Plot: As Miss Grotke, Miss Finster and Principal Prickly get stuck in their car during a snow storm after the school Christmas pageant, Finster and Prickly grumble about what irredeemable pests the kids are. Miss Grotke, however, brings them on a trip down memory lane to remind them of how great they are instead.
Breakdown: Dear Santa,
This year for Christmas I want Disney to stop lying to me when I pick up a direct-to-DVD “movie” of theirs.
What is it with Disney and repackaging episodes of their TV series as movies just because they add about 10 minutes of new animation to act as bookends? I get it with the Disquels that are made up of failed pilots for spin-off TV shows – gotta make money off the animation somehow. When they made Recess: Taking the Fifth Grade, I understood too because, again, that was a canceled spin-off and/or new season – gotta make money off the animation somehow. I don’t like it, but it’s understandable.
Then you have the Disquels that repackaged the final set of episodes of a TV series that did air, which is super lazy and just getting money for old rope. It’s deceitful, especially when you’re dealing with little kids buying these movies.
And then you have Recess Christmas: Miracle on Third Street, which is a special kind of deceitful money-grubbing. Not only are they repackaging old episodes of the TV show, but they’re completely randomly selected episodes that have 100% nothing to do with each other. They certainly have nothing to do with Christmas.
Take note of that DVD cover as it states absolutely nothing of containing any episodes of the series and blatantly calls it a full length holiday movie. (Even if you qualify this as a movie, it just manages to skim the hour mark without credits.)
Give Taking the Fifth Grade some credit – it didn’t market itself as a Halloween movie. It was just part of the motif for the runtime with the Halloween special being the ending. The framing device was moving on to the fifth grade, which actually was a running theme in all of the episodes of that movie.
In this “movie,” like before, the only episode that is Christmassy is the final entry, which was the main Christmas special of the series, but the bookends are also Christmas-oriented, and Christmas is right there in the title (Shouldn’t it be ‘A Recess Christmas’? Recess Christmas sounds weird.) meaning the movie itself is meant to be focused on Christmas.
Speaking of the bookends, the story there is extremely predictable. After the school’s Christmas pageant, and keep that in mind, I’ll get back to that later, Miss Finster, Miss Grotke and Principal Prickly try to drive to their homes for the holiday vacation when they get hit by some clod of snow, which causes them to get stuck in a snowbank. Prickly and Finster instantly assume the kids threw a snowball at them, which means they not only assume that the kids are pricks, but they also believe they have teleportation to instantly catch up to them after several minutes of driving when the kids were on foot, and that they’d give zero shits after watching them crash.
They were clearly shown to be in the suburbs just milliseconds before they crashed, and Miss Grotke even said they only went a few blocks from the school, yet despite being in a clear suburban area in a city, Prickly can’t walk far enough to get help, so they pretty much just resign themselves to dying, I guess.
I should note that this series seems to take place in some western/southwestern state or something because they never get snow, and it was in the 70s merely that afternoon (This is established in the bookends and in the final episode they show.) So, yeah, this is super believable. It just started snowing during the pageant, definitely wasn’t blizzard conditions, yet by the time they drive home there are already snowbanks to crash into? Snow deep enough to get stuck in? How was the ground even cool enough for the snow to stick in the slightest? Just because it snows doesn’t mean it accumulates, especially if it was 70 degrees that afternoon.
It’s at least believable that they crashed because people from areas that never get snow have little experience driving in it, nor do they have snow tires, but the rest is just ridiculous.
And you’ll never guess what the ending twist is.
TJ and the gang show up out of nowhere to suddenly save them from being stuck, proving that they’re good kids after all.
In the meantime, you have Finster and Prickly badmouthing TJ and the others and blaming them for basically everything wrong in life, even supposedly after the Christmas pageant, which, again, I’ll address in a second.
Miss Grotke (And Finster and Prickly for two segments) has to spend the entire “movie” relaying stories about the kids actually being good to convince them of their good nature – even expressing knowledge of events and dialogue exchanges that Grotke, Finster and Prickly could never have knowledge of in the slightest because this series almost always takes place from the kids’ perspectives.
First, Grotke claims TJ was good recently when Prickly selected him as temporary principal, conveyed through playing the episode Principal for a Day. However, he was never really good in that entire episode. He started out being way too lax, making all-day recess and basically letting everyone run free. Then he became way too strict as Prickly tried to mold him in his image. Then he ended the episode being way too lax again to the point of ridiculousness by getting a police escort for a couple of ice cream trucks to give free ice cream to every kid in school.
