Disney’s “Recess” has been a successful television series on Saturday mornings and in weekday reruns since its first appearance in 1996, and the first feature based on it, “Recess: School’s Out,” was a hit when it was released to theatres last February. Now the movie is making its way to video and DVD, and Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere, who created and nurtured the series and its big-screen incarnation, visited Dallas recently to talk about the project.
When the studio suggested a feature version of “Recess,” Germain said, “We were against it at first. We had designed this so much to be a TV show about small things, and we knew that they wanted a big subject for the movie.” Still, they finally agreed, and worked to make something true to the original but distinctively a movie. “We really set out to make something bigger, [but] we wanted to keep the spirit of the series,” Germain said. “We wanted it to be big and feel like a movie and be a new experience for people coming to see it, but we wanted them to recognize its roots. We wanted them to feel like it was still the show, but bigger and better.” Ansolabehere agreed: “We were directed to make it big, and make it take place in the summer, but we wanted not to change the look of the show. And to take advantage of the big screen–make it like a movie, but not to round the characters and things like that.”
So Germain and Ansolabehere proceeded as they always do–by brainstorming ideas. They thought about how kids make up adventures for themselves during the summer, and how they fantasize about something nefarious going on inside the empty school buildings. They added some gentle political commentary aimed at movements to do away with recess and go to around- the-year schooling, and eventually came up with a scenario in which the students and teachers join forces to foil a plot by a powerful ex-principal to do away with summer (and vacation) entirely by moving the moon into a new orbit. “It became a kind of ‘X-Files’ for kids,” Germain observed. “We kept building on it and building on it, and just imagining, ‘Let’s do it like it’s a James Bond movie, and have fun with it.’ A kid’s fantasy, is how we thought [of it],” Ansolabehere recalled. Part of the process was coming up with a flashback sequence showing the teachers, often the kid’s nemeses, during their early years. “When we started playing with it, we kind of came to this thing where we wanted to show the teachers as idealistic 23-year olds…and so we did this flashback to the sixties. That allowed us to hook into jokes and a sense of humor that was more for us,” he said. “From our generation,” Germain added. “And kids still get it, and like it, but it allowed us to be a bit more adult,” Ansolabehere noted.
Ultimately “Recess: School’s Out” shows teachers and students gaining mutual respect as they work together for a common goal. That’s a switch from the series, which depicted them as basically at odds, but in line with the original’s tone. “We pride ourselves in telling positive stories–not insipid, not positive to the point of being kind of dumb, but positive in the sense that we don’t want to be mean-spirited. We want to have fun,” Ansolabehere said. Germain added: “We always wanted to have themes, and we always wanted to know what our story’s about, and we always wanted to have a sort of moral at the end, but at the same time we always wanted to be funny, and we wanted to entertain and not be preachy, and be humorous without being mean-spirited.”
“Recess: School’s Out” premieres on video and DVD shelves on August 7. And a compilation feature drawn from several episodes of the series, called “Disney’s Recess Christmas: Miracle on Third Street,” will follow for the holidays.