Starting out as a series of educational children’s books and becoming an educational cartoon series in the 90’s, the Magic School Bus is, as I said at least 3 times in the entirety of this sentence, a science educational series. The stories follow Valerie Frizzle (voice by the lovely Lily Tomlin in the TV series); the strangest elementary school teacher that you’ll ever see. Her clothes all have these weird designs, her personal assistant is her pet lizard and, uh, what am I forgetting?
Oh, yeah, the fact that she took her class on this magical school bus that could change its shape, size and do next to anything…that’s a thing that occurs.
Yeah, the titular magical bus is the driving point of the series (I'm not sorry for that pun), because the bus’ ability to shape shift and shrink allowed the class, and the audience, to see science in ways that most people could only dream. Giving a very in depth and firsthand looks into different forms of science. From the planets in space, to how molecules make up the world around us, to how animals live in the wild and much, much, more. I loved this series as a kid, not just because of the amazing visuals and hilarious characters, but because the fact that it taught me more about science than my actual elementary school. And when the show ended, I ended up going into my own studies of science. And it might of ending up paving the path for other educational shows like Wild Kratts, Ready Jet Go and other programs you see on PBS Kids nowadays. So, when Netflix saw just how popular this series was, decades later on their streaming service, it gave them the idea to make a modernized revival series for it, like they did with other classic cartoons. So does this revival series hold a candle to the original, or is something that makes you wish you stayed home today?
Let’s find out as we take chances, make mistakes and get messy with The Magic School Bus Rides Again. Also, buckle in because this is gonna be my longest review ever.
ACCORDING TO MY RESEARCH: SPOILERS!!!
Now, let’s start off with the fact that this revival series went through a lot of changes. When it was first announced, the series was simply called “The Magic School Bus 360”, and its main pitches were:
A. Being in CGI 3D animation, instead of the traditional 2D hand drawn animation that the original had.
And Z. Giving the Bus a sort of sci-fi styled makeover, giving it high tech gadgets.
Out of those 2 things, the latter is the only that actually made it from the “360” draft of the series to the “Rides Again”. And instead of CGI animation, the final product was animated in Flash. And like I said in my first impressions of this revival series, I personally do not care about the animation of ANY cartoon show, good or bad. Because it is, in my opinion, not the main selling point. No one in their right mind should watch a TV show or movie solely on the basis of “It looks nice” and only that. But, for the sake of argument, I’ll talk about the animation of this reboot.
The animation is set to Flash and it’s done by 9 Story; a popular flash animation company that’s known for doing work for PBS Kids. Which makes sense, because the original Magic School Bus was either a show that was on PBS Kids or feels like it should’ve been. What with it being an educational series based off of a book. I know a lot of people like to get on TV shows’ cases for being set to Flash (obviously some extremely thick people who don’t how difficult it is to even animate someone’s lips, let alone their whole damn body) but it’s not like the original's animation was completely perfect.
First off, the original was in hand drawn animation. And the main reason why digital animations like Flash and CGI are replacing is because hand drawn animation was incredibly time consuming and money consuming. And most TV shows don’t start with a gigantic budget so they have to cut corners. This leads to tricks that require reusing animations. And I bring this up because the original MSB had this. If you pay attention to when some characters talk, you could see their heads repeatedly nodding back and forth. There are other tricks like this in the show like reusing animations over and over again. Like the Bus’s signature transformation sequence (or as I like to call it, The Squash and Spin) or the classic “Endless Background” technique.
Also, a lot of people like to complain about Flash because they claim it has a lot of animation errors. Meanwhile, the Original Magic School Bus’s animation was filled with animation and sound errors. And just to name some on the top of my head: Colors being in the wrong places, things being in the wrong layer, this one time where Arnold’s voice came out of Ralphie’s mouth and the piece de resistance: the moment in the digestion episode where the Bus is passing down Arnold’s throat and Arnold is somehow inside of the Bus while the Bus is inside his throat. TWICE. Now, that’s not to say that this reboot’s Flash animation doesn’t have errors, of course it does. From minor errors like outlines overlapping or major errors like the MSB logo straight up vanishing for a second on Fiona’s suit. But that doesn't mean that Flash is a bad sense of animation. And here’s why:
Show me a TV show or movie that doesn’t have a single animation error in it and I’ll show you a TV show or movie that’s most likely not animated at all. Animation is a tedious and difficult career and it’s a lot more work that a lot of motherfuckers who complain about the style will like to believe. And this is why I don’t really talk about animation style in my reviews because I feel as if it’s just a petty detail. But for the sake of this review, all I can say is that the reboot’s animation looks like an updated version of the original’s style. And the original's style wasn’t even that original to me. At least when it came to how they drew humans. I’ve heard a lot of critics say that the kids in the reboot version all have the same face. But I’ve said before that I got the exact same vibe from the original’s kids, and that was mainly because the original was drawn in a style I’ve seen in dozens of other shows in between the 80’s and 90’s. Shows like Carmen Sandiego, Thundercats, TMNT, Dinosaucers, Captain Planet. Hell, there’s this internet theory that the original MSB kids grew up to be Captain Planet kids, soley based off of the fact that the characters look alike.
