Disney’s latest release, “Recess: School’s Out!” should have a brief life in theaters before moving on to a more fitting format on video. It is not “based on” the popular television series as much as it simply is an episode blown up for the big screen. That means that it has more expensive music (the usual baby-boomer re-treads, like “Born to Be Wild,” “Incense and Peppermint,” “Green Tambourine,” “Wipe Out” and “Let the Sun Shine”) and more expensive voice talent (James Woods as the bad guy, Robert Goulet for some songs). But the plot, dialogue, and animation are no better than the low standards of Saturday morning television. The look of the movie might work on a television set, but the big screen reveals how flat and unimaginative the artwork is.
The movie begins as T.J. and his five pals engage in some last-minute hijinks on the last day of school before summer vacation. T.J. is looking forward to a long, lazy summer with his friends, but finds that all of them are being sent off to enrichment summer programs at various camps. He is not able to have much fun alone (predictable cue: “One is the Loneliest Number”).
T.J. sees something suspicious at school, and rounds up the gang to investigate. It seems that there is an evil plot to do away with summer vacation for good, so that students throughout the country will have better test scores. T.J. and his friends have to come up with a plan to rescue the school, the principal, and, most important, the summer.
At best, the movie is innocuous fun. The show’s creators have a gift for remembering details about being a kid that most grown-ups forget. The movie shows some sense of the way kids see the world, with characters like “the Ashleys,” the school princess-cheerleader types, the hairnetted lunch ladies who store the leftover chowder until September, the snively tattle-tale, and the kindergarten class, half adorable, half terrorist.
Judging by the reaction of the kids in the screening I attended, it is a crowd-pleaser, especially when T.J. and his gang use the ultimate kid weapons — water balloons, silly string, shaken-up soda cans, and a jump rope — to take on the bad guys. The movie, like the show, is racially diverse and has girl characters who are smart, strong, and capable. The kids are loyal to each other and show cooperation and teamwork in working together.
On the other hand, parents should know that the movie assumes that all children and teachers hate school and that there is nothing interesting to learn and no value from education. Adults are ineffectual, uninterested, or dim. And T.J. forces his big sister to help him by threatening to put her diary on the Internet.
Warning: the jokes are pretty vulgar for a G rating. T.J. uses the school public address system to make an announcement, pretending to be the principal, and talking about how he scratches his “big, saggy butt” once an hour. T.J.’s parents say they are going to take his temperature with a baby thermometer and some Vaseline (eliciting a few uncomfortable squeals from the audience). T.J. reads aloud from his sister’s diary, including dramatic descriptions of teenage romance.
Families who see this movie should talk about its message that kids should not worry about test scores or the future but should make time to “just be kids.” What is important to T.J. and his friends? Why does the tattletale spend all his time trying to get everyone else in trouble? Was it fair for T.J. to take his sister’s diary and let his friends read it? Encourage children to talk about their own experiences in school — and to tell you why they would not want to give up their summer vacation.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Madeline.”