There’s a lot to love about the character of Pee-wee Herman. In the “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” TV show and a couple of movies in the late 80s we met and followed the simple adventures of a man-child who was completely without the cynicism that was pervasive in the culture at the time. This wasn’t a jaded, ironic look at the world, it was a perspective that was just meant to be…good, for lack of a better word. Simpler. The world Pee-wee inhabited was idyllic and full of the simple joys of imagination and wonder.
So can Pee-wee work in 2016? That’s the question that will be answered as Pee-wee’s Big Holiday hits Netflix today. The story picks up with Pee-wee safely ensconced in his home in Fairville, happy to stick with what’s comfortable and not try anything new. But a stranger named Joe (Joe Manganiello) rides into town on his motorcycle and finally sparks Pee-wee’s imagination, getting him to wonder what else is out there in the world. So he embarks on an adventure. Let’s see how this is being sold.
The one poster for the movie is pretty basic. it’s just Pee-wee in mid-jump with suitcase in hand. He’s decked out in his iconic outfit and you can see New York City behind him in the background. So we can clearly see the character is back and that he’s on some sort of adventure but that’s about it. But really, what else do you need to know?
The purpose of the first trailer was basically just to announce the official debut date for the movie and to show off the general look and feel. So we see Pee-wee waking up and going through his morning routine, which involves an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine to get him out of bed. There’s not much more to it than that, but it certainly worked to give people a first look and set some very basic expectations.
When the full-length trailer finally arrived it started off largely the same way but we soon followed Pee-wee into Fairville, where we see he’s completely happy with his status quo existence. When a motorcycle-riding stranger comes into town he encourages Pee Wee to get out of his comfort zone, which starts him on an epic trip. On said trip he encounters all sorts of zany characters and has all kind of crazy adventures, of course.
The trailer drips with the kind of sweet, gentle humor we should expect from Pee-wee Herman, even after all these years away. There’s nothing here in terms of a plot outside of the inciting incident of Pee-wee leaving town, but that’s kind of the point and I’d be surprised if there’s any dark, hidden story being hidden here.
Online and Social
As with most all of Netflix’s original productions there’s no website for the movie, nor are there any unique social channels, with the movie just hitching a ride on the profiles and pages of Netflix to share trailers and other material.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
I’m pretty sure there’s been a bit of online advertising done but nothing in the way of TV spots. The movie has received prominent placement on the Netflix front page, of course.
Media and Publicity
Aside from general news about the film and updates on production the first real news came when it was announced it would premiere at SXSW this year.
The New York Times published a huge feature on Reubens and his long-gestating return to the Pee-wee character, something that’s been hinted at and rumored about for a few years now as he pops up in-character randomly and generally set the stage for a revival and appreciation by a new generation of fans. Reubens kept talking about the character’s return along with the crew, including comments by the director about how they purposely kept the movie light on plot since that’s how everyone felt Pee-wee worked best.
Herman (the character) did a faux interview in EW with Manganiello about his role in the movie and more, all very tongue-in-cheek and such. That was just part of the press that popped right around the time of the SXSW – and Netflix – premiere. That included lots of stories about why Reubens resurrected the character, how Apatow got involved as a producer, the history of the character going all the way back to the late 70s and the long journey from conception to finally making the movie happen.
As much as – if not more than – other campaigns for franchise revivals, this one trades heavily on nostalgia. When the trailer shows us Pee-wee waking up and going through all the stages of that process of getting dressed and such we’re supposed to be instantly transported back to Saturday mornings of watching “Playhouse” and all the elaborate contraptions. The marketing wants us to feel like we’re getting something that’s very, very familiar.
And what it sells is…nice. The movie doesn’t look like it’s going to blow the doors off of anything or really wow the audience. But it does look like it might be legitimately funny in that uniquely Pee-wee way, meaning, as I said before, it’s good-natured and pretty funny. It’s going to be hard to reach the heights of Big Adventure, which involved both Tim Burton and Phil Hartman, but it looks like an amusing return to the world of the character that should amuse and entertain everyone who remembers the character’s heyday while introducing him to a new generation of potential fans.