“Yep, never mind the fact that these are 2 different sets of characters with different names, different sets of personalities and the fact that the kid with the Heart ring doesn’t like any of Ms. Frizzle’s kids: nope, these kids grew up to be these kids solely because they look alike. That just makes more sense! ”
Meanwhile, the reboot’s animation looks a lot cleaner and newer. Which is good, because that’s literally the whole point of it. This is meant to be a newer version of the MSB, so of course they’re going to use cleaner and newer animation. And the models don’t look as stiff as most Flash haters would like to think. Especially since shows like Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends, My Little Pony, Jimmy Two Shoes and other shows that could be described as “lively” are animated in Flash.
So, to summarize, the animation looks alright in the reboot. It just looks, to me, like a newer version of the original's animation and that was the whole, goddamn, point.
And now, we venture into the elephant in the room when it came to this revival series: the introduction of a new Ms. Frizzle.
The very first episode of the revival starts off one school year after the original school year. Everyone is getting ready for a new school year that’s supposed to be exactly the same as the last one. Only for a surprise to literally drop down at them: the new Ms. Frizzle. Fiona Felicity Frizzle (voiced by the equally lovely Kate McKinnon) is Valerie’s younger sister and she is introduced as the new Ms. Frizzle because Valerie has been promoted to “Professor Frizzle” and while Fiona takes care of the kids, Valerie will be travelling the world on her own adventures. The kids go on their first field trip with Fiona and learn about scientific changes. Specifically how a new creature or plant brought into a stable ecosystem can throw it all off and they learn the difference between good changes and bad changes.
This was the perfect way to start off this new series, for 2 major reasons.
The first and most obvious reason is that, as I'm sure you’re all aware of, the most common reaction to the idea of reboot an old series is uptight fan boys with wild hairs up their asses whining about how the original was better, simply for it being the original. Romanticizing an old show and not accepting the newer version is something about fandoms I’ve hated ever since I was a kids and it’s the reason why I coined the phrase “Steve and Joe Syndrome” after my experience with Blue’s Clues. But the fact that they addressed that in the first episode is a major gold star in my opinion. If you’re going to make a major change in a TV show in a reboot or some sort of revival, you need to let us know up front why we should give a damn about it and like it as much as the original. And this series starts off with doing exactly just that on both an emotional and educational level.
And speaking of education, the 2nd reason why this is so genius is because, like I said before, MSB is an educational series. But the thing I always liked about the show isn’t just that. See, the major thing that separates the MSB original books from the original series is that the latter manages to be education in a way that actually tells a story. The books were just Ms. Frizzle’s original class of, say, 20 kids going on an adventure, but most of the educational parts were made of graphs and other visual displays in the edge of the pages. And they just moved from one page to another just for the sake of putting more and more education in your face. Meanwhile, the series had episodes where one of the kids or more would have a major problem that either involved a science topic they didn’t know about or could be solved by it and the kids had to piece together how it could be solved by learning more and more about it as the story progressed.
Like the episodes involving dinosaurs, bats and spiders that start off with the kids thinking that those animals are nothing more than monsters.
Or the episodes involving how computers, wires and car engines work because the kids need to fix those things and they have no idea how.
Or the episodes involving gravity, body mechanics and plant growth because those things helped solve a problem the kids had.
And like I said, starting a revival of the old series with the subject on how ecosystems are affected by change is a great idea. Not only because it fits with the emotional theme of adapting to a big change in your own life, but it also helps with the idea that not all changes are bad. Yes, sometimes a new plant or animal can cause an ecosystem to break, but there are a lot of animals in our everyday lives that started out as invasive species but are a great benefit to that. And it makes a great argument against that stupid #killedmychildhood argument by showing an actual devastating change in an ecosystem that actually hurts people and plants on a serious level.
