pee-wee Herman is back in a brand new movie for Netflix which hilariously demonstrates that the character still has plenty to offer audiences thirty years after his iconic first film.

When Paul Reubens, Pee-wee's creator and portrayer, was arrested for indecent exposure in 1991, it generated a scandal that came to define the character in many people's eyes for quite some time. Which is unfortunate, because Pee-wee Herman is one of the greatest comic creations of all time, and a personal hero of mine. The theatre incident notwithstanding.

Reubens developed the character of Pee-wee Herman when he was a member of Los Angeles' famed Groundlings comedy troupe.

A scene from the movie Pee-wee's Big Holiday. Photo / Netflix
A scene from the movie Pee-wee's Big Holiday. Photo / Netflix

The world at large was introduced to the bow-tie wearing man child in Tim Burton's 1985 masterpiece Pee-wee's Big Adventure, which is my all-time favourite comedy and the movie I've watched more times than any other.

An equally-inspired Saturday morning TV series followed and a just-okay film sequel, Big Top Pee-wee, arrived in 1988, but things naturally went quiet for a while after Reubens' infamous solo trip to the cinema.

Reubens' legal troubles never affected my deep love for the character or Pee-wee's Big Adventure, but it's taken decades for the public rancour over the incident to finally quell (for the most part).

Pee-wee Herman's journey back to the mainstream began with a well-received Broadway show in 2011, and enduring reverence for the character has been long evident in the comedy community - it was nice when Pee-wee's Big Adventure got a shout-out from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in the recent hit Sisters.

A scene from the movie Pee-wee's Big Holiday. Photo / Netflix
A scene from the movie Pee-wee's Big Holiday. Photo / Netflix

With comedy demi-god Judd Apatow backing him as a producer, a long-rumoured third Pee-wee Herman film finally came to pass this week in the form of Pee-wee's Big Holiday, now available on as a Netflix original.

I watched it last night, and speaking as a giant Pee-wee Herman fan, I absolutely adored it.

Like all the other projects mentioned above, Pee-wee's Big Holiday takes place in its own reality and doesn't acknowledge anything established in the other Pee-wee movies or TV shows. The tone is always consistent, and Pee-wee is always Pee-wee, but his circumstances change from project to project. In each instance, the settings are presented entirely in their own terms and don't rely on pop culture references. Which is incredibly rare in any comedy, and part of why Pee-wee is such a timeless character, as ably demonstrated by the new movie.

Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) leaves his hometown for adventure in New York in the Netflix movie Pee-wee's Big Holiday. Photo / Glen Wilson, Netflix
Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) leaves his hometown for adventure in New York in the Netflix movie Pee-wee's Big Holiday. Photo / Glen Wilson, Netflix

In the world of Pee-wee's Big Holiday, Pee-wee is a short-order cook at a diner in a small town called Fairville that appears unchanged since the 1950s.

One day, actor Joe Manganiello (True Blood, Magic Mike) comes into the diner and he and Pee-wee discover they have a lot in common. After becoming fast-friends, Joe invites Pee-wee to his upcoming birthday party in New York City, encouraging Herman to leave Fairville for the first time ever and "live a little".

So Pee-wee hits the road, and encounters all sorts of people and things on his way to New York City. Many of the capers he gets mixed up in wouldn't be out of place in Pee-wee's Big Adventure, but there's more than enough unique moments here for this film to tread its own path.

Reubens may be 63, but Pee-wee still very much looks the part, and his comedic energy doesn't appeared to have diminished at all, even if some of the physical comedy isn't quite as refined as it was in the 1985 film. Seeing Pee-wee interact with a wide variety of new characters was a huge thrill, and reaffirmed the uniqueness of his always-hilarious worldview.

A scene from the movie Pee-wee's Big Holiday. Photo / Netflix
A scene from the movie Pee-wee's Big Holiday. Photo / Netflix

Playing a hugely endearing version of himself, Joe Manganiello displays considerable heretofore unseen comedic gifts. His chemistry with Reubens-as-Pee-wee is awesome (the actors are apparently pals in real life), and their relationship in the film basically plays out like a very sweet love story. It's positively heart-warming.

Beyond the Rube Goldberg-contraption opening set-piece, I struggled to identify any throwbacks to Pee-wee's Big Adventure. That said, one memorable supporting cast member from the earlier film show up as a different character here, and gloriously so.

Although it would've been nice to see this on the big screen, the film's relatively smaller scope kind of suits a home viewing experience, and it's not that hard to imagine the film failing to exist at all without Netflix, so good on them for making it.

A scene from the movie Pee-wee's Big Holiday. Photo / Netflix
A scene from the movie Pee-wee's Big Holiday. Photo / Netflix

Paul Rust, the co-creator and co-star of the fantastic Netflix series Love, co-wrote the script for Pee-wee's Big Holiday with Reubens, and the resulting film showed him to be as much of a mega Pee-wee Herman fan as the rest of us. He also turns up in a minor onscreen role.

Pee-wee's Big Holiday straddles the line between a nostalgic exercise for existing fans and a sensible entry point for new audiences. It's a joyful, inclusive experience that easily outclasses most modern comedy movies. If you don't find something to laugh at here, you're clearly dead inside.

Pee-wee Herman fan? Thoughts on Pee-wee's Big Holiday? Comment below!

- nzherald.co.nz

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Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things movie.

A film critic and broadcaster for fifteen years, a movie and pop culture obsessive for much longer. Favourite films: The Lady Vanishes (1938), Ace In The Hole (1951), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Vertigo (1958), Purple Noon (1960), Emperor of the North (1973), The Parallax View (1974), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985), Aliens, The Three Amigos (1986), House of Games, Robocop (1987), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Talk Radio (1988), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Midnight Run (1989), Metropolitan (1990), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), Dazed and Confused (1995), The Game (1997), The Last Days of Disco (1998), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Primer (2002), Drag Me To Hell, District 9 (2009), It Follows (2015) and The Witch (2016). See more at www.TheGoodInMovies.com.

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