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Extra Credit for 'Recess'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 16, 2001


    'Recess: School's Out' Despite TV-quality animation, "Recess: School's Out" is first-rate. (Disney)
That television look is all over "Recess: School's Out."

You know what I mean? With its almost cave-painting-simple drawings and less than completely fluid animation (that stuff costs money), this Walt Disney animated feature looks like, well, what it is: a feature-length version of the popular children's TV show "Disney's Recess."

But don't let that stop you. The movie's great fun, particularly for kids used to that satirically hard-edged kind of kid show, stuff like "Rugrats." Although the movie's rated G, it's not really for the younger "Barney" crowd. This is about life during schooltime, that veritable war between students' desire to have as much fun as possible and teachers' desire to make 'em learn.

School's finally out – yay! – and 10-year-old T.J. Detweiler (voice of Andy Lawrence) is excited about the coming summer. That is, until he finds out all his pals are going to various camps. He's going to be all alone!

Fate intervenes when T.J. witnesses some strange goings-on at the empty school. It seems Benedict (voice of James Woods), an unscrupulous former principal of T.J.'s elementary school, intends to build a laser with a globally destructive agenda. By altering the moon's cycles, he plans to make a permanent winter, which would end summers (and summer vacations). Kids would have to go to school all year round. And then test scores – something he's obsessed with improving at any cost – would really improve.

Hmm, sounds vaguely political to me.

When T.J. alerts Principal Prickly (Dabney Coleman), the principal goes to investigate, only to be apparently vaporized by the green glow in the school.

Since no one else believes his story, T.J. persuades his friends Vince (Rickey D'Shon Collins), Mikey (Jason Davis), Gretchen (Ashley Johnson), Gus (Courtland Mead) and Spinelli (Pam Segall) to help him get to the bottom of this mystery. They have to moonlight from their respective summer camps to do it. But they soon realize this is what fun's all about: staying in the neighborhood with their friends, getting into mischief and saving summer for the world.

Created and produced by Paul Germain (a co-creator of "Rugrats") and Joe Ansolabehere (a k a Paul & Joe), the movie's very amusing. Coleman and Woods make colorful rivals as Prickly and Benedict; seems there was bad blood between them years ago. And there are a ton of things to tickle kids and grown-ups alike, including T.J.'s low-tech voice-altering prank to make him sound like Principal Prickly over the school intercom, and such characters as the tough-talking, no-nonsense Ms. Finster (April Winchell). And like "Rugrats," the movie doesn't mess around when it comes to kids. It doesn't talk down to them or soften things up. It just lays things on the line, aware of the things that amuse the young and the old. Kids – and their chaperones – are going to appreciate that.

"Recess: School's Out" (G, 84 minutes) Contains scary goons in uniform.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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