So the first episode ended up being great. But before we move on to the other episodes, let’s take a look at the characters and see what has changed for the better and worse about them. Starting with Fiona Frizzle herself.
The first thing that slapped me in the face about this character is the sign that Kate McKinnon is not phoning it in with her. When voicing Fionia, Kate is very witty and energetic compared to Lily Tomlin when she voiced Valerie. And that’s because Kate is known for her work on Saturday Night Live; a comedy show. So of course she’s like this, it’s more or less the reason why she’s considered a great actress.
And like I said, her personality really differs from Valerie. Because Valerie always seemed like a very motherly person. Yeah, sure, she launched the kids into space and got them eaten on the regular, but the thing that really creeped me out as a kid about Valerie is that as she was doing that, she had a straight face and smiled the whole time. Making her motherly tone seem almost creepy. But, still, I gotta give props where props are due to Valerie because, despite all the times she put the kids so dangerously close to the line of danger, she never slacked around when the kids actually were in danger. Catching the kids in a net, swooping them into the Bus before they got squashed, enlarging one of the students so he can tell a Tyrannosaurus Rex to sod off; Valerie did all of these things and much, much more because she cared about the kids and didn’t want to put them in any actual danger. And Fiona does the same thing, in the very first episode alone; where she literally saved Arnold by the seat of his pants.
Meanwhile, Fiona is extremely quirky and adds her own little one liners to almost all of the lessons. She almost feels like a cross between a grown up version of Gravity Fall’s Mabel Pines and a female version of Aladdin’s Genie. Which gives her her own personality that differs from Valerie, but there are some elements that show that these 2 characters are still similar to each other. The only real catch phrases I can remember Valerie having on the show were times when she quoted her extended line of family members and friends, or the alliterative statements like “excellent observation”. And that’s another thing: Valerie wasn’t really a common teacher. And, yes, I mean outside from the obvious. I mean in her teaching methods. Valerie knew that going out into the world and looking at science first hand is the best way to learn it. That’s why her main real catch phrase is the most memorable quote in the show: “Take Chances, Make Mistakes, Get Messy!”. And Fiona takes these traits and roles with them in her own way. Her energetic and quirky attitude lets her use these traits in her own and unique way.
Valerie and Fiona even dress the same...kinda. Ok, you know how in Blue’s Clues, Steve had a green striped shirt while Joe had a shirt with the one stripe and a pattern of squares along it? That’s kinda like how Fiona’s outfits work; you can tell they’re suppose to be like the original’s but they’re also unique in her own way. Valerie always wore dresses that had visual patterns that mirrored the educational topic of the episode, right down to her high heels and earrings. And speaking of earrings, those tend to flash a little, at an attempt to be a warning sign for weirdness. Meanwhile, Fiona’s outfit consists of a skirt that is designed to fit the episode’s theme, while her shirt and shoes stay one color and a necklace is around her neck to be in place of Valerie’s earrings. Also, that’s not the only outfit Fiona wears. She tends to walk into class with even weirder outfits that fit the theme of the episode: space suits, hazmat suits, hula outs, etc.
I brought up the comparison of Blue’s Clues’ Steve and Joe with Fiona because I honestly can’t help but see her as a new version of Joe: a younger sibling meant to be a replacement for the original, but comes off as a character that has its own charm to it while it mirrors as much as the original as it could.
But I don’t just like Fiona because she’s a lot like Joe/Steve or Valerie. I like her because she’s a funny quirky kinda girl and she proved to me, from episode one of this revival, that she’s worthy of being the new Ms. Frizzle.
Next up is the class of kids. Now, every character seems to have gotten through a major makeover: Ralphie’s shirt doesn’t have an R on it, Dorothy Ann and Keesha basically swapped hairstyles, Carlos looks like he got his sweatshirt from Marco Diaz’s closet, etc. And none of the changes look too bad. Heck, the hairstyle for Tim looks better in the reboot than it did in the original, in my opinion. But enough about cosmetics. What I did have problem with are the voices. Now, obviously, they couldn’t have gotten every single voice actor from the original to voice their respective characters. And even if they did, they wouldn’t have sounded exactly like they did 20 years ago. The biggest piece of evidence to that is the fact that they got Lily Tomlin to reprise her role as Valerie, and she sounds a little different compared to how she was in the original show. And I'm not saying that the actors they got to play the roles of the kids are bad actors. My main problem is that the first episode also addresses the fact that this is supposed to be a new school year. Therefore, the kids are supposed to be slightly older than they were in the original. And they do look the part: some of the kids are even taller than the others. But some of them don’t sound the part. At least 3 of the kids’ voice actors; namely Carlos, Tim and Ralphie, I have a bit of a nitpick with.
