When the diabolical Dr. Phillium Benedict and his Anti-Recess Army threaten to cancel recess forever in an effort to raise U.S. Test Scores, T.J. Detweiler and his pals spring into action. While investigating the peculiar happenings at the thought-to-be-vacated Third Street School, T.J. and his friends discover Benedict has a plan more sinister in store—he wants to destroy Summer Vacation by altering the weather and creating Permanent Winter!
The Last Day of School
The story begins at a U.S. Military Base. One of the technicians there tells a fellow employee he couldn't seem to get the Photon Channeler working, but the employee tells him he'd better figure it out. While working, several vans crash through the gates of the Base. One of the workers tries to erase the access code, but the intruders enter. Several men in sunglasses secure the perimeter, and a scary-looking man enters the scene, and aims a device at the terrified workers and activates it, electrocuting them and rendering the workers unconscious.
At Third Street School, Principal Prickly does the morning announcements which make all of the students laugh. But it's not really Principal Prickly—it's T.J. imitating him using the Voice-Changing Machine from the episode "The Army Navy Game"!
The Gang Goes To Camp
All of T.J.'s friends go to summer camp but he is stuck at home.
As he is riding his bike, T.J. thinks he could not believe he sunk so low to be scheduling a play date with Randall. While passing the school, he spots a strange green glow emanating from the windows of the building. T.J. stops to see what is going on, but before getting the chance to investigate the peculiar happenings, he is ambushed by the scary-looking man from the Military Base incident, but T.J. escapes. The man loses his breath after T.J. escapes. Later that night, T.J. asks his parents what they use a school for during summer. Sam Detweiler tells him that they close it. T.J. explains he saw the scary-looking man at the school while he was riding by, and thinks something really strange is happening.
The next day at the school, T.J. monitors the peculiar happenings. He peeks through his binoculars and spots several vehicles approaching and parking outside the school. After seeing the green glow in the windows, T.J. decides to get a closer look. He peeks into the cafeteria windows and watches scientists use a laser to levitate a safe. T.J. rushes back to his house and tells his parents about what's going on, but no avail (his parents thinking T.J. is coming down with something after running into the sliding glass door), so T.J. heads to the Police Station, but the police laugh at his report. T.J. leaves the station, and finds Principal Prickly heading for the West Side Gold Course.
Principal Prickly Dematerialized!
T.J. interrupts Principal Prickly's golf game, and tells him that there's peculiar things going on at the school. Principal Prickly doesn't believe T.J., but reluctantly decides to help T.J. investigate, quitting his golf game in the process. T.J. and Prickly drive to the school. Prickly tells T.J. it looks fine to him, but T.J. persuades Principal Prickly to go inside. Prickly takes out his keys and puts them into the keyhole, but gets enveloped in the same green light T.J. saw, and gets dematerialized, leaving only his golf shoes!
Campers By Day, Spies By Night
Since T.J.'s parents and the police won't believe his reports, this leaves T.J. no other choice but to get help from his friends. He barges into Becky's room and asks Becky for a ride to Chesterville, where Vince's camp is located, but Becky refuses, but T.J. forces her to do it, otherwise he'll put her diary on the Internet, and he isn't worried when Becky takes it back—he's got copies.
Vince tells T.J. that he was right—something strange was going on inside, and they think Principal Prickly is in on the plot. T.J. decides if they're going to get proof, they'll need to watch the school every night until something goes on. When the bad guys make a move, they'll catch them red-handed by taking pictures of what's going on, then they call in authorities, and they'll have them right where they want them. If they are going to do their mission, they will have to do this as campers during the day and spies during the night (During the daytime, T.J. will have Becky drop the kids off at their camps, and as dusk comes, T.J. will have Becky pick them up again).
Where's the real Principal Prickly?
The next day at the school, the gang is back at their camps, so T.J. is going to investigate alone. He sneaks inside, and hears several voices approaching, so he hides in the dumpster. While hiding in the dumpster, he comes across Principal Prickly's golf pants. He hears the voices approaching, and finds two Secret Service Look-Alike Foot Soldiers outside the gates of the school, talking to a man who appears to be Principal Prickly (the same Principal Prickly the gang saw leave before they found out what was happening), but it turns out that this Principal Prickly was all along the Ugly Bald Guy in disguise! Back at T.J.'s Treehouse, Gretchen examines the golf pants. Double-knit polyester! Those were definitely Principal Prickly's! Spinelli wonders why the Bald Man would want to pretend to be Principal Prickly, and Vince wonders where the real Principal Prickly is. Gretchen finds something in the pants. It's a note reading "Help Me!". The kids think that Principal Prickly must still be inside, being held prisoner. Because of this, T.J. and his friends knew what they must do—they must break into the school and rescue him.
