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Recess: School's Out DVD Review

Recess: School's Out (2001) movie poster Recess: School's Out

Theatrical Release: February 16, 2001 / Running Time: 83 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Chuck Sheetz / Writers: Paul German, Joe Ansolabehere (television series & story); Jonathan Greenberg (story & screenplay)

Voice Cast: Andrew Lawrence (T.J. Detweiler), Dabney Coleman (Principal Prickly), James Woods (Dr. Phil Benedict), Rickey D'Shon Collins (Vince LaSalle), Ashley Johnson (Gretchen Grundler), Jason Davis (Mikey Blumberg), Pamela Segall (Ashley Spinelli), Melissa Joan Hart (Becky Detweiler), Robert Goulet (Mikey Blumberg, singing voice), Diedrich Bader (Guard #1), Peter MacNicol (Fenwick), April Winchell (Miss Muriel Finster)

Songs: Martha & the Vandellas - "Dancing in the Street", Three Dog Night - "One", Steppenwolf - "Born to Be Wild", The Surfaris - "Wipe Out", Strawberry Alarm Clock - "Incense and Peppermints", Jimi Hendrix - "Purple Haze", "Colonel Bogey's March", Robert Goulet - "Nessun Dorma", "Theme from S.W.A.T", The Human Beinz - "Nobody But Me", The 5th Dimension - "Let the Sunshine In", Robert Goulet - "Green Tambourine", Myra - "Dancing in the Street"

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With the theatrical release of Doug's 1st Movie in March of 1999, Disney began a new annual tradition of releasing a second-rate animated feature film early in the year, when there is less box office competition. In subsequent years, the studio has established these less lofty projects as a firm supplement to their annual major animated release (the traditional summer theater staple).
Created by the Walt Disney Television animation department, the second-rate animated film is much simpler a production and much smaller in scope to the epic works that Disney's "masterpieces" like The Lion King and Tarzan. The result is a film that is usually a notch above Disney's oft-maligned direct-to-video sequels and a notch below the yearly animated masterpiece.

Disney's February 2001 theatrical release, Recess: School's Out, fits that definition like a glove. It is not a particularly thought-provoking film, but it is clever and provides a good dose of amiable family-friendly entertainment. For those not familiar with Disney's Saturday Morning cartoon lineup on ABC, "Recess" is a show about a group of kids in the fourth grade class at Third Street School. The show is featured in several 15-minute episodes each week, and is more popular than most of the other Saturday Morning cartoon fare. The obvious challenge that comes with creating a full-length theatrical feature from a weekly cartoon is molding the familiar style of the 15-minute episodes into an 80-minute film with one substantial storyline.

Disney's Recess gang puts their summer plans on hold in the 2001 film "Recess: School's Out."

The premise of Recess: School's Out seems to achieve this; it maintains the show's characteristic style while packing in more content and plot. As the title implies, school lets out for summer vacation and the kids all have their own plans. Except for T.J., who is left alone by his friends with nothing to do? Of course, what appears to be a boring summer (and a boring plot) is changed when T.J. discovers something strange going on at the Third Street School. It turns out that there is a group at work in the building whose plan is to eliminate recess forever as a way to raise productivity among grade school students. Sure, it sounds hokey, but it does pave the way for one of the movie's best qualities: James Woods again lends voice to a Disney villain as Benedict, the leader of the enigmatic evil plot. As he did in Hercules, Woods has fun with the role and is able to hold one's interest in the film, with his strong vocal performance and immediately recognizable voice. (Subsequent to this film, he has also voiced villains in Stuart Little 2 and Rolie Polie Olie: The Great Defender of Fun, and established himself as THE man to voice cartoon baddies.)

Benedict (voiced by James Woods), the film's villain, has some evil plans up his sleeve.

Woods' characterization of Benedict is one of the film's more successful attempts to please adults. Recess strives for the dual child/adult appeal that has proved so successful for the Pixar features and other recent popular animated films. Recess attempts to hook in older viewers by providing a flashback story for Principal Prickly (voiced by Dabney Coleman) and Benedict, explaining where this plot to eliminate lunchtime recess came from. We're treated to several familiar rock tunes, fashions, and phrases from the late '60s and early '70s. Many of these references will float over the heads of the primary audience for the film (the pre-teen crowd), but the movie maintains its juvenile tone throughout, straddling a fine line between disengaging the adults who are supposed to get these retro jokes and making the efforts to engage an older crowd in vein.

