Plot: Third Street School has a new fifth grade class – and TJ and the gang are in it! Yes, the infamous fourth graders have reached fifth grade. They’re growing older, changing, maturing. But when the familiar call of Halloween comes around, Spinelli finds herself unable to get into it after Lawson and his crew mock her for being too old for Halloween. Is Spinelli just in a Halloween funk, or is the gang really too old for one of their favorite holidays?
Breakdown: We get to return to Recess this Halloween!
For the last time.
I don’t just mean that as in this is the second and last Halloween special that Recess ever made, I mean that as in this is a strange case of their Halloween special being the series finale.
Recess had completed their six season run and was ready to either make a seventh season or a spin-off series (which, if the latter is true, likely would’ve been a slightly more mature Recess taking place in fifth grade instead of fourth.) They had animated three episodes of this season/series before it was suddenly canceled for no given reason.
In order to make money from what was already animated, Disney released the episodes with some new bookended animation thrown in to make a direct-to-video movie – Recess: Taking the Fifth Grade. While Halloween is a theme in all of the bookends, it is only given focus in the final entry, A Recess Halloween…..which is a really lazy title that I can only imagine was a first draft that no one bothered to rework because the title cards wouldn’t appear in this movie anyway unlike the TV series where they were always on-screen.
What I find particularly odd about this is that the show was meant to end after season five and the movie, Recess: School’s Out, was released, but it garnered a sixth season because its performance was particularly high after that. So it was popular enough to rip from its relatively sound fate and give it another season, and then, in the middle of animating the seventh season/spin-off, they suddenly cancel it out of nowhere? Why?
Unlike the previous Halloween special, which was a series of short ‘scary’ stories told by Butch, this Halloween special involves Spinelli, who is usually the one in the group most excited about Halloween, feeling like she’s outgrown the holiday due to Lawson mocking her for making Jack-o-lanterns and trick-or-treating. Unlike Lawson and his crew’s super mature Halloween festivities of….smashing pumpkins for no reason.
Spinelli becomes very sullen after this and doesn’t partake in any Halloween festivities, even the ones they offer at school like singing Halloween songs and eating a special Halloween lunch.
Let me just share that, when I was in grade school, I was a complete wimp….I still am a complete wimp, but now I’m all about horror and Halloween. Back then, however, even though I liked Halloween, I hated horror. I hated scary things. I especially hated haunted houses and hay rides. Every year at my school, they’d have a haunted ‘house’ set up in the cafeteria, and it was someone’s bright idea to force everyone to go through it if they wanted the special Halloween bagged lunch. I didn’t want to go through because I hated haunted houses, and this one was one of haunted houses where they grab at you, and I wasn’t having any of that.
The moral of the story is, I stole special Halloween bagged lunches as a child….And now back to our program.
This isn’t so simple a case as bullies being bullies, however, because it ties into their new common theme of growing up and changing. When the gang talks about all the fun things they do on Halloween, Spinelli explains that the magic has been drained from it, no matter what Lawson told her. She truly believes she’s outgrown it.
The other kids aren’t so quick to believe her, though, and set off trick-or-treating. While they start off in strong spirits, they quickly start having the magic of Halloween lifted away from them as well.
The massive piles of candy they get from one house – sugarless.
The creepy cemetery at another? The gravestones are plywood.
The creepy man sitting outside that same house that gives out candy? Animatronic. (And can I just add that the guy who owns that thing is extremely unreasonable? TJ lightly touches the animatronic man and the arm just falls off. Then the owner berates him for breaking it and tells him he has to fix it for all the kids who actually believe in that stuff….All he did was lightly touch it. What is your problem, dude?)
The creepy building they usually run from that they believe is a defunct prison haunted by inmates? It’s actually an old DMV.
It seems like the gang is doomed to sharing the same Halloween blues that Spinelli has.
Meanwhile, back with Spinelli, she has relegated herself to watching TV and handing out candy while her parents are out. When the diggers show up and tell her they’ll tell a nearby group of little kids to not visit the house because Spinelli’s such a sour grape, she decides to make a real effort to partake in the fun, if just for the sake of making those kids happy.
