Recess: School’s Out

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Disney’s latest release, “Recess: School’s Out!” should have a brief life in theaters before moving on to a more fitting format on video. It is not “based on” the popular television series as much as it simply is an episode blown up for the big screen. That means that it has more expensive music (the usual baby-boomer re-treads, like “Born to Be Wild,” “Incense and Peppermint,” “Green Tambourine,” “Wipe Out” and “Let the Sun Shine”) and more expensive voice talent (James Woods as the bad guy, Robert Goulet for some songs). But the plot, dialogue, and animation are no better than the low standards of Saturday morning television. The look of the movie might work on a television set, but the big screen reveals how flat and unimaginative the artwork is.

The movie begins as T.J. and his five pals engage in some last-minute hijinks on the last day of school before summer vacation. T.J. is looking forward to a long, lazy summer with his friends, but finds that all of them are being sent off to enrichment summer programs at various camps. He is not able to have much fun alone (predictable cue: “One is the Loneliest Number”).

T.J. sees something suspicious at school, and rounds up the gang to investigate. It seems that there is an evil plot to do away with summer vacation for good, so that students throughout the country will have better test scores. T.J. and his friends have to come up with a plan to rescue the school, the principal, and, most important, the summer.

At best, the movie is innocuous fun. The show’s creators have a gift for remembering details about being a kid that most grown-ups forget. The movie shows some sense of the way kids see the world, with characters like “the Ashleys,” the school princess-cheerleader types, the hairnetted lunch ladies who store the leftover chowder until September, the snively tattle-tale, and the kindergarten class, half adorable, half terrorist.

Judging by the reaction of the kids in the screening I attended, it is a crowd-pleaser, especially when T.J. and his gang use the ultimate kid weapons — water balloons, silly string, shaken-up soda cans, and a jump rope — to take on the bad guys. The movie, like the show, is racially diverse and has girl characters who are smart, strong, and capable. The kids are loyal to each other and show cooperation and teamwork in working together.

On the other hand, parents should know that the movie assumes that all children and teachers hate school and that there is nothing interesting to learn and no value from education. Adults are ineffectual, uninterested, or dim. And T.J. forces his big sister to help him by threatening to put her diary on the Internet.

Warning: the jokes are pretty vulgar for a G rating. T.J. uses the school public address system to make an announcement, pretending to be the principal, and talking about how he scratches his “big, saggy butt” once an hour. T.J.’s parents say they are going to take his temperature with a baby thermometer and some Vaseline (eliciting a few uncomfortable squeals from the audience). T.J. reads aloud from his sister’s diary, including dramatic descriptions of teenage romance.

Families who see this movie should talk about its message that kids should not worry about test scores or the future but should make time to “just be kids.” What is important to T.J. and his friends? Why does the tattletale spend all his time trying to get everyone else in trouble? Was it fair for T.J. to take his sister’s diary and let his friends read it? Encourage children to talk about their own experiences in school — and to tell you why they would not want to give up their summer vacation.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Madeline.”

Related Tags:

 

Animation Based on a television show Comedy School Stories About Kids

Pokemon: The First Movie

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Human scientists have figured out a way to create a bigger and stronger clone of the most powerful Pokemon ever, Mew. The result is a sort of Maxi-Mew called Mewtwo. Mewtwo decides to go after that goal of all movie bad guys worth their salt, total world domination, by capturing and cloning all the Pokemons.

Mewtwo lures the best Pokemon masters to his island for the ultimate battle. He points out – and here I have to side with him – that the Pokemons are slaves to the humans. Then each of the Pokemons has to fight its clone in a sort of existential crisis. This was very appealing to the little boy in front of me, who chanted happily, “Two Pikachus, two Jigglypuff, two Bublasaur…” like a Pokemon Noah. Then it all ends happily – if hypocritically, with everyone in favor of cooperation instead of fighting. (NOTE: The movie is preceded by a strange short movie about a Pokemon trip to an amusement park.)

Anyone who has ever seen the TV series, played the game, or bought the cards knows what to expect here. Every generation of children has some hideously annoying cartoon series to provide parents with much agonizing and many, many buying opportunities. The characters usually undergo some transformation or make use of a secret to attain power. This theme is endlessly interesting to kids who can feel overwhelmed by a world built on a scale that is often too large for them.