Overall, Recess: School's Out is fairly harmless with its treehouse scenes and G-rated saggy butt jokes. It's more clever and appealing than the direct-to-video Disney fare and some of the other early-year theatrical releases. As long as you do not expect the magic of Toy Story going in, you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Buy Recess: School's Out on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Closed Captioned
Release Date: August 7, 2001
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
White Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

Recess: School's Out is presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, and it is faithful to the material, providing a very clean and colorful transfer. Since the movie was done by the Television Department, don't expect great monumental achievements in animation: there are not the sweeping pans as seen in The Lion King, the breathtaking jungle scenery of Tarzan, or the 3-dimensional realism of A Bug's Life. The movie is very much like the TV show, 2-dimensional and flat, and relegated to suburban America school settings, from the playground to the relatively quiet streets. The vivid DVD transfer displays the rather mundane animation flawlessly though, as it should for such a recent film. The colors are consistent, and there are no artifacts, grain, or other troubles present with the video transfer. Overall, the video quality is excellent.

This 1960s flashback takes us into Benedict's psychedelic past.

The film contains a 5.1 Dolby Digital track, and it seems adequate for the film. This is not a Gary Rydstrom-sound designed film, and there is not much that will give your system a workout. The mix is not very active, and surround speakers do not get too much usage.
The recorded dialogue is crisp and the 1960's rock soundtrack comes through fine and breathes some life into the movie's audio mix.

EXTRAS

For a second-tiered animation film, Disney put a handful of decent extras, most of which will appeal to children and some of interest to animation enthusiasts. First there is an "Animation Camp" featurette, which runs for about 10 minutes, and provides insight into how a movie like "Recess" is made, highlighting the various stages like storyboard, voice recording, the animation, and the color. The DVD provides music videos for the two new recordings of 60's songs that the film uses heavily for the soundtrack. Robert Goulet (who provides the singing voice for one of the kids, in a gag that just doesn't work) does a rendition of "Green Tambourine" and teen pop star Myra performs "Dancin' in the Street" (Mick Jagger and David Bowie, this is not!). "Secrets of Recess" is a brief but entertaining featurette, where the creators Paul and Joe let viewers in on 10 interesting facts regarding the show.

Director Chuck Sheetz shows us how to draw Mikey in "Animation Camp." Ashley Johnson, perhaps best known as the aged daughter Chrissy from the final two seasons of "Growing Pains", voices Gretchen Grundler in the TV and movie versions of "Recess."

There is an interactive playground game, which gets kind of irritating fast, but will keep entertain children. And then there is the Digital Comic Book, which is essentially the interactive storybook feature that is present on most Disney DVDs, with a story involving the Recess gang. There are also the Sneak Preview trailers that have become staples of Disney DVD; Snow White, Monsters, Inc., Recess Christmas: Miracle on Third Street, Cinderella II, Dumbo, Return to Never Land, Hunchback of Notre Dame, ABC's One Saturday Morning, and the Disney Channel's original movies are advertised here. The advertised DVD-ROM content is actually just a few weblinks (some not even working), hardly worth the effort to put the disc in your computer.

A nice change from the standard static Disney menus, "Recess: School's Out" displays some nice animated film-themed menus. The main menu is a sweeping journey through the 2-D world to the school playground, with which viewers of the TV show will be familiar, as an extended version of the TV theme plays. The other menus also have some minor animation, such as the TV in the classroom, and a kazoo version of the familiar "Colonel Bogey's March" (so memorable from "Bridge on the River Kwai"). It's nice to see Disney put some effort into the lively menus and the overall disc design.

School's in on the "Recess: School's Out" DVD main menu.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The $29.99 retail price is a bit high, but Recess: School's Out is definitely a preferable purchase to Disney's direct-to-video fare (which is similarly priced). Fans of the TV show will be pleased, and Disney's overall DVD presentation for this film is quite commendable. Not up there with the must-own Disney and other family fare, but nonetheless, Recess is a pretty fun movie and a sound purchase for your collection.

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Reviewed October 5, 2003.