Prickly actually conveys this story because he’s admitting to Grotke that this was actually all a scheme to turn TJ into a teacher’s pet like Randall or Menlo, the latter of which they did this same conditioning to the year prior.
Next, Grotke argues that the kids don’t ruin everything and, in fact, make things better, by telling the story of the events of last Thanksgiving when they had The Great Can Drive. However, again, this is a really shitty example.
There’s a can drive going on at school for Thanksgiving, and whichever class collects the most cans gets a turkey dinner. I remember these can drives at school, but I never remembered there being competitions involved with them. TJ and the rest of Grotke’s class opt to not participate because they believe they have no chance of winning. The Ashleys always have their parents buy cans for them so they win every year. I don’t know why the Ashleys are so preoccupied with winning a cheap turkey dinner when their families seem kinda rich, but whatever.
This is also probably why I never remember can drive competitions being a thing. If you can just have mommy and daddy buy a bunch of cans, everyone would probably just cheat if the prize were worth a damn.
I also remember these drives basically being mandatory. You needed to bring at least a can or two in or else your teacher would endlessly hound you about it.
Mikey, being ever the gentle giant, realizes the true meaning behind this drive is for the betterment of the lives of those less fortunate, not to win some competition, so he takes over being the sole collector for the class.
Despite making his intentions VERY clear, several times in fact, his friends still pity him and act like he’s depressed over being so far behind in the competition. When the Ashleys come over to talk smack, his friends step up and join the competition, clearly taking it as purely a competition and not giving a crap about the less fortunate. It reaches really insane levels of competitiveness, especially over something as dumb as a turkey dinner. Provided by the school, I can bet it’s cheap as dirt and probably tastes as good.
I get that it’s really just to one-up the Ashleys, but the Ashleys motivations are just as confusing.
Each class collects 4,362 cans, which means they, collectively, have 8,724 cans stacked in the auditorium. It’s a really nice mountain of cans that would be incredible to give to the local charities.
However, since it’s a tie, all of the students are upset. An elderly woman helping to present the turkey dinner to the winner, being part of the first graduating class of the school back in 1928, happens to have one can that she was going to give to the winner (???What???Why???) This results in every single person in the auditorium losing their goddamn mind and charging this poor woman. TJ and one of the Ashleys start physically fighting over the can so they can win.
Let me remind you, at this point, that Grotke is explaining this story as an example of how the kids don’t ruin everything.
…..The can flies out of their hands and knocks the can mountain over, causing a massive would-probably-cause-several-fatalities avalanche of canned goods.
Every single can of food is obliterated.
Nearly 9000 cans of food for charity, gone. Splattered all over the walls, floor and ceiling of the auditorium. All because of one of the most petty competitions I’ve ever seen.
Mikey does give them all a good chewing out over it, thank God, but the damage is done.
Until, that is, the holiday miracle monkey pooped out a deus ex machina. In the time frame of one day, not even, probably, the other kids all banded together, networked, and gathered twice as many cans as they had before from other neighborhoods, groups and clubs. Not only that, but a local store owner heard what happened at the school and said “It’s about time (his) company put its money where its mouth is.” before donating a truck full of food to every homeless shelter in the city. That’s great and all, but why was hearing the story of a bunch of idiot kids wasting 9000 cans of donated food for stupid reasons the trigger that made him finally donate food to charity? Just because he felt bad about all of the wasted donations?
And the episode ends with Prickly announcing a toy drive competition for Christmas, so, womp womp, here we go again.
I explained that episode more in detail because 1) It’s a bonus Thanksgiving special review, hoorah, and 2) It was a really odd moment where I somehow felt heartwarmed while also feeling like someone beat every single character, barring Mikey, with an idiot stick. No, no—an idiot tree. Why Grotke felt the need to convey this whole story is beyond me. The conversation should have gone;
Grotke: “They do not ruin everything. They actually make things better! Remember when the kids collected all of those cans for the less fortunate this Thanksgiving?”
Finster: “What are you smoking, Grotke? They only did all of that after wasting probably $10,000 in canned goods, doing tens of thousands of dollars in damage to the auditorium – we’re still picking peas and kidney beans out of the rafters to this day – and nearly murdering everyone in the student body and an elderly woman with falling canned goods.”