Vince tells the everyone they must leave fast, but Mikey has the feeling. He tries holding it in, but is unable to. He lets out an unusually large burp, causing the ventilation duct to collapse. Benedict sics his henchmen on T.J. and his friends and they make a run for it all over the school. During the chase, T.J. and friends try to find their way out, but most of the exits lock off. After running into several Foot Soldiers, Ninjas, and the Ugly Bald Guy, they find their way out. The other five make it out, but not T.J. -- he is caught by Benedict's men. Before getting the chance to rescue T.J. the ninjas chase them. At the same time Miss Finster gets unstuck, she spots T.J.'s friends running from the Ninjas and wonders what is going on.
Principal Prickly's Origins
After being captured, T.J. is tossed into the broom closet, where he finds Principal Prickly held prisoner. As T.J. tries to free Principal Prickly from the ropes, he tells him that his friends will free them. Currently, the gang is telling the police about what they saw during their infiltration, but the police continue to be oblivious after they heard T.J.'s previous police report. As T.J. unties Principal Prickly, Phillium Benedict enters the scene to interrogate T.J. and Prickly. While being interrogated, Prickly persuades Benedict to set T.J. free, but Benedict refuses, because he found out about his secret experimental night school. After Benedict leaves, T.J. asks Principal Prickly how he knows Benedict and Prickly tells T.J. the origin of how he got his Principal Job. Then, T.J. becomes anxious to fight after hearing Benedict's plans to abolish recess.
Destroy Summer Vacation?!
Prickly and T.J. discover that Benedict is planning on destroying summer vacation by using a military device to create an ice age, therefore making summer winter.
Back in the school, T.J. and Principal Prickly, still in their Foot Soldier disguises, head to the auditorium. They tell the guards Dr. Benedict wanted to talk to them so they can get in, but their disguises fool nobody at which point the Foot Soldiers chase T.J. and Principal Prickly through the halls of the school.
The kids get ready to begin phase two. Gus, Vince, and Spinelli head for the auditorium doors and toss Water Balloons at the Foot Soldiers guarding the doors. The kids make a run for it and scatter in different directions as the Foot Soldiers and Ninjas chase Vince, Gus and Spinelli around the school (the Foot Soldiers chasing Gus and Vince and the Ninjas chasing Spinelli, respectively). The soldiers chasing Vince are trapped by the Ashleys, the soldiers chasing Gus are pummeled by balls being thrown by the students, and the ninjas chasing Spinelli are attacked by the kindergartners. After this, Gretchen rushes to a nearby broom closet, and disables the power supply to the auditorium. Benedict is aware of the situation and instructs Fenwick to get the power going again.
After Gretchen locks Fenwick and some of the technicians in the broom closet, they rush to the auditorium, only to be confronted by the Ugly Bald Guy. As the Ugly Bald Guy prepares to finish T.J. and his friends for good, T.J. and Principal Prickly, after getting rid of their disguises, appear above them and dump a pot of Corn Chowder on him, and drop the pot on him. The kids are glad to be reunited with their friend and learn that Principal Prickly is fine. Seeing as how the Ugly Bald Guy is lacking sight because of the pot being dropped on him, he careens down the stairs. There's six minutes left to perigee, so the kids and Principal Prickly head for the auditorium to face Benedict.
Benedict's technicians get the power in the auditorium going again, but right before trigger time, the students and Principal Prickly barge into the auditorium and confront Benedict. Just when it seems all hope is lost for the gang and Prickly, Miss Finster crashes in from the skylight above and then a fierce battle breaks out. T.J. and the gang, along with the Third Street School army emerge victorious.
Law enforcement officers swarm the school, and haul Benedict and his henchmen to prison. T.J. tells Becky he heard about how she saved his life and decides to return her diary. It also turns out T.J. was bluffing about the copies of the diary he stored in his treehouse. Vince, Gus, Gretchen, Spinelli, and Mikey tell T.J. that they have plenty of time for preparing for their futures, but only have a little time left for just being kids, so they decide to spend the rest of their summer with T.J.. The gang heads to the pond to skip some rocks, but before heading to the pond, T.J. tells his friends he forgot something inside. T.J. wants to thank Principal Prickly for everything he did for him—quitting his golf game, telling Benedict to set him free and helping him save the world. Prickly tells T.J. he should be thanking him because T.J. did Prickly a favor getting him dragged into this mess, because he did his principal job so he could help kids and he had forgotten it, until he helped T.J. and his friends save the world. Prickly tells T.J. to have fun while he can during the summer, but one thing T.J. should remember—he still has a meeting with Principal Prickly come September. Principal Prickly has not forgotten the Saggy Butt Comment.
Cast of Characters
A soundtrack was released in late 2000, a few months before the movie came out. Like An Extremely Goofy Movie, most of the songs were played in the background and were not sung by the characters (except in the credits), and the songs (with the exceptions of the songs in the credits) weren't new songs; instead, they were all hits from the '60s.