Not with the fact that they sound different, but the fact that they sound slightly younger instead of older. But that’s just me.
But the one thing that needs to be focused on a revised version of a character is whether or not they hold old to their originals. And in that case, most of the class already does that simply by being there.Ms. Frizzle’s class were an octet of kids, mostly with one note personalities and simple catchphrases. The main thing that kids had to do on the show was to piece together the educational topics, ask questions and solve the main problem on their own. Like I said before, Valerie had a teaching method of giving the kids a gentle push into the subject and letting them figure it out on their own. Sure, there are multiple moments in the original series where Valerie pushed a button on the bus and made something magical happen, but that only happened after the kids said, out loud, what was needed to solve the problem. And as I said even earlier, the format of most of the episodes, if not all of them, revolved around one of the kids having a problem regarding a science topic they didn’t know. This allowed one or more of the kids to be the main characters in the story. But everyone else, and let’s be honest here, might as well have been a hive mind. Aside from the typical catchphrases, any kid that wasn’t in the spotlight barely contributed much. To the point where there were various moments on the show where all of the kids said the exact same line in unison, like a, freaking, hive mind.
Either way, let’s focus on each of the characters in Ms. Frizzle’s class from Valerie’s version of the show and see how they hold up in Fiona’s version. Because it’s not like this review is long enough as it is.
Let’s start off with the fan favorite of the group: Arnold “I knew I should’ve stayed home today” Perlstein. Arnold was known for being the cynical kid who never really wanted to be on the field trips and was always the most terrified regarding the magic that always happened. That’s why I think it was a great idea to make Arnold the feature character in the first episode in the revival; if there’s anyone in the class that would’ve been worried about a new teacher, it would be him. Because Arnold’s whole trait is to be wary of the unknown and the unusual.
To paraphrase one of my favorite YouTube Critics, Lily Peet: the meta plot of the episode could’ve been summed up with Arnold looking at the audience and saying “You don’t like the idea of a new Ms. Frizzle? Yeah, neither do I.”.
But Arnold does warm up to Fiona, much like he eventually did with Valerie. In later seasons of the original, Arnold was seen less skittish about the adventures and, while there are still moments he wished he stayed home, he’s at some times actively enjoyed himself. Like that one time he got zapped into a chicken’s egg and came out with a daddy complex.
But does this mean that Arnold spends the rest of the reboot being chill and actually likes being there? No. He’s still as skittish as ever. Worrying about the falling out of Earth’s orbit, putting on an excessive amount of safety belts, regretting the fact that Fionia pushed the volcano button: Arnold does all of these things and more during the following episodes of the reboot because the point of the first episode was to make Arnold comfy with the idea of a new teacher. Not be comfy with the field trips. Because the second Arnold stops regretting not staying home 100% of the time, his whole purpose as a character disappears.
The only other thing about Arnold that comes to mind is his interest in Geology and his twin cousin; Janet. Both of which are in the revival. His interest interest in Geology during an episode regarding the rock cycle and he basically takes lead in the lesson more so than Fiona, and there was this one episode where Fiona takes the kids to a mountain of magnetite and he geeks out a bit in the cutest way Arnold possibly could. As for Janet, she get’s special mention. Arnold’s cousin was introduced in one of the original books and in the very first episode of the original series as a snobby, self-centered prick who wanted to talk about nothing but how much better she was than everyone else. The original series took this fact about Janet and made it that main cause of the episode’s plot. Which, again, is something that it did better than in the books because in said book, Ms. Frizzle just goes into space and without being the direct cause of that, Janet’s role could be summed up as “just being there”. And Janet’s role of being the direct cause of a field trip didn’t stop once they came back from Pluto, there are tons of episodes where Janet just walks into a situation, brags for a moment and it causes the class to go on a field trip. Saying they should make the bog beast the new school mascot, coaching a muscle man of a teacher to win in a race against Ms. Frizzle, having a smell that she thinks could win a smell judging contest; Janet’s been the cause of all of these field trips and more, whether she was in the bus, or if the bus was inside her.
And she does that in the revival twice; once bragging about how the effects for their play is not convincing and how her volleyball team is going to beat theirs.
