Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is pretty great

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I watched the new Pee-wee movie this weekend. I watched it twice, actually—once with my wife and another time with our daughter. The first time around I watched it out of morbid curiosity. I’d heard some good things but come on now. Isn’t Reubens in his 60s? He’s been doing this schtick for what? Close to 40 years? Isn’t the whole thing a little sad by now?

But Pee-wee’s Big Holiday holds up wonderfully. It’s not Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, which is equal parts hilarious, bizarre, and dark. This installment is funny and bizarre, sure, though where Burton’s translation felt grim and occasionally terrifying, “Holiday” feels a little more whimsical and optimistic. The premise is familiar— the man-child is forced out of his comfort zone and he meets a queer (sometimes literally) cast of characters who help him to get where he wants to go.

(And not that it matters, but for the curious: Through the magic of makeup and on-point cinematography, Reuben’s age only ever shows through if you’re looking for it, though it’s fair to say Pee-wee doesn’t move and pop about like he used to. It’s no matter. No matter. He remains magical nonetheless.)

It’s difficult to avoid comparing Holiday and Adventure, which is the sort of thing one writes before doing exactly that. I’ll spare you as I am sure you’ll get your fair share of that elsewhere. I loved the characters featured in Holiday, though, with the same love I hold for many of those from this universe who have preceded them. From the exploitation era girl gang of bank robbers to the RV full of friends traveling to hairdresser competition, I appreciate that the most admirable thing about the beloved protagonist is that he finds himself at home with those others might find bizarre or off putting, in large part because this is also how and who he is to his core. These are his people.

And when I was a kid, that was a gift bestowed unto me by Reubens and all of the geniuses responsible for co-creating, producing and disseminating his world. Introducing to young people everything from the surreal to the strange to the queer (again, often literally), and embracing these things as virtues and providing for them a place to wholly be themselves, he encouraged and empowered his guests at home to do the same. For the gift of that crusade I will be forever grateful. And I am again grateful that, as particular political narratives appear to be sprinting in the opposite direction with intensifying fervor, Pee-wee again opens his heart and welcomes us into his universe.

Alex Steed

About Alex Steed

Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was an insufferable teenager. He has run for the Statehouse and produced a successful web series. He now runs a content firm called Knack Factory with two guys who are a lot more talented than himself.