From Howdy Doody to Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Rogers to Bill Nye, every generation has had its children’s television icon. For me, as a kid growing up in the ’80s, it was Pee-wee Herman. Now, thanks to Netflix and Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, the Pee-wee legend has refreshed for a new generation some 35 years after Paul Reubens first donned his iconic red bow tie.
When word first spread that Reubens was working on new Pee-wee projects, the rumor mill was spinning. After a few instances of projects looking like they were a go and stalling out, it was finally announced that Netflix was producing the first new Pee-wee film since 1988’s Big Top Pee-wee. Oh, and Judd Apatow was attached to produce!
As we geeks often do, I’ve shared many nostalgic trips back to my own childhood with my daughters. It’s always a fun experiment to test the shows and movies we grew up with on this new generation. So, the time finally came a couple of years ago to introduce my girls to the beloved world of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, the imaginative realm I enjoyed escaping to more than any other when I was a kid. Luckily, at that time, Shout Factory had just released the entire Pee-wee’s Playhouse series on Blu-ray, as well as the star-studded ’80s flashback that is the Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special.
My girls loved it! Pee-wee Herman held up. The zaniness, randomness and sheer fun of the show proved timeless. Not to mention that in this current CGI enhanced world of media, the magic of the Playhouse’s practical effects and puppetry were as compelling to an audience of kids in 2016 as they were to us kids in 1986. As a bonus, Tim Burton’s comedic masterwork, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was also streaming on Netflix at the time, and the kids loved that as well. They laughed, they quoted and were genuinely freaked out by the film’s infamous Large Marge.
Last month, Netflix brought Pee-wee back for an all new film that returns the titular character back to his classic filmic persona. It’s necessary to distinguish Pee-wee’s film persona from his TV one. While he is zany and endearingly immature in both, his filmic self, he’s real self you could say, exists in a much more familiar reality. Not too familiar of course, but compared to the Playhouse, the fantastical world of his imagination, the “real world” presents a more grounded fantasy. Fairville, the everywhere America in which Pee-wee lives is a timeless construct of American innocence. It’s almost as though Pee-wee has lived encapsulated in this world and ideal of perpetual naivety and pureness throughout his films.
Pee-wee’s Big Holiday is very much his coming out. Not only does Pee-wee grow up some throughout the film, venturing out into the world for his very first vacation, but the filmmakers also introduce some subtle yet clear hints at Pee-wee’s sexuality. This is how Pee-wee becomes relevant to an entirely new audience.
Ok, that’s enough serious criticism for a Pee-wee film. Now the real question comes; Was it a fun, family friendly film?
The answer is simple. Absolutely! Netflix was kind enough to send us a scavenger hunt to coincide with our viewing of the film. A box labeled Pee-wee’s Big Holiday arrived at our doorstep. Inside, a map of the United States and a series of eight separate boxes of various sizes. The map prompted us of certain points throughout the film to open the corresponding box. Inside were props, snacks and interactive elements the kids got to open and share alongside Pee-wee. This was an absolute hit in my house. So much so that my kids insist a scavenger hunt come with every movie we watch from now on. I found this idea so exciting that I want to steal it from Netflix and create a monthly series on creating scavenger hunts for various family films. Maybe I will…
For now, here’s a list of what each box included so you can create your own (these items will make sense when you watch)…
Box 1: Two Pee-wee costume t-shirts mimicking his signature look
Box 2: A Netflix pennant and the Fairville pennant hanging on Pee-wee’s wall
Box 3: Root beer barrel candies
Box 4: Three stickers. The say “Cool,” “Double Cool” and “Triple Cool”
Box 5: Two milkshake cups and red and white paper straws
Box 6: Balloons to make our own obnoxious noises with
Box 7: Bags of potato chips
Box 8: Friendship bracelets
Scavenger hunts aside, the film itself was a big hit. It’s rare to find a film we can all equally enjoy together, as a family. This was one. In fact, my kids continue to mimic Pee-wee’s ridiculous scream from the film day in and day out. This notion of not taking things too serious is what makes the Pee-wee character so endearing and timeless. I hope the film is successful enough to fast-track the Pee-wee’s Playhouse movie that’s now long overdue.
Check out Pee-wee’s Big Holiday now on Netflix.
Disclosure: I am part of the Netflix Stream Team and have been provided with Netflix access for review purposes, but opinions expressed are my own.