Rated G - Running Time: 1:24 - Released 2/16/01

If you've seen the trailer for Recess: School's Out, the first feature film venture for the fledgling Plus One Animation company, you may assume it's just a cheap, Saturday-morning-TV style kids' cartoon. Truly, on the visual side this film has kept its appallingly crude style intact — after all, if it looked good, the kids who make up its core audience wouldn't recognize it — but what's particularly noteworthy is that in its graduation from Fox TV to the big screen, it is being distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, the reigning monarch of children's movies usually known for high-budget, high-quality films like Mulan and A Bug's Life. However, perhaps because of the participation of director Chuck Sheetz (The Simpsons, King Of The Hill) and writers Joe Ansolabehere and Paul Germain (Rugrats) and Jonathan Greenberg (Daria), it shows the intellectual spark that has distinguished Fox TV's ever-growing animated lineup, making up for in script what it lacks in quality of animation.

As school ends and summer vacation sets in, prankster and fun lover T.J. Detweiler (voice of Andrew Lawrence) is horrified to learn that rather than looking forward to three months of unstructured play time, all 5 of his friends are leaving for various types of summer camp: aspiring actor/singer Mikey (Jason Davis/Robert Goulet) is headed for drama camp, smart but geeky Gretchen (Ashley Johnson) is off to space camp, tomboy Ashley (Pamela Segall) has signed up for wrestling camp, and so on. Despondent, T.J. expects a boring summer. However, while riding his bike past the empty school, he notices a strange green glow coming from inside. Assuming that aliens are holed up in the building, he contacts Principal Prickley (Dabney Coleman), who promptly disappears. Sensing trouble, T.J. reassembles his camp-bound gang for a full-scale, kid-style investigation.

In reality, it is evil ex-principal Dr. Benedict (James Woods) who has taken the school hostage. Benedict, who always wanted to abolish recess altogether to improve test scores, has invented a powerful magnetic ray with which he intends to alter the moon's orbit, resulting in perpetual winter on Earth and therefore no summer vacation from school. Soon it is all-out war.

Okay, I admit it's a pretty stupid plot, but it's the dialogue that amuses, often including jokes that travel well over the heads of the kids in the audience. What's more, the soundtrack is quite fun for us children of the '60s, including great psychedelic pop standards like "Incense And Peppermints," "Let the Sun Shine In," and "Purple Haze." The film includes a flashback to the summer of love, when both principals were long-haired hippies, and ends with an acid-induced musical number behind the credits that would rival any Doors concert.

If you have to take the kids to a low-rent cartoon, this experience at least is enjoyably trippy. ***½

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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