RECESS: SCHOOL'S OUT
Saving the World
Release Date: February 16, 2001
Audience: All ages
Runtime: 83 minutes
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures/Buena Vista
Director: Chuck Sheetz
Writer: Jonathan Greenberg
Address Comments To:Michael Eisner, Chairman/CEO
The Walt Disney Company
(Buena Vista, Caravan, Hollywood, Miramax, & Touchstone Pictures)
Peter Schneider, Chairman
Walt Disney Studios
500 South Buena Vista Street
Burbank, CA 91521
Based on the Saturday morning cartoon series RECESS, this full-length feature production is nothing more than an extended version of the television program in an apparent attempt to cash in on the popular series without putting much effort into writing a novel, meaningful story, or substantially departing from the visually stiff Saturday cartoon format.
It is the last day of little T.J. Detweiler’s 4th grade class before summer vacation at Third Street School, and the entire school body of preteen brats is just itching at the prospect of a summer full of exciting activities. Poor T.J., however, is devastated when he learns that everyone in his small group of likable classmates is about to attend one summer camp or another after school is out, and he will be left behind to fend for himself during the entire summer. Unknown to him, however, is a series of events of major proportion which are about to unfold within the very walls of Third School, and which will directly, and dramatically, affect him, his friends and even the future of the world.
Soon after his friends leave for camp, T.J. has fallen into a boring routine of riding his bike through the neighborhood while feeling sorry for himself. He notices a weird pulsating green glow emanating from his school’s gym. T.J. immediately tries to warn his parents, who dismiss his claim as just another way of injecting some melodrama into his less than exciting vacation. T.J. then goes to the police who pay him no mind and laugh in his face.
Rather than giving up, T.J. intensifies his surveillance of the school where things begin to get even weirder when a gigantic apparatus emerges from the roof and shoots a green laser beam into space. Without knowing what else to do, T.J. seeks out the school’s principal, Mr. Prickly, at the local golf course where he is trying to get away from it all. The good principal reluctantly agrees to inspect the school for unusual activity. When Mr. Prickly attempts to unlock the door, however, he disappears in a cloud of smoke.
Things are now desperate for T.J., and a desperate situation requires desperate measures, so our resourceful diminutive hero blackmails his older sister by threatening to publish her personal diary full of teenage secrets on the Internet unless she drives him to his buddies’ various summer camps to recruit them for the mission of their lives. Together, they will need to uncover what is going on at their school and save us all from a ruthless villain who has made Third School his center of operations in a cleverly evil scheme to stop the world from having summer vacations ever again.
RECESS: SCHOOL’S OUT is both interesting for the insight it can give adult viewers about the society in which we live, and disappointing because of the lost opportunity to have accomplished so much more with all the dollars that were spent in this inconsequential production. On the positive side, RECESS should be commended for its attempt to make an exciting adventure film for elementary school age children while managing to do minimal social or spiritual harm to its young audience. One of the most positive messages in the movie is the idea that adults need to let children be children rather than making them grow up too fast. The movie also is full of many colorful scenes that are pretty to watch.
On the other hand, there are some issues present in this film which raise a few warning flags. For example, is blackmail by our young hero acceptable under any circumstances? Or, how much violence is acceptable? In their preparation for battle against the villain’s forces, T.J.’s friends gather a vast array of weapons such as water filled balloons, and shaken cans of carbonated drinks hung around their belts as hand grenades. Although these weapons are harmless in themselves, they are weapons nevertheless, which with clever subtlety emulate the grown up, deadly kind. Which brings us to perhaps RECESS’ worst infraction; a simplistic, boilerplate formula taken from a grown up concept and made to fit a young mind’s world.
Also worth noting is the nostalgic trip back into history on which the filmmakers take their young audience by weaving the story around a 60s theme, including music from such era legends as Steppenwolf, Jimmy Hendrix and Three Dog Night. Now, was this really for the children, or was it just a little more adult self-indulgence so typical of our modern society?
On the positive side, RECESS should be commended for its attempt to make an exciting adventure film for elementary school age children while managing to do minimal social or spiritual harm to its young audience. The movie also is full of many colorful scenes that are pretty to watch. Some cartoon violence, a lack of imagination and some prankish behavior by the movie's hero may make the movie unsuitable for younger children, however. Also worth noting is the movie’s nostalgic trip back into the frivolous 1960s, which may be an attempt to hold the interest of parents while they sit in the theater with their children.