- "Dancing in the Street" - Martha and the Vandellas (Song played when the kids are celebrating their departure of school on the last day; also used in the theatrical trailer)
- "Born to Be Wild" - Steppenwolf (Song played when Becky is driving T.J. to pick up his friends from camp; also used in the theatrical trailer)
- "One" - Three Dog Night (Song played when all of the kids leave for camp and T.J. is all alone and heartbroken)
- "Incense and Peppermints" - Strawberry Alarm Clock (Song played at the beginning of Principal Prickly's flashback to 1968)
- "Wipe Out" - The Surfaris (Song played when the main six kids are trying to escape the guards)
- "Nobody But Me" - Human Beinz (Song played when the kids and teachers are battling the villains)
- "Let the Sunshine in" - The 5th Dimension (Song played at the end of the movie, where the main six leave Third Street School to officially start their summer vacation)
- "Green Tambourine" - Robert Goulet (as Mikey Blumberg) (Song played during the credits; as performed by the main six kids)
- "Recess Suite" (score) (Instrumental pieces from the movie in one track)
- "Dancing in the Street" - Myra (Song played during the credits)
Note: "Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix and the theme from S.W.A.T. were also played in the movie, but not included on the soundtrack. "Purple Haze" wasn't included because the original song wasn't played; only a rearrangement, and there's a different version of "Wipe Out" on the soundtrack: the soundtrack includes the original version, while the film has a newer version created for the movie.
- Kojak: The nickname Miss Finster gives to the Ugly Bald Guy during the final fight. James Woods, who played the main villain, Phillium Benedict, played a thug on the show Kojak.
- Jackie Chan Adventures: When Miss Finster and Randall report to the police about ninjas hiding out in the school, the police tease them, saying they should contact Jackie Chan. Additionally, in the show Jackie Chan Adventures, Clancy Brown, who provided the voice of the Ugly Bald Guy, did the voices of Ratso and Capt. Augustus Black.
- "Another Brick in the Wall": After Miss Finster crashed through the skylight of the auditorium, she yelled to Benedict "Hey, teacher! Leave those kids alone!" referencing to one of the lines from the song 'Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)' from the album The Wall.
Home Video release
The film was released on DVD and VHS on August 7, 2001. The video marked the debut of the 2001 Walt Disney Home Entertainment logo, however, the DVD used the 1991 logo. Both the VHS and DVD are out of print (due to the show's cancellation, as well as for VHS, the format going out), though the DVD continues to be sold in certain stores. Unfortunately, there are currently no plans for a re-release on DVD or a Blu-ray release.
- This film marks the first on-screen appearance of T.J.'s sister, Becky, who was previously mentioned in the 1999 episode, "Prince Randall".
- While the movie was released in 2001, the end of the credits has a copyright stamp from 2000. It's most likely that the movie was planned for a 2000 release, but had to be pushed back to avoid competition from other movies, namely Pokémon: The Movie 2000.
- This was originally going to be the finale for the series, however, positive reception caused Disney to renew the show for one more season.
- Two more movies/specials were released after this movie was released and after the show ended: Recess: Taking the Fifth Grade, and Recess: All Growed Down, in 2003. Taking the Fifth Grade was made up of unaired episodes (due to the show ending with 65 episodes, which is Disney's episode limit at the time), while All Growed Down was released with three episodes of the original series and one new one. They are considered the true finales of the franchise, as no new projects have been announced.
- This was the most successful movie based on a One Saturday Morning show, doing well with both critics and box office numbers. Doug's 1st Movie performed well in the box office, but poorly with critics, while Teacher's Pet did poorly in the box office, but well with critics. However, the film has a 61% Rotten Tomatoes rating with 51% liking it, while Pet has 75% of critics liking it, but only 39% with viewers.
- This was the final theatrical film based on a One Saturday Morning show from 1997 to 1999, the second movie from One Saturday Morning, and the only one to receive direct-to-video sequels.
- The original title for the movie was Summer Vacation: The Ultimate Recess (which is quoted by T.J. in the beginning of the film): however, it was changed during production. A few early teaser trailers used this title, though it was changed shortly afterwards.
- The movie poster is slightly altered outside the U.S., as the American flag in the background has been replaced with the UK flag in the UK and the outside of the school in other countries. The scene listing sheet in the DVD uses the school background, but excludes the other elements of the poster.
- In France, the movie poster is different from the original poster, which includes the other characters (including the staff and other students) and the different outside of the school background. The soundtrack outside the US also included the cover.
- This is one of the few Disney movies with a video/DVD case to be almost identical to the movie poster (with a few changes). The only changes were that (aside from the release date being removed) the tagline and logo switched position with each other, T.J., Spinelli, and Gretchen are shown smiling with their teeth, and the rest of the gang are smiling instead of frowning. International releases also edited the background as mentioned above.
- Following DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp, A Goofy Movie, and Doug's 1st Movie, this is the fourth theatrical animated movie based on a Disney animated television series. The next two would be Teacher's Pet and Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension (which premiered as a Disney Channel Original Movie in the United States but was released theatrically in Spain).
- This movie mainly takes place during the summer when The Recess Gang is out of school, although the film began on their last day of school.
- Burt Reynolds was originally going to voice Dr. Phillium Benedict, but dropped out of the role afterwards and was replaced by James Woods.
- This is the only Recess film where T.J. is voiced by Andrew Lawrence.