Next up on the character showcase: Dorothy “According to my research, this is my full name” Ann. Or just D.A. for short
D.A. was known as the class’ bookworm. While everyone else was learning from the observations of experiences that came with the field trip, Dorothy Ann simply looked into books and said facts out loud. And what I considered to be the best episode featuring D.A., both in the original series and in the revival, is the episode that addresses that and helps D.A. learn that data and books aren’t the only way to learn; which is the main point of the Magic School Bus’ existence as a franchise. But the difference is the episodes’ plots.
In the original series’ volcano episode; D.A. loses her book-bag and needs to go off after it because she thinks that without it, she’s travelling blind in the science world. But after seeing more and more about what is going on at the bottom of the sea, she makes the big breakthrough of how volcanoes make islands, on her own and without her books.
In the revival series, the class goes to a field trip to a gigantic glacier because D.A. is having trouble telling a story without going into scientist mode and can’t even say “once upon a time” without breaking out the carbon dating equipment. But when they all fall into the glacier’s deep canyon-like interior (which was D.A.’s actual fault) she learns how the glacier tells the story of global warming and becomes so fascinated by it that she manages to tell a story through that data.
Whether it’s the original or the revival, D.A. goes through the lesson that science is a lot more than just facts and figures. It’s an important part about her and it’s something that stays with her.
Next up is Keesha “Oh, Bad. Oh, Bad. Oh, Bad Bad Bad.” Franklin. And the one thing that stuck me out about Keesha is that she was the straight man (or is it “straight woman”?) of the group. She was more mature and level headed out of most of the kids. But she was also very, very stubborn and her episodes usually centers around her completing an important goal. And most of those cases was to prove someone wrong.
In fact, you guys know how a lot of people like to ship Keesha with Ralphie? That’s because most of the time, Ralphie is the character she’s trying to prove wrong. Saying things that start off with the words “No, Ralphie” and ends with “You’re not Weather Man”, “Ms. Frizzle isn’t a vampire”, “You can’t make a robot to do your chores for you” and so on and so on. Every other episode that involves Keesha trying to prove someone wrong involved Janet trying to make everyone think there was a ghost, Keesha suing Ms. Frizzle for potentially stealing her cucumber or episodes where Keesha tries to make a point very clear like how you shouldn't throw money into something if you don’t 100% know what you’re gonna get, how air is a lot more interesting than it seems and how the right movie needs the right star.
That last one gets special mention because there’s an episode in the revival that’s similar to that. In the original; the class had a project where they made a movie about ants. In the revival, the class was part of a performance of a sequel to the Three Little Pigs. Both situations involves Keesha playing the part of the director and failing to do so. The main difference is that in the original episode, Keesha got frustrated in finding the right kind of ant to make a star and all of the pressure got to her to the point where she just ran out in a fit. In the revival, the problem is that Keesha is putting too much pressure on the others to make the play perfect to the point where they just flat out quit and want to go home. Then Keesha makes it clear that reasons she was so pressuring about the play is the fact that the aforementioned Three Little Pigs sequel is a story her parents told her ever since she was a baby.
There’s even an revival episode where Keesha is shown to have an interest in becoming an astronaut and spends the whole episode trying to get a picture of herself in space to use in her application form. I’d argue that it’s weird to paint Keesha as a space nerd, since we never noticed that in the original and she’s been in space a few dozen times before, but then I remembered that Keesha is one of the few students that didn’t really have a dream job or anything like that, unlike Arnold and D.A. and the fact that she probably fell in love with the space field trips so much, she wants to keep doing it after she eventually graduates out of Ms. Frizzle’s class.
Keesha is at her best when she’s debating against someone or trying to drive a point home. And both the original and the revival do that with her in spades.
Up next is Ralphie “is it just me or did you already mention me?” Tennelli. Ralphie was always known as a bit of a day-dreamer. And as I said before, he had a lot of weird ideas that he just jumped into without thinking: reading too many comics and thinking Ms. Frizzle was a vampire, thinking he could make a robot to do his chores, pretending to be a superhero, things a literally just mentioned. But to add onto the list: he took D.A.’s book without asking and used it as a first base in Baseball. He also had the habit of making bad judgments regarding animals, like when he thought bats were nothing but monsters and how he thought animals couldn’t survive in the city. But all of these traits mix into Ralphie being the kind of person who tends to lead the class whenever Valerie isn’t around.
