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Amiable 'Recess: School's Out' Earns a Passing Grade


"Recess: School's Out" registers as complacent yet competent animation kids will enjoy despite its mundane nature. Based on the cartoon series "Disney's Recess," on ABC and also airing on UPN and in syndication, this animation piffle was originally envisioned as a video movie. And though "Recess," the feature film, is far from innovative, it is agreeable.

This big-screen enlargement of the small-screen series presents T.J. Detweiler and the rest of the Third Street School crew facing a diabolical weather-bending scheme to terminate summer vacation forever. If former principal Dr. Philliam Benedict triumphs, attending classes will be inflicted year-round, this to prove his theory that children in cold-weather countries such as Norway and Iceland achieve higher test scores since they are in school longer

Indeed, the dastardly Dr. B, who in the past has attempted to erase recess from education, is now scheming to blast the moon out of its normal orbit to bring on permanent winter, thus lengthening school-going to a 12-month-a-year ordeal. As Benedict declares, his goal is to "get rid of the biggest recess of them all--summer vacation."

Visually, "Recess: School's Out" commences with a sequence leading to a whooshing aerial pan of the Third Street School and those gathered there. However, once this opening ends, the film evidences little interest in pushing its serviceable but limited look much further. While the movie decidedly abstains from evoking anything approaching the rich, restive chiaroscuro of "classic" Disney animation, "Recess: School's Out" is not without its merits.

In fact, as a feature, "Recess" manifests a kicky sensibility, this due to the expressive actors lending their voices to the enterprise. Consequently, one comes away with a fondness for the 'toons peopling this picture. Credit articulate vocal work by such well-known performers as Dabney Coleman, Melissa Joan Hart and James Woods. Moreover, the core kid cast of Andy Lawrence, Rickey D'Shon Collins, Jason Davis, Ashley Johnson, Courtland Mead and Pam Segall make the most of their scripted lines.

Moreover, the musical score, peppered with such modern classics as "Dancing in the Street," "Born to Be Wild," "Nobody But Me," and "Let the Sunshine In" enlivens the animated antics. In fact, at "Rescue's" end, Robert Goulet (who has served as Third Street student Mikey's singing voice on the TV series since 1997) warbles the '60s pop-schlock psychedelic anthem, "Green Tambourine," a cheesy madrigal here raised to the outer limits of baroque kitsch by Goulet's earnestly winking interpretation.

For youngsters steeped in the TV ethos of "Recess," this film will be a pleasing extended excursion into the escapades popularized by the broadcast original. And as is true of the series, there's the proverbial "life lesson" to be learned. This time it concerns letting kids be kids, educators realizing that time away from the classroom can be as valuable as time in. For those untutored in "Recess' " recondite mysteries the movie version arrives as a more remote exercise.

"Recess: School's Out" seeks to entertain rather than challenge, paced to meet expectations rather than exceed them. It is animation that operates comfortably within the enlarged framework of a movie screen, but animation that does not animate the imagination beyond this bigger box. Yet given the vital vocal presence of such performers as Woods and Coleman, and the singing shenanigans of Goulet, "Recess' " potential for a wider audience cannot be discounted. Don't kid yourself--"Recess: School's Out" is for grown-ups too.

* MPAA rating: G. Times guidelines: Appropriate for all in the family.

'Recess: School's Out'

Rickey D'Shon Collins: Vince

Jason Davis: Mikey

Ashley Johnson: Gretchen

Andy Lawrence: T.J.

Courtland Mead: Gus

Pam Segall: Spinelli

A Walt Disney Pictures presentation, released by Buena Vista Pictures Distribution. Director Chuck Sheetz. Created & produced by Paul Germain & Joe Ansolabehere. Producer Stephen Swofford. Screenplay by Jonathan Greenberg, from a story by Joe Ansolabehere, Paul Germain & Jonathan Greenberg. Music Denis M. Hannigan. Supervising film editor Nancy Frazen. Art director Eric Keyes. Film editor Tony Mizgalski. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes.

In general release.

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