Sure they made up for it later, but only because of insanely impossible circumstances that they pulled out of their asses. And it’s implied that they didn’t really learn anything from it if the toy drive thing was any indication.
The next example is Grotke arguing that Finster likes Spinelli specifically, which Finster responds to with the story of Spinelli staying over at her house at Weekend at Muriel’s. This is one of my favorite episodes of the series that first started shining a very sympathetic and human light on Miss Finster while also teaching Spinelli that teachers can be pretty cool people outside of school, even if they’re shrill and strict in school.
Even if Miss Finster takes it a bit too far sometimes, it’s still her job to keep the kids in line. She has her own style of teaching that works for her and her students. She’s grumpy, strict, and sometimes even mean and conniving, but she still loves her students and wants what’s best for them. This is one story that actually works to prove Grotke’s point, even if Finster tells her to keep it a secret.
The final story is the actual Christmas special, Yes, Mikey, Santa Does Shave. Grotke relays this story as proof that this is one of the best Christmases ever…..since it happened the same night as the movie. The pageant in the episode takes place immediately preceding the events of the bookends for this movie, which makes no sense because this movie was released merely a day after the finale of the series aired and has an entirely different animation style and quality to it than the flashback.
That also means Grotke feels the need to tell, from start to finish, a story that just concluded minutes before the movie started. What’s next? She’s going to tell them the story of how they left the school that night and crashed into an improbable snowbank, getting stuck, so she started telling long stories about their students to prove their good nature?
While we’re finally at the Christmas special for the “movie” I can’t say I have much to say about it. The episode as a whole is very much by-the-book.
TJ and the others wallow in their 70 degree weather as they watch the kindergartners get excited over Christmas, which they can’t seem to do much of anymore since they no longer believe in Santa….which is dumb because most kids their age would still be excited about Christmas because they still get presents and candy and whatnot. I adore Christmas and I never believed in Santa.
This is especially silly because these kids will still believe in the magic of Halloween when they get to fifth grade, but Santa’s too kiddy for them?
Mikey, being a pure Christmas cupcake, still does believe in Santa, however. His friends are respectful of this, but when it starts to get back to him that kids his age tend to grow out of the Santa myth, he goes to ridiculous lengths to prove his existence, which only backfires and proves to Mikey that he doesn’t exist.
A run-in with a James Earl Jones cameo, who turns out to be Santa, obviously, renews his faith in Santa – not because he found the real Santa, he didn’t know that until the end of the episode, but because he taught him that the magic of Santa and Christmas is about faith and giving. (If you’re wondering about the title of the episode, this version of Santa has a shaved face and seemingly dislikes that he’s portrayed with a beard all the time. I don’t know why he’s more upset about the beard instead of the fact that he’s almost always depicted as a white guy when, in Recess canon, Santa is black, but okay. I think we all need James Earl Jones to just be Santa in real life. It would make the world a better place.)
Meanwhile, some big-shot TV producer has chosen Third Street Elementary School to host his super diverse while also being offensive holiday pageant…which will have approximately…….5 BILLION viewers….That’s billion. With a B.
For comparison, last year’s Super Bowl had 100 million viewers, and the New Year’s Eve Time Square ball drop usually rakes in one billion viewers, in crowds in public or at home, worldwide….meaning this elementary school Christmas pageant is 50 times more popular than the Super Bowl and five times as popular as the ball drop. (Also, for some reason, Dick Clark is cameoing too in order to introduce the pageant.)
It’s already such an insane figure, but it’s even worse when you remember that people who work in TV and know these things wrote that into the script with a straight face.
Mikey has been cast as Santa because of his Robert Goulet singing voice (I’m not being facetious – that really is Robert Goulet providing Mikey’s singing voice. He’s provided his singing voice over the entire series.) but he no longer wants to do it when he discovers Santa’s fake. After talking with Santa Earl Jones, he realizes that he can keep the faith of Santa and the true spirit of Christmas inside of his heart. He can provide the magic of Santa to the littler kids by returning to the pageant and taking on the role of Santa Claus.
After the pageant, James Earl Claus praises Mikey on a job well done in the pageant. Mikey wonders how he knew he’d be there, and he says he invited him, which he didn’t, but then Mikey catches a piece of paper flying in the wind and discovers it was the letter he wrote to Santa. He had ripped it to shreds and thrown it to the wind, but it magically pieced itself back together again somehow. Then they see Santa flying off into the sky on his sleigh.
