February 16, 2001 – The Animated Film Recess: School’s Out is Released in Theaters
“Let me go! Let me go! I’m warning you – I’m a black belt in origami!”
On February 16, 2001, the animated feature film Recess: School’s Out was released to theaters. The film was based on the hit animated series from ABC’s One Saturday Morning, created by Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere. The film was a box office success domestically, and received mixed reviews from critics. The screenplay was written by Jonathan Greenberg, based on a story by Germain, Ansolabehere, and Greenberg, and was directed by Chuck Sheetz. The film stars Andrew Lawrence as T.J. Detweiller, Rickey D’Shon Collins as Vince, Jason Davis as Mikey, Ashley Johnson as Gretchen, Courtland Mead as Gus, Pamela Segall as Spinelli, Dabney Coleman as Principal Prickly, James Woods as Dr. Benedict, April Winchell as Miss Finster, with a special cameo by Robert Goulet as Mikey’s singing voice.
The film begins in a desert, where a top secret military base is located. The base is attacked, and the main villain enters, although his face is not revealed. His gives out the orders to establish their base at a place no one would ever suspect: Third Street School. Meanwhile, at the school, the students are enjoying recess on the last day of school. The school snitch, Randall, runs to teacher Miss Finster with all of the infractions he has spotted, but she dismisses him as she plans to sell all the ice cream from the school back to the district. However, T.J. Detweiller and his gang manage to give the ice cream back to the kids. As Miss Finster tries to collect the ice cream from the children, the voice of Principal Prickly is heard over the loudspeakers, conducting the children to eat all of the ice cream and ignore their teacher, which the kids happily do. What they don’t realize is that T.J. is speaking through a voice changer, although he does get caught by the real Principal.
Prickly takes T.J. back to his office, asking him point blank why T.J. torments him, with examples of convincing the FBI that Prickly was a Chinese agent and getting him arrested, and forging his signature and ordering a motorboat for the school. Although Pricky is determined to punish T.J., T.J. is rather calm, as he claims that since there are only 42 seconds of school left before summer vacation, there’s nothing Prickly can do. Everyone celebrates once the bell rings, running around in the hallways and causing general havoc. As T.J. and his friends head home, T.J. expresses joy in his upcoming plans, only to find that his friends will be heading to different places: Vince is going to baseball camp, Spinelli is heading to wrestling training camp, Gus is off to military camp, Gretchen is attending space camp, and Mikey is off to daily vocal lessons. T.J. is depressed on hearing this, and sadly watches all of his friends leave.
As T.J. rides past the school to a forced play date with Randall, he spies a strange green light emanating from the gym. As he stops to look, he is chased off by a large man in a suit. When he asks his parents about it, they dismiss his concerns as just loneliness. T.J. then begins a stakeout to find out what’s really going on. He then sneaks in for a closer look as the green light goes off again and spies a green tractor beam being used to lift a safe. He runs to his parents, but they think he’s just hit his head into the sliding door again, and the police don’t believe him either. He spies Principal Prickly across the street and runs to tell him, although Prickly refuses to believe him, but begrudgingly follows T.J. back to the school. As Prickly puts his key in the door, he is zapped by strange green lightning and disappears, leaving nothing but melted golf shoes. T.J. realizes that he needs to get his friends back, and blackmails his sister into giving him a ride to each kid’s respective camp.
Back in town, the kids spy on the school, observing what’s going on and stealing a crate full of paper. After seeing the paper inside, which consists of test scores and weather reports, the kids accuse T.J. of tricking them to leave their camps to cure his loneliness. T.J. insists he’s telling the truth and reminds them that he saw Prickly disappear, only to have Gus point out that Prickly’s right in front of the school, getting in his car and driving away. They believe him, however, when they see a strange satellite dish emerging from the school roof and shooting a strange green laser into the sky. T.J. then suggests they have a stakeout from T.J.’s treehouse, and helps them return to camp fir the day, but bring them back to the treehouse at night (thanks to another round of blackmailing his sister). As they sit in the treehouse, the kids recall all of their old summers together, and miss the strange events occurring in the school.
The next morning, T.J. sneaks back to spy on the school and finds Prickly’s golf outfit in the trash. He discovers that the strange man that scared him away from the building before has been disguising himself as Prickly. When he brings this back to his friends, they find a note in the pocket reading “Help Me!” The gang then decides to go into the school to save their principal. After they head out, Randall pops out of a nearby garbage can, having heard their entire conversation, and he goes to rat them out to Miss Finster. She follows him, determined to stop T.J. from breaking into the school. Once inside, the gang hides in their old classroom and hear Prickly’s voice coming through the vent. They crawl through the ventilation system and observe an evil scheme taking place, with the villain, Dr. Phillium Benedict, demanding that the operation stay at Third Street rather than moving to another location, as his scientists suggest he does. The children spy in horror that the tractor beam is used to move the moon. Unfortunately for Benedict, the beam stops working, and the scientists must resume their work under his temper. The vent holding the gang breaks, revealing the kids to the scientists, and they quickly make a break for it. The rest of the gang escapes, but T.J. is caught and pulled back inside.
T.J. is locked in the same place as Prickly, and tries to reassure the principal that his friends will save them – although the gang shows up at the police station, with the officers once again laughing at the tale. Benedict soon enters the room and introduces himself again, with Prickly and Benedict revealing that they’ve known each other for years, with Benedict blaming Prickly for ruining his life. Prickly explains to T.J. later that they’d gone to teacher school together, and they were best friends. Benedict was named the Principal of Third Street School, and explains his plan to get rid of recess. Prickly goes to the Superintendent to hopefully get Benedict to change his mind. The Superintendent arrives, informing the teachers that recess will not be cancelled, but adds a surprise: he replaces Benedict as Principal with Prickly. His girlfriend, Muriel Finster, also dumps him, as she can’t be with someone who doesn’t love recess. Prickly then finishes with the fact that he never saw Benedict again, although Benedict went into politics and became the Secretary of Education, only to get fired for trying to ban recess again.
The kids go back to the crate they’d stolen to try and find something to help them get T.J. out of the school. Gretchen discovers that Benedict has written down the time for the lunar perigee – the time the moon is closest to the earth – when he plans to pull the moon into another orbit, but they are unsure as to why. T.J. breaks into Prickly’s office again and finds his confiscated walkie talkie, and reveals that Benedict’s plan is to get rid of summer vacation. Prickly and T.J. are captured again, and Benedict tells him of his plan to rid of summer vacation by using the moon to create a new ice age. The gang has T.J.’s sister to drive them to their summer camps to get reinforcements. Gus takes charge of the situation, leading in T.J.’s absence, and the kids come up with a plan before the lunar perigee takes place, while T.J. and Prickly work together to stop the plan from the inside. While Gretchen is able to shut off the power, the scientists have an emergency back-up generator and use it to resume the plan. Just as the tractor beam is about to be engaged, Miss Finster bursts through a window in the ceiling, much to Benedict’s surprise, and brings an army of teachers with her.
The tractor beam is still let loose, but T.J. and Vince stop the beam with a baseball aimed at the photon channeller, destroying the device. The kids celebrate their victory, and Benedict is arrested. T.J.’s friends decide not to go back to their summer camps and spend the rest of their summer together. T.J. first goes back inside and thanks Prickly for helping him out, but Prickly thanks T.J. for reminding him why he became a teacher in the first place, and tells T.J. to go have fun while he still can.