pee-wee's big holiday john lee interview

It’s interesting you bring up these changes. One of the things I like about this movie is that it feels fresh and new instead of just relying on pure nostalgia. It’s not a retread.

Nostalgia is just inherent to the thing. So what I tried to invoke…I tried to make this movie more emotional than the other movies. It’s in the script, but we really pushed that in production. That’s what the other movies don’t have. That’s what the kids’ show doesn’t have, because it’s a kids’ show. I wanted to evoke the feeling of nostalgia without it being nostalgic. I wanted you to get back to that innocent feeling and remember, oh right, this is why we love Pee-wee Herman. Because he’s this perfectly sweet, loving, little devil. He just gets to be a child and act nasty but funny. It’s not mean. You’re one hundred percent right that there’s nothing mean about it, but there is something a little anarchic about it. It’s just a level of how much anarchy can you push.

I’m happy you said that, because I didn’t want this to be a throwback because I think so many people will compare it to a throwback and I specifically didn’t want to do a few things that his movies have done before and he’s done before. Just so it won’t be “Oh, it’s the one we love and used to love and isn’t that fun. You know, it makes me want to go watch the other ones.” If I did that…then why did we even make this movie? You want [people] to go like “Oh, this one has a different feel! I want to watch that Pee-wee Herman and not the other Pee-wee Herman.” They all have different reasons and purposes. That’s a subtle distinction, but it seems like people and fans are picking up on it. People who know the different levels of Pee-wee are understanding it.

Did you steadfastly avoid the previous movies and the show? Did you specifically choose certain elements to not use?

I avoided claymation, for example, which I’m sure fans are going to be upset about. They so much relate that with Pee-wee, but it’s also such a Tim Burton thing. I’ve done a lot of animation work, but I didn’t want to do that because that would be too much of a throwback to another time. I didn’t want to have Let’s Share talk or the phone talk, because that’s for the kids’ show and you have to do that when you’re making a kids’ show. There were definitely decisions to step out of the big, giant spotlight of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure because that’s a giant, iconic movie and Tim Burton is a giant, iconic filmmaker. I can only scooch to the side to avoid that big shadow.

I expected Paul Reubens to be funny and he was, but the real surprise for me was Joe Manganiello. He’s such a good sport. He’s so funny. What was it like to get him involved?

Joe’s willingness to be emotional and to be a nine-year old boy…so many people wouldn’t do that. So many macho people wouldn’t make that decision. They’d play all of those things for comedy and it wouldn’t be funny. He played it from drama and that’s what makes it funny. Because he’s actually so upset that this guy didn’t come to his birthday party and he’s mad at himself…It’s all in the writing for sure, but he makes the writing just sing the right amount. For him, it was so easy. He’s such an uber-Pee-wee fan. He’s a deep, deep Pee-wee fan. I think Pee-wee might have saved his life at one point. It’s quite clearly special [to him]. He just does this stuff where he acts like a nine-year old boy his bedroom, sulking and eating a bag of chips.

I’m going to steal a quote from a friend of mine because it’s too good. Jenni Miller tweeted that, between this and Magic Mike XXL, he’s becoming the “big-hearted antidote to toxic masculinity.”

Yeah! For sure. Which is great. Screw that!

The movie is so positive. Even when characters are threatening Pee-wee, it’s the right kind of goofy and silly and innocent. Do you actively set out to make a movie for kids and adults? How do you find that right balance?

The joke is that we made a “hard PG” movie. I think we should coin that phrase. That is the balance. It’s the first think I’ve made that I’ve been able to show my children, because I’ve made stuff that you shouldn’t show children. That’s the real balance. I think there’s so many kids’ things that are just so watered down, where you think why not make the bad guy an actual bad guy? Why not make that scene kind of racy because that’s fine. The movies we grew up with are pretty edgy. There are some pretty strange things in the movies we grew up with. You don’t get it as a kid and you get it when you’re older. I don’t think we need to neuter the world for children. I think you just want to make sure it’s funny and interesting. If they know the story or the drama, they get it. Do they know what strippers are? No. That’s probably the only thing the children don’t know, but they get “Oh, those were costumes!” And that’s fine. Did I get that Rizzo had a miscarriage? No, but I got that something stopped in Grease and they could get back together.

I think that was all a level of tone. Paul, Pee-wee, gets away with so much great cheesy classic-ness and he gets away with it because it’s also a celebration of how dumb that is. You get both. The one thing I remember thinking would be funny was when Yul [the alien in the opening scene] ascends into space and he tilts down really dumbly and really clumsily. I said right there, you just lift the wire until he’s flat. And people where like “Really? We can go smooth!” And I’m like no, no, no, no, it’s got to be dumb. People were suspect of that until you see it in the cut. You can get away with that really homemade filmmaking and it gets a laugh because it’s so dumb, but it’s also gleefully dumb. You get a laugh that’s only a beneficial laugh. It’s not snarky, it’s not making fun of something, it’s just preparing you for “Oh, this movie’s that! This movie is about fun and stupidity and it’s innocent without being evil.”

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