This is to be expected, of course, but it kinda ruins the message of having in faith in something you can’t see if you give Mikey proof of Santa’s existence (the paper) and then flatout show him and the other kids Santa flying in his sleigh.
I should really talk about this play because it’s kind of a mess. The producer wants it to be as diverse as humanly possible to get all of the politically correct people off his ass (not inferring that – he says it outright several times) but he also makes Vince “Good King Kwanzaa” instead of the spirit of Kwanzaa, which is really weird. I feel like giving Kwanzaa a king defeats the purposes of its messages.
When all is said and done, this play celebrating diversity in the holidays presents Christmas like it’s the best one. They LITERALLY all step aside to welcome Santa (Their “favorite guy”) and Christmas. And while all of the other holidays get a short blurb during their parts, Santa gets several lines and a musical number all to himself.
Overall, I did fairly enjoy this Christmas special. I won’t lie, my heart really hurt when Mikey finally came to the realization that Santa doesn’t exist. All of his sad at best and heartbreaking at worst attempts to prove to his friends, and sort of himself, that Santa was real coming to a crescendo of him admitting defeat in tears in the radio station cut really deep. His face coupled with the voice acting of Jason Davis really struck a chord.
Outside of that, it’s a predictable episode to be certain, but it’s mostly harmless, and it did eek out some Christmas magic. I really appreciated how Mikey’s friends were all trying very hard to not ruin Mikey’s faith in Santa. They didn’t lie to him, really, but they tried hard to keep their views to themselves so they wouldn’t ruin Mikey’s belief. When his faith broke, they all felt really bad about it, even if it was through no fault of their own. They were miserable because he was, and it showed how strong their bond of friendship is.
Back to the “movie” you’re left wondering how Prickly still felt the kids were all irredeemable monsters when Mikey literally made the 5 billion viewer show he was so obsessed about a hit merely an hour ago. The kids show up from the convenience void and free the teachers with barely a line of dialogue exchanged. The kids whip out a piano and other instruments from nowhere to sing a Recess-fied version of ‘Jingle Bells,’ which they somehow felt was noteworthy enough to mention on the DVD cover too.
Bottom Line: This movie left me feeling as hollow as a lie….because it is one. Never has one of these episodes-stapled-together “movies” left me feeling so insulted.
It was a lazy cash-grab attempt to throw some completely random episodes together, put a ‘Christmas’ label on it to help it sell, and call it a day. It’s made even worse than normal because this is a Christmas special. It’s supposed to fill me with Christmas spirit. All you do when you present a deceitful repurposed collection of episodes as a brand new Christmas special is suck all of the Christmas spirit out of me.
What’s even sadder is thinking about all of the kids who probably asked for this movie for Christmas.
They didn’t even use newer episodes. All of these episodes came from seasons one and two when the series had literally just ended with its sixth season a day prior to release. Not only is this a continuity nightmare in that regard, but the back and forth of animation quality is very stark. Recess never really had fantastic animation, but the early days were pretty bad and done in a completely different manner. The later days had crisper artwork and brighter colors, more fluid animation and a more Flash-y kinda feel to it (not really in a bad way.)
In regards to the episodes used, I somewhat liked Principal for a Day, I seriously disliked The Great Can Drive, I loved Weekend at Muriel’s and I was on pretty good terms with Yes, Mikey, Santa Does Shave. However, I don’t feel like I can wholeheartedly say the movie is better just because the episodes it uses are mostly good. That’s just cheating.
If you’re taking this as a Christmas movie instead of a collection of random episodes, you’re going to be massively disappointed. The narrative structure doesn’t lend itself to anything worth an elf’s spit in a bucket, and the bookends are only barely there. It’s mostly just setup to lead into the episodes instead of being a story on its own, and what story is there doesn’t make any sense and is predictable as hell.
While they get weird bonus points for bothering to include the Thanksgiving special too, only the final episode focuses on Christmas, so it’s not a movie to put on during the holidays.
If you’re going into this just wanting a grab bag of old Recess episodes without caring about the framing device, then it’s perfectly fine. The episodes they chose are pretty good for the most part. However, you can just as easily watch the entire series on Disney+ or Amazon Prime Video.
All in all, there’s absolutely no reason to watch this. Just watch the Christmas special as a standalone, and don’t give Disney any more satisfaction in this shady business practice.
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