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|Kevin Krock, editor|
The movie starts off with T.J. Detweiler, the young troublemaker star of the show, and his buddies getting ready to start their summer vacation. As T.J. starts to plan his summer activities he finds out that everyone else is heading off to some sort of summer camp and he is going to be all alone for summer. After everyone leaves, boredom starts to set in, but he begins to notice some strange happenings around the childrens Third Street Elementary School: Glowing green lights from the cafeteria, strange people unloading stuff into the school buildings, and so forth. As he investigates, a diabolical plot begins to surface, but nobody in the town believes him. After the schools principal, Principal Prickly, gets dematerialized in front of T.J., things go from mysterious to serious and he turns to the only people that can help him: the rest of the Recess Gang.
Once T.J. gathers his buddies from the various summer camps they are attending, they go to work to solve the mystery of the huge laser beam that occasionally emanates from their school. Through a series of mishaps, T.J. finds a bound and gagged Principal Prickly inside the school, and the two strike up an uneasy alliance. Prickly explains to T.J. that the odd occurrences are due to a crazed former principal who is trying to do away with summer vacation by putting Earth in perpetual winter in order to raise childrens test scores. Needless to say, this really gets the children going, and they hatch an elaborate plan to free their school and the world from Dr. Benedicts evil plan. Of course, the Recess Gang saves the day, and in the end, they each learn a little something about themselves as well as those around them.
While I definitely do not see this becoming an animation classic, the characters and plot were much more appealing to me than the far more annoying Rugrats movie. Each of the six main Recess children has a personality that I think many elementary school-age children and adults can relate to, and they represent a spectrum of personalities that we have all encountered in school: nerdy, athletic, troublemaker, sensitive, etc. One pleasant aspect of the gang is that everyone is accepted and respected as they are. The adult characters, like Principal Prickly and Miss Finster, T.J.s teacher, are considerably exaggerated in order to construct a strong and obvious antagonistic role for the children to play off of. Fortunately, there is enough balance as the movie progresses to understand where the adult characters are coming from, and when the children work together with them, it does not seem totally out of character for either the children or the adults.
While the plot is total fantasy and somewhat bizarre, I noticed that the movie has an interesting, if not odd, blend of plot lines and characterizations from several other serialized TV cartoon shows, including Scooby-Doo and The Simpsons. Recess has all the pieces, including the big laser gun that comes out of the roof of the school, a masked Principal Prickly imposter, sunglass-wearing thugs and guards, ninja that appear from nowhere, and so on. It is not a stellar story or one that has a lot of heart, but it does move along with enough action and intrigue to keep the children interested and the adults mildly engaged.
One concern I had before I watched the movie was in regards to its animation style. Neither Disneys Feature or Television Animation divisions animated this film. Rather, a Korean studio that does the series animation, was contracted to do the work. The characters and storyboards were developed in the United States and then sent to Korea for final animation. For the most part, the movie exhibits a very cartoony look, which is somewhat expected for a movie based on a TV cartoon. Several scenes are enhanced with shadows on the characters or refelections, which probably would not appear on the TV show, but it is clear that the goal was to make an inexpensive animated feature. As I mentioned, this is not destined to be a classic, and its cartoon series roots still show through.
Overall, I found the movie itself to be far more tolerable than The Rugrats, but it still is not the easiest movie for adults to buy into. It does have some scenes that are targeted at the parents and that I cracked a smile at, like the 1960s flashback that Principal Prickly provides, but in general, it really is a childrens movie. I will say, though, that there are scenes that parents of pre-elementary school children may find objectionable, such as the cartoon-style fighting with the bad guys but it only makes up a very small portion of the movie.
For a standard Disney DVD release, there is an acceptable selection of bonus material, but you should not expect it to be very in-depth. Of particular merit is the Recess Animation Camp, which briefly steps you through each stage of the Recess animation process. It only runs about 10 to 15 minutes, but it provides a decent overview of the process. It also introduces you to most of the people that voice the characters in the show. The Ten Secrets of Recess is also a cute but short featurette that covers 10 things that most people do not know about Recess, and while not jaw-droppingly interesting, it was worth the five minutes or so. The disc also has the requisite set-top game, music videos, theatrical trailer and DVD-ROM features. In the end, it is enough to set the DVD apart from the VHS version.
The Video, Audio and Interface
The video transfer of this movie generally looks quite nice. The transfer is done in anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1, enhanced for widescreen TVs) in order to maintain the theatrical format, and I did not notice any significant errors or problems with the transfer. As with many cartoons, bright and saturated colors are used throughout the movie, and the transfer very successfully displays these in a consistent manner. The picture detail is also pretty good, but because the character animation is fairly simple, there really isnt much to show off.
As for the audio, it is right on target. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack sounded fine on my Dolby Pro Logic system, my TV and computer headphones, so it ought to sound even better on a full Dolby Digital 5.1 system. The soundtrack does a pretty good job of spreading the audio around the room, and the action scenes are particulary good. Additionally, the music is nicely blended with the rest of the audio, and it too sounds great throughout the movie.
The user interface continues to demonstrate that Disney understands that the menus are a unique feature of DVD that are just as important as many other DVD features. Gone are the days of Disneys static, silent pictures with menu selections; now we have things such as fully animated menu introductions, animated transitions, and audio accompaniment on each screen. The menus on Recess are well-themed, easy to read, and easy to use, so everyone in the family should be comfortable finding what they want.
The Final Evaluation
The disc is a pretty good package altogether. The audio, video and interface are on par with any of Disneys DVDs produced for recent theatrical films. There are only a couple of goodies that will draw interest from the adults, but Im sure the children will enjoy the music videos and games for a bit longer. With regards to the movie, it is definitely a children movie. There is not a whole lot there for the adults, but there is probably enough adult humor and references to maintain at least a passing interest once or twice. If you are just looking for a movie that the entire family can enjoy for a night or are out impulse-shopping at Costco, you might want to first rent this DVD rather than making it a permanent part of your collection. On the other hand, if your children are big fans of either the TV series or the movie, you might get a lot of playability out of the DVD, making this disc probably worth it.
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