[Screen It]


(2001) (voices of Andy Lawrence, Dabney Coleman) (G)

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Children's/Comedy: A group of fourth-graders tries to stop a deranged, former school principal from eliminating summer recess forever.
It's the last day of school before summer vacation at Third Street School and fourth-grader T.J. Detweiler (voice of ANDY LAWRENCE) is doing what he does best, namely making the lives of Principal Prickly (voice of DABNEY COLEMAN) and Miss Finster (voice of APRIL WINCHELL) as miserable as possible.

Nevertheless, with the ringing of the afternoon bell, school's out and twelve weeks of goofing off and having fun begins, or so T.J. thinks. Much to his surprise and dismay, his close friends are all headed off to various summer camps. There's Gretchen (voice of ASHLEY JOHNSON), the brainy one who's headed for space camp; Vince (voice of RICKEY D'SHON COLLINS) who's hoping to improve his baseball skills; Gus (voice of COURTLAND MEAD) who's off to a military boot camp; Mikey (voice of JASON DAVIS) who has a great sounding singing voice (courtesy of ROBERT GOULET) and is off to sing with others; and Spinelli (voice of PAMELA SEGALL) who's enthused about attending professional wrestling camp.

Suddenly all alone, T.J. doesn't find much solace from his parents (voices of APRIL WINCHELL & PAUL WILSON) or his older sister, Becky (voice of MELISSA JOAN HART). Yet, when he sees an odd green light emanating from his supposedly closed school and various shady looking characters going in and out of it, the outlook of his summer radically changes.

When neither his family nor the police believe his wild-sounding story, T.J. recalls his friends from camp. They soon learn that Dr. Philliam Benedict (voice of JAMES WOODS), their school's former principal and one-time Secretary of Education, has taken over their school and is using it as his base camp to carry out the cause he's long championed, and that's eliminating summer recess.

As T.J. and his friends discover that Benedict plans to shift the moon in its orbit with his special laser and thus forever eliminate summer, and consequently summer recess, they set out to do what they can to stop him.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Back in high school and college, most all of us had one or more teachers and/or professors who informed us to enjoy the free time that we had during those years as it would never be as plentiful as it was then. With all of the papers & projects and exams & extracurricular activities, however, few of us believed such dire predictions.

Of course, we were wrong, and while many of us worked in high school and college, there was still far more free time for just goofing off and having fun than there is now that we've become adults, parents and/or full-time employees. In fact, few kids know how good they have it, especially when it comes to summer recess, or that most adults long for those easier and less hectic days of growing up.

That's part of the underlying theme of "Recess: School's Out," the moderately entertaining big screen version of Disney's half-hour, Saturday morning TV cartoon. When the program first hit the airwaves back in 1997, it immediately struck a chord with kids since it featured most of theirs favorite aspect of school - namely recess - and focused on a diverse group of kids and their many adventures and related life lessons.

If that latter point sounds vaguely familiar to the TV show and subsequent movies featuring the preschool Rugrats characters, that's because some of the producers and writers - including Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere who were involved in the "Recess" TV show and now this film -- either helped created and/or wrote for "Rugrats."

The creation and success of "Recess" should come as no surprise as it's a logical continuation of that first show for kids who have now gotten older and outgrown the Rugrats characters and stories. It's too early to tell whether we'll eventually have the high school, college, midlife crisis and Golden Girls versions of this sort of animated fair over the next several decades to keep up with those continually aging viewers, but kids who are currently fans of the TV show will probably enjoy what's offered here.

While not up to the quality found in Disney's and other studio's major/signature animated features -- in terms of story, characters & character development and overall animation style - and not as clever, witty and entertaining for both kids and adults alike as the long-running "The Simpsons," this film offers enough passable material for children and any adult chaperones to prevent either group from becoming bored during the film's less than ninety minute runtime.

The basic story - of kids having to stop a crazed former principal from eliminating summer recess by forever eradicating summer itself - will appeal to many kids' flight of fancy style of thinking and comes off as something of a cross between an older version of "Rugrats" and James Bond type material.

It probably helps to come into the film with some working knowledge of the characters and their past stories since what transpires here feels like tuning into the show mid-season and little in the way of usual feature film character growth occurs. Nevertheless, the filmmakers, including first-time director Chuck Sheetz (who's directed the first thirty-nine episodes of the TV show plus others on "The Simpsons" and "King of the Hill") and feature film freshman screenwriter Jonathan Greenberg (the TV shows "Rugrats" and "Recess"), have made sure that newbies to this universe won't completely be left out in the cold regarding any of the generalities.

It also doesn't hurt that they've included some humor aimed squarely at adults. While none of it's anything particularly spectacular or memorable - including a flashback to the teachers and administrators' hippie days - it works as needed, as does the film's '60s laden soundtrack that's something of an unexpected and somewhat "trip-like" treat.

Although the animation style is that of an enhanced version of the TV show rather than what's normally found in the major studio's animated feature film efforts, the vocal work is top-notch, and includes the standard array of celebrities and well-known performers - including James Woods, Dabney Coleman, Robert Stack and even Robert Goulet - who voice various, major and cameo parts.

Somewhat surprising is the fact that most of the kids' voices are done by kids themselves. That's something of a rarity in the animation field, sine while it may lend more authenticity to the roles and prevent ego and greed from coming to the forefront during part renegotiation time, kids inevitably grow up and their voices change, thus necessitating the likelihood of continual replacements should the series and/or movies spawn further seasons and/or sequels.

While this is the sort of animated fair that will never be considered as or confused for being a classic and is near instantly forgettable, it's entertaining and enjoyable enough for both kids and their chaperones -- in a lightweight sort of way -- that it earns a passing grade. "Recess: School's Out" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed February 10, 2001 / Posted February 16, 2001

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