The bad guy in "Recess: School's Out" is a megalomaniacal ex-elementary school principal determined to do away with summer vacations by altering the orbit of the Moon so there's no more summer.
Voiced by James Woods -- one of Hollywood's greatest scenery-chewers -- this rakish, oily antagonist is by far the most amusing thing about this latest in a seemingly endless glut of cheaply animated TV 'toons cashing in on the purchase power of kids.
Such movies are not concerned with style, creativity or entertainment value for anyone of a discerning age. They don't even bother aspiring to be a "Toy Story," a "Pokemon") and rarely much more than just expanded episodes of the show that spawned them, blown up to 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
By that standard, "Recess" at least shows a little ambition in its outlandish plot. In the story, the neighborhood kids from the ABC Saturday morning cartoon have scattered to camps hither and yon for summer vacation, leaving resident Dennis the Menace clone T.J. Detweiler (voice of Andy Lawrence) bored silly as the only kid left in town.
Poking around the empty school one lazy afternoon he sees an eerie flash of green light emanating from the gymnasium and peeks in the window to see a cluster of lab-coated eggheads experimenting with a levitation device. Through a little sleuthing he discovers they're the pawns of Dr. Philliam Benedict (Woods), a former principal of T.J.'s school -- and briefly Secretary of Education -- who was fired (from both jobs) for trying to do away with recess so kids would have to learn more and have no fun. That dirty rat!
Benedict's evil plan to do away with summer is too big for even the ever-mischievous T.J. to foil on his own. No grown-ups will believe him, so he snatches his teenage sister's diary and threatens to post it on the World Wide Web unless she abandons her fast food job to drive him around the state, sneaking all his friends out of their various summer camps so they can help save the day.
These characters, mostly voiced by actual kids, are all appealing enough. There's bucktoothed brainiac Gretchen (Ashley Johnson), sporto Vince (Ricky D'Shon Collins), nerdy commando Gus (Courtland Mead), big lug Mikey (Jason Davis) with the unexpectedly operatic singing voice, and scrappy sprite Spinelli (Pamela Segall). Guest voices Dabney Coleman (as the current principal), Melissa Joan Hart (as T.J.'s exasperated sister), Robert Stack and others add some aural depth of personality.
But the picture depends too heavily on unimaginative (although admittedly well-realized) stock characters and shopworn kiddie humor (all hail the saggy butt jokes!) to hold the interest of anyone who has made it past the 5th grade.
As a VHS purchase six months down the road, the "Recess" movie will be a fine video babysitter that the kids may watch over and over. If they're itching to see it now, well, you could do worse. On the other hand, you could go ahead and give them the five bucks then buy yourself a ticket to something else and meet them in the lobby when it's over.
Run time: 82 mins
In Theaters: Friday 16th February 2001
Box Office USA: $34.8M
Box Office Worldwide: $44.5M
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 61%
Fresh: 42 Rotten: 27
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: Chuck Sheetz
Starring: Ashley Johnson as Gretchen Grundler, Courtland Mead as Gus Griswald, Pamela Adlon as Ashley Spinelli, Dabney Coleman as Principal Peter Prickly, Robert Goulet as Michael 'Mikey' Blumberg, Melissa Joan Hart as Becky Detweiller, April Winchell as Miss Muriel P. Finste
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