Recess: Taking the Fifth Grade is a 2003 Direct to Video Grand Finale to Recess(released two years after the show's final episode aired, and shortly after Disney Channel and Toon Disney picked up the series) and sequel to Recess: School's Out.
Like Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World, Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, and Atlantis: Milo's Return, the film was a Compilation Movie composed of three segments. Unlike the other three films, however, this one was more well-received, as it was already based on a television series. Although similarly to the second Atlantis film, this movie was made up of rejected TV show episodes. After the initial sixty-five episodes, ABC wanted to order more (whether they wanted a seventh season or another series is unknown) due to the extremely high ratings. However, Disney declined, and put three of the episodes into this film.
The shorts feature T.J. and the gang adjusting to fifth grade, taking place a few months after the events of Recess: School's Out. The stories include:
- No More School: When T.J. and the gang arrive on the first day of school, it doesn't go as smoothly as they expected. The school lunch has changed from actual food to just-barely-edible "nutrition paste", their lockers are taken away, Miss Finster unexpectedly becomes their teacher due to their expected teacher transferring out, and to make matters worse, the playground's gone! T.J. talks to Principal Prickly about this, and he tells them that it was the school board's decision and not his. So to protest, T.J. decides to stay in his room the next day and not go to school. The rest of the kids decide to join him and skip school as well. Naturally, this gets the attention of the Board of Education, specifically Mr. White, who already knew T.J. from the "whomps" incident.
- Grade Five Club: King Freddy II introduces the gang to the Fifth and Sixth Graders Club underneath the King's jungle gym, which, as the name implies, only allows fifth and sixth graders (except Randall). The gang like it at first, but begin to lose interest when the other kids begin badmouthing the younger kids. However, Gus and Mikey still enjoy going to the club, and begin badmouthing the younger kids as well.
- A Recess Halloween: After being taunted by Lawson and his gang about still enjoying Halloween, Spinelli decides she's too old for the holiday, to the dismay of the rest of the gang. The gang end up going out trick-or-treating without her, but also notice that the "magic" of Halloween is starting to wear off as they get older. While Spinelli is giving out candy, she slowly starts to get into the spirit again, and realizes (after a talk with Miss Finster) that it doesn't matter how old you are: it just matters that you have the spirit.
The movie was simultaneously released with Recess: All Growed Down, which, despite consisting of three previous episodes, one new episode, and framing material, is still considered a "movie" by Disney.
Although the film received relatively positive reviews from critics, it's considered to be a bit obscure compared to the show and first movie, due to Recess not being as popular as it once was in the late '90s, and because of Disney's poor marketing of it compared to their other projects coming out around the same time. Among fans of the series, it has a mostly positive reception, though nowhere near the levels of the first film.
Recess: Taking the Fifth Grade contains examples of:
- Abilene Paradox: After seeing Principal Prickly willing to risk his job by admitting that he hates all the changes that were to the school and calls them out for being stupid and, ultimately ineffective, the board members all admit that they feel the same way—they only went along with it because they assumed it was everyone else wanted and, like Prickly, didn't want to risk losing their jobs if they didn't go along with it. After hearing all this, the board members all vote to overturn the whole thing and put things back to normal.
- An Aesop: All three stories highlight how one should stand up for what they believe in and be true to themselves.
- 1.) Prickly learns this from T.J.'s protest.
- 2.) Gus and Mikey apologize for letting the club go to their heads and trashing the younger kids.
- 3.) Spinelli won't let anyone else diminish her love of Halloween.
- Animation Bump: The animation is better than in the TV show, though it doesn't match the animation bump in the first film.
- Art Evolution: The animation and backgrounds look more like Lloyd in Space than how the show looked in the '90s (Even the digitally colored episodes)
- Back for the Finale: Hustler Kid, Butch, Miss Grotke, and Principal Prickly all return after being brother chucked before or at the beginning of the show's sixth season.
- Balloon Belly: Gus in "Grade Five Club" after eating too much.
- Bookends: It ends the same way the theme song ended: Miss Finster telling the main six that recess was over and them coming inside, with her following them. Right before she closes the door, T.J. comes out from behind and waves to the audience and then she slams the door shut.
- Bring It: T.J., as he sees Mr. White approaching his house.
- Demoted to Extra:
- Cornchip Girl has one line in the film, and doesn't appear after her one line.
- Butch appears once and doesn't speak.
- Miss Grotke was demoted—but since Miss Grotke only teaches 4th-grade, it's justified since the main six (who're now 5th-graders) are no longer in her class.
- End-of-Series Awareness: T.J.'s wave at the end could also be a way of waving goodbye to the audience after six years of them watching the show. (Technically five though- no new Recess material had been released in 2002.)
- From Bad to Worse: The first part of "No More School" in a nutshell —
- 1.) Instead of an adored and pleasant, the main six ends up with Miss Finster as their 5th-grade teacher.
- 2.) The lockers are taken away and replaced with motivational posters.
- 3.) The new cafeteria menu is practically inedible.
- 4.) Finally, the playground gets paved over and all the equipment taken away.
- Gilligan Cut / Wham Shot: As the main six is about to enter Third Street School on their first day of fifth grade, T.J. assures his friends, "I'm telling you, fifth grade is gonna be the best year yet." It then cuts right to Miss Finster at the head of their fifth grade class, saying "All right, hooligans. Settle down! My name is Miss Finster, and I'm your fifth grade teacher." Understandably, a random boy in the class bursts into tears at the thought of having Miss Finster as a teacher for the whole school year.