And that dreamer/leader aspect is shown in the revival. Remember when I said that revival Janet said that her volleyball team was gonna win? Her main selling point to that was because they had a great cheer-leading team. Which gives Ralphie the idea to make a gigantic cheer-leading robot, and put himself in charge of it. And since he kept calling himself “The Brain of the operation”, this lead the episode into learning how about the brain actually works; one of the rare topics that the original series didn’t cover. Ralphie is at his best when one of his weird ideas are the driving point of the series and the revival recognized that.
Also, remember when I said that Ralphie’s original voice actor had a part in this revival? Turns out he’s the producer. Who’d a thought, huh?
Alright, let’s finish these kids off with a lightning round.
Tim was a kid who always sat in the back and doodled in a sketchbook. The one episode that took this to heart was one where Ralphie wanted to be a weather based superhero and Tim was drawing the comic in between all of times they got, as he put it, Frizzled. The revival series took that comic side plot and made it the main plot, causing an episode where all of the kids in the class become rock-cycle-based superheroes. I would complain that this revival kinda broke the canon because it implies that Weather Man was an existing comic book hero and that Tim had nothing to do with its creation, but it's a minor nitpick, really.
Carlos was always known for being a class clown in the original: saying terrible puns and making everyone groan and shout his name at him as they laugh. And during the very first episode of the revival and various episodes afterwards, they address that Carlos is still the class clown. And he and D.A. still have an interesting dynamic, like the one episode of the reboot’s first season where she is hanging out with him at the beach.
And let’s end this class concentration on the topic of Phoebe “At my old school, we never Netflix and chill” Terese. And that’s because she is flat out not in the revival series. They make it clear in the first episode that Phoebe went back to her old school. And in her place is a brand new character.
Thus leading into the introduction of Jyoti Kaur: the new class techie.
Jyoti is a girl that is known for her inventions and gadgets. This ties in the whole idea that the revival is suppose to have a sci-fi almost futuristic look with both the Bus and the smartphones and tablets everyone has. But the thing about Jyoti is that the second she was announced, fanboys kept calling her a Mary Sue; a bullshit buzzword that people like to say when they think a character has no flaws. In this case, they think that Jyoti’s ability to build almost anything makes her a character that can pull any solution out from her ass.
And here’s the thing: yes, Jyoti has made a lot of futuristic inventions over the course of the revival. But almost none of them end up working.
And no, I don’t mean that in the Jimmy Neutron sense where she builds something in a very irresponsible manner and it ends up causing the main conflict of the story. I mean in the sense that most of the inventions she makes don’t get in the way of the story.
Yes, Jyoti made a little smart house for a fish which had security cameras and a working TV. But the fish was so disinterested in it, it might as well have made of lego.
Yes, Jyoti made a camouflage cloak that changes its color. But it didn't stop her from getting eliminated from the extreme hide and seek contest.
Yes, Jyoti’s biggest accomplish is making an actual living robot that she treats as a little sister. But it’s not like the robot can think for itself! It runs on verbal instructions! And there’s even a point where we learn it isn’t all that smart because it misunderstood Jyoti to the point where it caused the main conflict of the final act of one episode!
Any invention that Jyoti made that actually works to solve the problem is made at the last minute. Sometimes at the start of the final act, sometimes after a massive time skip.
So you can’t really say Jyoti is a Mary Sue. I mean, you can, you’ll just be wrong.
Another trait that Jyoti has is...kinda hard to explain. Follow me here: if you were a student that was brand new in Ms. Frizzle’s class and little to no idea what was in store for you once you got onto the bus, how do you think you’d react on your first field trip?
Speaking as someone who was practically raised on this franchise, I speak no hyperbolism when I say I’d be screaming my ass off, hiding under my chair, accusing Ms. Frizzle of being a she-devil and doing other things that would make even Arnold look at me a go “Dude, get a grip”.
Jyoti on the other hand? Yeah, she loves it. Since the first episode of the revival, Jyoti was more and more excited about the Bus’ magic and how it transformed itself, and the class, to the point where I think her catchphrase is “Don’t you love it when the Bus does its stuff?”. And to the point where Jyoti is more willing to literally jump into adventure more so than the original kids. She is almost an opposite to Arnold.
But we get ahead of ourselves: let’s focus back onto Phoebe’s overall character and as to why she got replaced. And we’re immediately shown why because the thing about Phoebe is that she didn’t really have a character.