Kids, especially those ages 6-10, also love to memorize and sort endless facts, whether about Pokemons, dinosaurs, cars, or Beanie Babies. It gives them a sense of mastery, especially because they can do so much better than adults. And it becomes an important part of their social development, creating a shared language with their friends. This can be particularly meaningful for kids who are insecure about talking to other children.

Still, excruciating as it can be for parents to endure, it may be worthwhile for kids to see the movie. If it makes it any easier, remember that before too long, this will be over and by the time the next one comes along your children will be past that stage.

Related Tags:

 

Action/Adventure Animation Based on a television show Based on a video game Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel Fantasy Stories About Kids Superhero

The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

When Elmo’s favorite friend, his beloved blanket, is tossed into Oscar’s trash can, Elmo goes in after it, only to find himself transported to Grouchland, where grouches cut off the flowers and keep the stems and you get put in jail if you ask for help.

The Sesame Street characters all go to Grouchland to try to find Elmo, but by then Elmo is on his way to get his blanket back from mean Mr. Huxley (Mandy Patinkin), who takes everything he sees and has a big machine to stamp “MINE” on everything he takes.

Fans of Sesame Street will love this movie, which has all of the Sesame Street trademarks — subtle puns for the parents, delightful silliness for the kids, and gentle lessons about cooperation, loyalty, sharing, and believing in yourself for everyone, all told with their characteristic warmth, good humor, and kindness. Even Oscar the Grouch admits that Elmo is his friend. And at the few moments of mild tension, Ernie and Bert appear to reassure kids that everything is all right.

Patinkin and Vanessa Williams (as the Trash Queen) provide some star power, but the real stars are the Muppets (whose colors and textures are wonderful on the big screen), and the audience — who are invited to participate in the movie at crucial moments.

Families will want to discuss their own “special” toys and other transition objects, and why it can be hard to share sometimes. Some children may be concerned that Elmo does not seem to have any parents, and may need some reassurance. And it can be a lot of fun to spend a couple of hours pretending the whole family is in Grouchland!

Related Tags:

 

For the Whole Family Stories About Kids

The Mighty

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Max (Eldon Henson), a huge boy who has flunked 7th grade twice and Kevin (Kieran Culkin), a tiny disabled boy, help each other in this moving story of the power of friendship and imagination. Inspired by stories of King Arthur’s knights, they live by a code of chivalry and honor that leads them into adventures, some enlightening, some dangerous.

At first, each completes the other, Kevin telling Max what to do as he rides on Max’s strong shoulders. But Kevin ultimately helps Max learn to think for himself, and Max helps Kevin come to terms with his limitations by showing him what he has accomplished.

This is a good movie to initiate a talk with middle schoolers about the way that all 7th graders feel like outcasts at times, and how what Max learns from Kevin makes it possible for him to survive a terrible family history and an abusive father. Kids may also want to read the book, Freak The Mighty by Rodman Philbrick.

Related Tags:

 

Action/Adventure Stories About Kids

The Rugrats Movie

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Fans of the television series will be happily at home with this movie, which takes its toddler heroes through two terrifying adventures — getting lost in the woods and having to share parents with a new baby. The children around me at the theater laughed joyously at the potty humor and only a couple of them seemed concerned by the drooling wolf, mischevious monkeys, or the other perils the children face as they try to find their way back home. Their parents smiled at a couple of sly jokes, the use of voice talents like David Spade, Busta Rhymes, and Whoopi Goldberg, and that failsafe bolster of flagging parental attention, baby boomer-friendly music. The Rugrats’ trademark “kid-cam” use of floor- level perspective provides a few bright moments, and the kids’ efforts to understand the world around them are occasionally fresh and funny. The movie is not much more than a long version of the television show, but for many in its targeted audience, that is just fine. Parents may use Tommy’s concerns about his new baby brother Dylan to talk about children’s fears of displacement and how Tommy, though frustrated, cares for his brother when they are lost. They should also be sensitive to any signs that children are scared when the babies are separated from their parents, though most will be very reassured by the way the Rugrats cooperate and (usually) support each other.

Related Tags:

 

Animation Based on a television show Comedy Stories About Kids
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2024, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik