“I could never be with a man who doesn’t love recess!” schoolteacher Miss Phinster shouts at the evil arch villain in Disney’s newest animated feature, Recess: School’s Out. My sentiments exactly! If adults are allowed coffee breaks and flex-time, children should always have recess. I don’t mean study hall. I mean good, old-fashioned, play-outside, be-with-your-friends, do-stupid-stuff recess. In Disney’s laudable TV series, Recess, the center of the universe is the playground at Third Street School and its few precious moments during the school day when kids can interact without adult interference. In expanding the TV premise to the big screen, first-time feature film director Chuck Sheetz pays homage to the most important chunk of free time in any kid’s life: summer vacation. The maniacal recess-phobe Dr. Philliam Benedict (voiced by the Velveteen Devil himself, James Woods) invades the deserted school buildings. With his horde of scientists and mercenaries, he intends to zap the moon off its orbit and cast Earth into eternal winter — thus destroying summer vacation forever. The nefarious plot is discovered by fourth grader T.J. Detweiler (Andy Lawrence), but no adult will believe him, so it’s up to the kids to save the world. They escape from their different summer camps and set up headquarters in T.J.’s tree house. “Hanging out with your friends,” T.J. exclaims, “eating ice cream, spying on bad guys — it’s the ultimate kids’ experience!” With the ingenuity of determined 10-year-olds (and a platoon of clever animation artists), the kids sneak into the school, rescue weary-but-lovable Principal Prickly (Dabney Coleman) and fight off all the bad guys, including — gasp! — Ninja warriors. (“Oh, no, Ninjas!” wails the would-be General Patton leading the foray down the school hallways. “Why do there have to be Ninjas?!”). Recess is a delightfully well-crafted adventure, bursting with hilarious slapstick comedy routines, clever dialogue, and — believe it or not — a sizable dose of intelligence. The animation, while not as cutting-edge as that found in The Emperor’s New Groove, is pastel-suburban charming, with odd touches of ’60s psychedelia. The Recess kids are a likable lot of unique personalities, such as the stuffy-nosed science geek (Ashley Johnson) and the gentle giant (Jason Davis) who wants to be an opera singer (thanks to the voice of Robert Goulet, the kid just might make the Met). They’re mischievous, smart-mouthed, resourceful and energetic, and not one of them watches TV. Above all, there’s a real sweetness about these kids. They pull together for a greater good, they genuinely like and respect one another, there’s not a male chauvinist to be found, and not a syllable of foul language. In essence, the Recess kids have formed a true community without bothering to label it as such. Children and adults alike should find the whole process amazingly refreshing fare.
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