Like I hinted at earlier, the one thing most people remember Phoebe for is that her only catchphrases was talking about how her old school was nothing compared all of the weirdness that is Ms. Frizzle’s class. And that’s the only real trait she had that no one else did. And before anyone pulls up the defense that she was tree hugger, that leads onto our last member of Ms. Frizzle’s original class; Wanda.
Wanda “What are we gonna do? (times 3)” Li was a bit of tomboy in the class. She was known for being loud, brave and a hell of a toughie. Always willing to go into danger to save the day and calling the class “Weasley Whimps” for being behind her. But what most people don’t remember about Wanda is that she had a soft side: whether it was with her younger brother, her interest in the Nutcracker Ballet and lastly, and this is a biggie, her love for animals.
I mentioned earlier that people would argue that Phoebe is the animal lover because of the episodes focusing on the desert and spiders; both of which involved Phoebe dragging the class by its collective shirt collar so she could try to save some animals. But the thing is, Wanda had an episode where she did that long before Phoebe did. The frog episode was about Wanda wanting to turn the classroom into a habitat for her pet frog, Bella. And she did that for the same reason Phoebe went into the desert to look for animals or went into a B-Movie to help a giant praying mantis: it’s because neither of them thought the animals could live on their own.
And the revival did that perfectly with Wanda. She stars in an episode where the class goes to the ocean and she tries her damnedest to guard a widdle fishy from being eaten: getting into a fish sub that Bus provides, get Jyoti to build that aforementioned smart house and getting herself in trouble with a goddamn shark. And the major difference between that and either of the times Phoebe tried to save an animal’s live is because she tried to take the peaceful approach: giving out food and water to the animals. While Wanda tried to get her hands dirty in the mess. The closest thing Phoebe ever did to that was convincing Ms. Frizzle to turn the Bus into a giant spider. Which is not the same thing.
And, no, I’m not saying that Jyoti was a great character and Phoebe was a boring character because I hate her. I don’t really hate any of the characters on the show. Not even the one shot villains or even Janet for that manner. And I will admit that I do miss Phoebe’s charm and if they brought her back for at least one episode, I’d watch that shit in a heartbeat.
What I am saying is that if there was any character in the original cast that could’ve gotten replaced, Phoebe is the one. Because the one thing that made Phoebe unique is something a previous character had and they just gave it to her. The only other thing about her would be a catchphrase that would’ve clashed with the whole idea that this is suppose to be a new school year.
Last on the list is the Bus and Liz.
Liz is Valerie’s pet lizard and while she left the school to go on adventures, Liz was left to be assisting Fiona with the field trips. Liz was always a bit of silent comic. Does that make sense? Probably not. Well, most cases she was seen in the background doing something funny and using facial expressions in order to, well, express herself. Even in moments where she was left in charge and had to drive the bus. And that happens in the revival. And Liz helps Fiona drive the Bus since she’s not 100% sure how it works.
Speaking of the Bus, it’s futuristic makeover is astonishing! The Bus went from looking like a cartoon vehicle in the original to looking like the kind of bus you’d see rolling down the street with it’s sharp black lines along the side, larger lights on the back, being more boxed shaped instead of round shape, having one of those big mirrors that start from the top of the bus but curve downward, almost like an angler fish’s light and more details in the Bus’s face. And that’s just the exterior. The inside of the Bus, at times, looks like a goddamn spaceship. Even during the moments when isn’t. Neon lights along everything from the seats to the roof and, my personal favorite; a dashboard that’s tricked out with high tech instruments, like a gigantic touch screen to control the Bus’ transformations. And then there are all of the transformations, gadgets and different features that the Bus has now. And that previous “Squash and Spin” thing I mentioned earlier is still a thing that Bus does. But the tornado “Spin” part just looks lot cleaner now than it did 20 years ago. Back then, they made the tornado seem like the Bus by making it look as if the Bus’ parts were swirling around the tornado. Here, they do that, along with making the tornado have separate layers of blue, yellow, black and all of the other colors that make up the Bus. And they do it so detailed that you can actually see the headlights! And the final burst of light in the end of the transformation sequence in the original: that’s better in the revival for 2 main reasons. Firstly, the looks cleaner because it looks like a burst of fireworks with little bits of magic in the air during the last few seconds of the burst. Almost as if the Bus is fueled by pixie magic. And lastly because, in the original, that flash of light was sometimes used to replace the tornado method of transformation in an attempt to save money on animation. Here, not only is the does that burst of light look better but it’s not always used. Sometimes the Bus just opens up and lets out a parachute, fold up wings, freeze rays, rocket engines, ice drills, crane claws, helicopter propellers and even mini-vehicles for each of the class to drive in. Which, yeah, the Bus did in the original, but not as often as you thing because, you guessed it, it would take a lot more animation.
