Audiences hold grudges, especially when someone fucks with their childhoods. On July 25, 1991, Reubens was a beloved figured. Playhouse had recently wrapped, and reruns were more popular than ever. On July 26, 1991, Sarasota, Florida, police arrested Reubens for public indecency after catching him masturbating in an adult movie theater. CBS immediately yanked Playhouse off the air, Toys 'R Us took Pee-wee toys off the shelves, and Reubens begged the world for some mercy in repeated statements and through community service. Pee-wee's reputation was forever tarnished. If you were a kid hanging in a schoolyard in the '90s, you heard Pee-wee jerk-off jokes. If you talk to anyone in their 20s today, they'll tell you Pee-wee's a little creepy. A messy child pornography charge in the early 2000s and a confused investigation of vintage erotica that was later dropped (but still landed Reubens on a sex offender list) cemented his new place in the media's eye.
The incidents haunt Pee-wee. There's no shaking that. When you see Reubens splashed across Netflix's landing page, back in his gray suit and red bow tie, his grizzly mug shot crosses your mind. But a few minutes into Big Holiday, the character's beaming demeanor casts a blinding light over history. Apatow and Reubens took precautions; the movie exists in a parallel universe that never grew out of the 1950s suburban mold, creating a confectionary cocoon of kitsch, and 2016 Pee-wee only looks a week older than 1985 Pee-wee, like an old comic strip character suddenly came back to life (beware: the technological explanation, while interesting, will diminish the anti-creep tactic). His actual adventure defies summation; there are bank robbers, old-timey pilots, aliens, busty farm girls who want nothing more than to wed our hero, and actor Joe Manganiello, who encourages Pee-wee to pull the ripcord on the quaint life. Cue a rousing, Pee-wee-ified rendition of "New York, New York." How it ties together is the characters' magic.
Pee-wee's clownery arrives at a time when most people suffer from a mild case of coulrophobia. Someone who smiles that much, fights tooth and nail for true friendship, and can play baroque minuets on a deflating balloon is a colossal weirdo. Big Holiday overcomes natural distrust and Reubens's own baggage. It's a silly movie that hits and misses. It's a simple movie that makes perfect sense for Netflix's relaxed platform. What it's not is creepy. Pee-Wee returned pure. A snake will make him wail like a dog whistle, a sticky situation will summon a devil on his shoulder, and a root beer barrel will send him into pure ecstasy, but that's him. He made it. Reubens made it. Pee-wee's Big Holiday is good on its own merits, but there's exhilaration to the triumph.
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Matt Patches is Thrillist’s Entertainment Editor. He previously wrote for Grantland, Esquire.com, Vulture, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Guardian. He misses Chairy. Find him on Twitter @misterpatches.