"Recess: School's Out" is a Disney animated feature tailor-made for moviegoers too sophisticated for the charms of the "Rugrats" movies but not quite ready for Freddie Prinze Jr. romantic comedies. Younger grade-school kids will have a good time watching "Recess," yet another in a series of big-screen spin-offs of popular animated television shows ("Doug," "Pokemon," the forthcoming "Power Puff Girls"). As kid-culture trends go, it's infinitely less annoying than the rise and continuing dominance of godawful teeny pop.
This harmless movie saves its sole surprise for the final credits: After a psychedelic, swirly music video for a remake of the Lemon Pipers' '60s hit "Green Tambourine" comes a long list of the animators, all employed by Sunwoo in Seoul, Korea. That's the story I'm itching to learn more about, the one about the Mouse House and the economic advantage it gains by relying on overseas labor.
Meanwhile, there's the movie at hand: "Recess," created and produced by "Rugrats" veterans Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere, is centered on the slightly naughty but well-intentioned, multicultural, coed sextet of pals led by T.J. (the voice of Andy Lawrence). He's the freckle-faced one with the backwards baseball cap and a Tom Sawyer-like ability to get his friends to go along with his schemes.
Their first and funniest stunt, on the last day of the academic year at Third Street School, is to raid a truck full of crates of ice cream, squirreled away by the grumpy, aging Miss Finster (April Winchell) and intended to be returned to the board of education in exchange for a new supply of erasers. The kids instead manage to catapult the frozen treats into the sky, and their dauntless ringleader uses a high-tech gadget to masquerade as the voice of curmudgeonly Principal Prickly (Dabney Coleman), a harried administrator who exclaims, "I hate my job."
Punishment, of course, is pointless, because there are only "20 seconds more" until summer vacation, the arrival of which is announced by Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street." That tune is the first of several soundtrack pieces from, oddly enough, the '60s and '70s charts, including Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild," Three Dog Night's "One," the Strawberry Alarm Clock's "Incense and Peppermints," Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" and the Fifth Dimension's "Let the Sunshine In." Will '90s-born kids connect with this material?
T.J., as luck would have it, may be forced to spend the lazy, hazy days of summer on his own: His friends are variously going off to study outer space, military discipline, baseball and, in the case of opera-loving Mikey (Jason Davis; singing voice by Robert Goulet), the vocal arts.
Alas, an evil plot, masterminded by renegade ex-principal Dr. Philliam Benedict (James Woods, in full apoplectic mode), gives the gang a reason to reunite. It's their duty to thwart Benedict's plans to permanently wipe out summer vacation.
There's nothing in "Recess" to seriously offend anyone, but educators might not be keen on the antagonistic behavior demonstrated by these rambunctious students, and the job-hating attitudes of the teachers and administrators. Adults may find the most entertainment in the rock-era hits on the soundtrack.