I really loved these brief scenes of Spinelli as she talks with the visiting kids. She gives them a fun scare and even gives another group tips on how to be scarier dinosaurs. It shows the audience that there are many ways to enjoy Halloween as you get older, and one of those ways is by creating the Halloween magic that you used to love (and might still love) for a new generation of kids.
Miss Finster visits, hoping to invite Spinelli’s parents out for a Halloween party. Spinelli is surprised to see that Miss Finster, despite her advanced age, is as much into Halloween as any kid. Showing a true sign of maturity, Spinelli asks to have a talk with Miss Finster about her conflicting feelings on Halloween. She thinks she’s too old for it, but tonight has shown her that she feels like she’s missing out on a bunch of fun.
Lending an understanding ear, Miss Finster tells her that age has nothing to do with liking stuff such as Halloween. You either like it or you don’t. It’s what you feel in your heart that truly matters. And you shouldn’t let anyone tell you what you should and shouldn’t like.
I enjoyed this interaction with Spinelli and Miss Finster. Not only do I love when Ms. Finster shows her much nicer mentor side (Especially to Spinelli because it’s a nice touch of continuity that the two are friends through Finster’s friendship with Spinelli’s parents), but I also like when we get peeks into her non-school personality. She’s very much a fun-loving gal.
Spinelli then decides to make the best of the night and go join her friends on their trick-or-treating rounds. She comes across Hustler Kid….who is wearing a Nixon mask. I laughed for a good minute at his scene. I doubt any kid watching that would get the joke of his costume mixed with his character, but it was hilarious to me.
Hustler Kids tells her the bad news that her attitude rubbed off on the other kids and now they’re having a terrible Halloween too. Spinelli feels incredibly guilty, but knows just what to do to make up for it.
She invites them out to their last usual stop, which is a house they believed was owned by vampires. The owners, however, moved out since the last Halloween, so Spinelli suggests that they, being super mature grown ups, go inside and look around.
Awaiting them is a slue of scares that she, Miss Finster, Miss Grotke, Principal Prickly and some of the other adults from town set up to scare the pants off of the gang. The plan works. They had a good scare and some great fun. Spinelli explains that they can grow up and mature while still enjoying everything they loved, like Halloween, if they still make the choice to like it, and they should never let anyone tell them otherwise.
This is a great message. It’s not about shedding something other people perceive as childish just to be more ‘grown up’ and it’s not about locking yourself in childhood nostalgia forever. It’s about letting yourself enjoy anything you want without allowing anyone to bully you into conforming to their view of what you should like or partake in, especially if it’s based on stupid qualifiers like age or gender. (And, hey, if I did that, I certainly wouldn’t be on this blog right now talking about cartoons and anime.)
The kids get a heaping helping of (sugary) candy and they all enjoy their Halloween together.
I really loved this Halloween special, and I’m a bit miffed that it is so good since I never saw this when I was a kid. Because it was a direct-to-video movie, I just never owned it and thus never saw it. I did see Recess: School’s Out in theaters and later owned it on VHS (still have it) but when it came to the other direct-to-video movies and specials, I never was able to get them. I’m not sure if they ever aired on TV. I only remember a lot of advertisements for the VHS.
For some reason I have the oddest feeling of deja vu when watching another episode in this movie, The Fifth and Sixth Grader’s Club, but I honestly don’t know why. Maybe I’m confusing that episode for another.
I’m disappointed Recess ended the way it did. Even though this is, technically, also a pretty sound ending to the series, I feel like this is one of those shows where we should have at least gotten a peek into their adult lives as the series finale. What’s especially strange is that the following movie (Which is not regarded as the series finale because it’s a prequel), a movie called Recess: All Growed Down is basically the exact opposite of what I wanted or expected because it follows the exploits of the kids in kindergarten (and also retcons it so that the gang knew Gus briefly as small children when he was supposed to be a new kid at the start of series.)
….Does anyone else find it weird that they canceled the series while Taking the Fifth Grade’s episodes were in production, yet after that release they make another new movie?
Recess is still a show near and dear to me, and I’m honored to review their last Halloween special and series finale for everyone on this year’s Animating Halloween.
Final Note: I find it kinda funny that TJ goes on about Spinelli always having the best and creepiest costumes on Halloween, but the two times we see her dressed up in this special she just has regular clothes on with a relatively bland mask added.
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