“Recess: School’s Out” looks exactly like what it is, a bigscreen version of a TV show. This spinoff of “Disney’s Recess” naturally will generate some initial biz based on the small-fry following for the highly rated ABC Saturday morning series, but it should be expected to follow in the forgettable footsteps of the studio’s previous TV-to-feature transfer, “Doug’s 1st Movie,” which generated a worldwide gross of just $22.8 million two years back. A lucrative playdate awaits on homevid.
Produced by Walt Disney Television, this innocuous item about a group of playground pals who thwart the evil-doings of a megalomaniacal educator reps, from a theatrical p.o.v., a degradation of the Disney name. What decades of careful brand-name nurturing have led the public to expect — accomplished animation and original music, for starters — is tossed aside here in favor of utterly flat backgrounds, a minimum of character detailing and a banal greatest-hits selection of late-’60s rock songs.
Moppets already keyed into the personalities of the six fourth-graders from Third Street School will slide right into this story of how the kids play spies during summer vacation. Distraught over his friends’ departure for various camps, plucky T.J. begins noticing weird green light beaming out of the school building. Natch, adults laugh off his claims, but when he convinces Principal Prickly to take a look, the latter is mysteriously vaporized, prompting T.J. to reassemble his crew, sneak into the school and, ultimately, save the nation’s children from a life of eternal recess deprivation.
It won’t be spoiling things for anyone to reveal that the roots of the evil here lie back in the heyday of hippiedom, when young Prickly squashed the plans of ultra-cool rival educator Benedict to eradicate recess from the school day at Third Street School. It’s taken three decades, but Benedict, now a national figure, has finally figured out how to extract revenge: Place a giant laser under a retractable roof at the school and beam it at the moon to alter its orbit, thereby obliterating summer from the calendar and obviating the need for vacation. Maybe it will make sense to 5-year-olds. The laser is cool, anyway.
Animation is dull and characterless, and vocal talent has evidently received blanket direction to, when in doubt, shout. Puzzling musical motif of 30-year-old tunes by the likes of Three Dog Night, Strawberry Alarm Clock and the 5th Dimension is capped visually by a “psychedelic” sequence of a rock band playing “Green Tambourine.” Far out.