- Grand Finale: This film marked the end of the series, although the main gang's (and Miss Finster's) final appearance would be in a Lilo & Stitch: The Series crossover episode that takes place after the events of this film.
- Growing Up Sucks: Spinelli thinks this, as she's teased by Lawson for enjoying Halloween and finds traditions not as fun as she remembered them. T.J. and the others also start questioning Halloween, as they get sugarless treats and finds things not as scary as they used to be. Miss Finster, however, demonstrates that she loves Halloween just as much as she did as a child. She tells Spinelli that some people do lose the spirit as they grow up, but others don't and no one can take it away from them.
- Halloween Episode: "A Recess Halloween", making it the second Halloween episode of the show, the first being "The Terrifying Tales of Recess" from season six.
- Hidden Depths: Miss Finster is a Halloween superfan, still dressing in costume (as a fairy princess during the day when teaching the class, and then as a werewolf in the evening), going to parties, and enjoying candy. Prickly and the other adults at the school also attend the party in costume.
- Honor Before Reason: T.J. admits in "No More School" that he gets why Prickley is going along with all the changes, saying he's an adult with bills to pay. T.J. says he's just a kid with self-respect, but he feels he can't have that if he doesn't stand up for what he believes in. This is what convinces Prickley to stand up to the school board.
- It's Personal: The other adults in "No More School" just want to resolve the situation, but Mr. White is eager to knock T.J. down a peg after their last encounter.
- Lampshade Hanging: T.J. sums up the moral of "Grade Five Club" with one of his patented speeches. King Bob notes that T.J.'s speech-making abilities have not declined since he saw him last.
- Lighter and Softer: Though not as obvious as other examples; the movie is more slow-paced and Slice of Life compared to the show, and of course, the first film.
- The Movie: The second one.
- The '90s: The movie was released in 2003, but it takes place in September and October of the 1998/1999-school year for Third Street Elementary School.
- Nixon Mask: Hustler Kid fittingly wears one on Halloween. At one point he even makes Nixon's famous finger gestures.
- Pet the Dog: Miss Finster gives her class Halloween cupcakes that she personally made. (Granted, the ingredients aren't appetizing to the kids, but it's the thought that counts.) She also talks to Spinelli about how getting older doesn't mean one has to give up Halloween and even helps her pull off a prank.
- Put on a Bus: King Bob left for middle school at this point, but The Bus Came Back: Briefly, since King Bob had to set King Freddy II straight before school began.
- The Resolution Will Not Be Televised: This is the true finale for the series, and was released direct-to-video.
- Series Continuity Error: In "No More School", the kindergarteners shown are all the same kindergarteners from the year before, yet in "Grade Five Club", Tubby and Hector are in first grade. Is it that possible that almost all the kindergarteners were held back? Maybe Hector and Tubby were 5 years old in the Series while the other children in the Kindergarten who are still shown there, were only 4 years old.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Lawson questions why he should even listen to Bob, pointing out how Bob doesn't even go to Third Street Elementary School anymore—but Bob suggests Lawson not anger him, especially since they'll both be in the same school a year from now.
- Status Quo Is God: Ziggzagged. Even after T.J. gave Becky's diary back and their brother-sister bond was repaired, she goes back to being a jerk in the movie. However Principal Prickly and T.J have a much more respectful relationship than they did in the previous series due to the events of the movie. Even their main conflict is resolved by uniting together once again.
- Stealth Pun: Spinelli makes one when the gang go and see T.J. in "No More School" and are greeted at the door by Becky.Becky: Now, excuse me, little kiddies, normal people like me have to get to class.Spinelli: Let's hope it's at obedience school!note
- Stern Teacher: After simply acting as a stern yard teacher/administrative assistant throughout the series, Miss Finster becomes an actual teacher for the main kids' fifth grade class, and acts this way through and through, assigning the kids lots of tests and homework.
- Temporary Bulk Change: In "Grade Five Club", Gus begins eating too much at the Fifth and Sixth Graders Club, and gains weight as a result. He remains this way until the next segment.
- They Changed It, Now It Whomps: In-universe. This is the reaction most of the kids have to the changes Third Street School underwent in "No More School."
- Too Old to Trick-or-Treat: After being taunted by Lawson and his gang about still enjoying Halloween, Spinelli decides she's too old for the holiday, to the rest of the group's dismay. The gang ends up going out trick-or-treating, but they also notice the "magic" of Halloween has worn off as they've gotten older. While Spinelli is giving out candy, she slowly starts to get into the spirit again and realizes (after a talk with Miss Finster, who's also having fun on Halloween dressed as a werewolf) that it doesn't matter how old you are: it just matters that you have the spirit.
- Vocal Evolution: Almost all the kids voiced by real kids in the show have lower voices in the film, due to most of the kids now in their late teens or early 20s. Mikey and Gus are the most notable examples.
- We Meet Again: T.J. and Mr. White (his old nemesis from "The Story of Whomps") tersely say the other's name when they first see each other.
- Yes-Man: Prickly doesn't like the changes in "No More School" any more than the kids do, but he doesn't fight it since he could lose his job for going against the school board. Talking to T.J. on the Detweiler roof, Prickly realizes he's failing the kids by not standing up for them or what he believes in. When he tells the members of the board that the new rules are awful, every single one of them admits they agree; they just didn't say anything because they each thought their colleagues all supported these rules.