There are a lot of great movie trilogies. The argument for the best three movie run has been a hot topic for decades, with people even sometimes refusing to accept that fourth entries in franchises exist (ahem, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.) There are always footnotes to people’s favourite trilogies, most commonly that the series falls short at the third hurdle (The Dark Knight trilogy, The Godfather,) or the series has suffered from the creator’s perfectionist tendencies (Star Wars.) The closest thing to a perfect trilogy in my mind has always been Toy Story. However, Toy Story was eliminated from the conversation when a fourth movie was released just last year.
So, it was a lazy Sunday morning. Or maybe it was a weekday. It’s quarantine, every day is Sunday. Anyway, I was browsing Disney+ and I found not one, not two, but three Recess movies! Recess, the show every 20-something year old grew up with. I don’t care how immature the show may be, I don’t care if there’s other more important work to be done, I don’t care if we’re low on milk and I need to pop to the store. I am watching these movies. And I’m gunna review ‘em, just like I would any movie. That’s right, no art is above criticism. You have no idea how deep Recess analysis can go. Also, I really like the novelty of following up a write-up of a torture porn movie (The Platform) with Recess.
The trilogy begins with School’s Out, a mystery type movie as the school closes down and men in black are spotted entering the facility. Strange things happen and T.J. leads the team to uncover what is really going on.
I want this to be a movie. Besides it’s feature length and being bookended with some budget flexing 3D renderings of the school, does it succeed? I think it does. There’s a high concept plot, we delve in to the characters’ past much deeper than in the show, and there is a full arc from beginning to end.
Besides doing what Recess is known for, which is the gang getting in to trouble for pulling pranks, the movie becomes something more when the teachers are revealed to be much more than antagonists putting an end to T.J.’s fun. There are several flashback scenes in which we learn more about Miss Finster, which are the funniest moments of the Recess series, bar none, but also really endearing. Continuing a key element of the series, T.J. and Principal Pickly find themselves stuck with each other, forcing them to formulate a bond. It leads to a surprisingly subtle and low-key heartfelt ending.
However, School’s Out is a departure from the show, very little of it is set in the school, and the tertiary characters that make up the playground have less of a role in this than they do in a 20 minute episode. That’s is a little disappointing because, like The Simpsons, the minor characters are the most fun.
There are major plot holes (King Bob retires at the beginning and hands down the crown, then he appears later on as the king again in the background.) There are some little adjustments to characters, but mostly for the better; Mikey is now even more camp, which makes for some hilarious scenes. Miss Finster steals the show. Recess: School’s Out is more than just a serviceable long episode, which is truly surprising.
Taking Back The Fifth Grade
The first sequel of trilogies are usually the favourites; The Dark Knight, The Godfather, etc. The second entries build on the world of the first movie, they know what the audience liked and what they didn’t like. The set pieces are bigger, actors have grown in to their characters. Sequels make for a proper immersive movie.
When producing Taking Back The Fifth Grade, I don’t think anyone involved thought about any of that. The 2nd entry in the Recess saga actually is more like a really long episode of the show (and only 65 minutes long,) which is what I was worried about when going in to the first movie. It’s meat and veg Recess, though the lack of a high concept and being largely school based does feel more wholesome this time around.
In fact, I wouldn’t even call it a long episode of the show. It is basically three episodes strung together and the writers found a way to very loosely connect them. I’m convinced that’s what they did, as every 20 minutes there is some kind of moral the children have learnt.
The narrative continues King Bob retiring the thrown, and rather than just being a thrown in gag, it causes chaos. The middle 20 minutes are peak Recess and is up there with the best episodes. The first and last 20 minutes (cough, episodes) don’t quite reach that euphoria but they are still fun. ‘Fifth Grade’ doesn’t reach the highs of School’s Out but it doesn’t reach the lows either.
All Growed Down
The final movie in the trilogy is again a loose narrative to combine a bunch of kindergarten themed episodes, but this one is tied together much better than ‘Fifth Grade.’ ‘Fifth Grade’ was literally one episode, dodgy transition in to the next episode, then another transition in to the final 20 minutes, whereas All Growed Down uses flashbacks to tell the episodes.
The team get cornered by the feared kindergarteners. The gang gets tied up at the beginning of the movie, and they have to convince the kindergarteners to free them by telling stories of times the two groups have worked together. Every story is basically a parable about bullying, though there’s still a fair bit of fat shaming. And at one point, they’re comparing the behaviour of kindergarten to Native American culture. Bit dodgy, that.
The last 20 minutes, all the way through to the very end, is the best stretch of the trilogy. It works as an alternate reality where everyone’s roles in the group are swapped, almost like a ‘what if’ situation. Mikey is working with Randall, T.J. Is reduced to a coward, and Gus is the coolest in the gang who, as it turns out, began the whole kindergarten culture as we know it. It would be great if Recess returned as a prequel and we get a bunch of episodes of the gang getting up to Recess-like hijinks as kindergarteners.
So, should the Recess trilogy be held in high regard and be argued against the likes of Back to the Future and Lord of the Rings as the greatest trilogy of all time? No. Definitely not.
If I had to rank them it would be School’s Out > All Growed Down > Taking Back Fifth Grade.
The verdict: I’d totally put it on and enjoy it if I was babysitting.