So, yeah, the Bus is pimped out for the reboot. But that’s not even my favorite thing about the Bus in this reboot.
Even though the Bus is my favorite cartoon vehicle ever, I once mentioned in a review for Playhouse Disney’s Little Einsteins that the rocket ship character (simply named “Rocket”) was actually characterized, had a personality and was the focused in some episodes, including a one hour special. Meanwhile, the actual Magic School Bus didn’t have that much of a personality and the only episodes that had it in the focus were the ones that could be summed up with “the Bus breaks down”. And, no, this reboot doesn’t do that, but it does characterize the Bus a bit. There are moments where the Bus lets out some facial expressions that show it being a small part of the story: winking at Fionia when she does the classic “Bus, do your stuff” line, rolling its eyes when Ralphie got stuck to it once, sighing at a point where, if it did had a voice, it’d probably say “Eh, it’s a living”.
There’s even a moment where the Bus is jumping up and down to see the kids in the classroom and smiling from ear to ear--uh, fender to fender and it’s the cutest thing ever. Almost as if the Bus is like a giant puppy.
So, yeah, the Bus’ sci-fi styled makeover looks amazing. And while I can’t say that the characterization of the Bus is exactly what I wanted, I can’t say I’m disappointed with what they have done with it.
But there’s still one final character we need to focus on and that’s the original Valerie Frizzle. Some people may wonder why they’d bother to bring Valerie’s original voice actor back to the show if she was going to be replaced with a new Frizzle with new voice actor. And I can answer that question by quoting another question:
“Hello, is this The Magic School Bus?”
Anyone who remembers that quote recognizes it from a sort of aftermath segment that happened at the end of each episode. During said segments, animated versions of the producers of the show (and even some one shot characters from the episodes, and also Phoebe) get calls from kids who just watched the episode and have questions to ask. Most questions regarded actual problems that the original episodes had with both the stories and the science facts around. Mostly regarding things like how you can’t travel around the solar system in a day, there are thousands of species of spiders but the episode only focused on 3, how things like electric charges are actually invisible. And other things like “Don’t try this at home” safety warnings and “Do try these at home” activities regarding the science topics.
I bring these up because, in the revival, it’s Valerie doing these Q and A sequences during her trips around the world. Every episode ends with Valerie driving around the world in this motorcycle version of the Bus (or as I like to call it, The Magic Scooter Bike) with her new assistant; Goldie the monkey. And Valerie talks about the episodes we just saw, tells us the difference between science fiction and science fact, gives the kids safety warnings and even gives a sneak peek of a clue as to what the next episode is going to be about. However, my first raised eyebrow regarding all of this was the idea that Valerie is aware of the 4th wall and knows that she’s a character in a cartoon.
That eyebrow sank a few seconds after the realization that, if any character in the Magic School Bus was aware it was a cartoon show, Valerie would be one of the 2 most likely ones.
The other one would be Liz, since she was always seen in the Q and A sequences just walking around in the background and doing things that would end up being related to whatever the caller and the answerer would be talking about. Like how talks to kids about how dangerous it is to work with electricity and gasoline, and we see Liz in the background working with those things but in the safest way possible. But in the revival, instead of Liz doing these cute little bits, it’s that monkey named Goldie I just mentioned. She’s the one in this place instead of Liz, since Liz is with Fiona and the class. And while I am sad that Liz got replaced in this sense, it’s a very minor part and Liz works better as the assistant in main show than in this regard. Besides, Liz may be almost as magic as Ms. Frizzle, but she can’t be in 2 places at once.
And finally, let’s talk about some of the episodes by doing this new thing I’ve been meaning to try for my TV reviews where I talk about the best and the worst episodes. And when it came to this reboot, the contenders for these positions came to me instantly.
Starting with the worst episode. And if you’ve payed attention to anything I’ve said is that a lot of the episodes in the reboot took a plot from an original episode and worked a spin on it. All of the episodes regarding D.A. learning to put down the books, Keesha being a director, Ralphie wanting to make a robot and Tim working on a comic have all be done in the original. But if you have been paying attention, you’ll know that I like all of these episodes because they do their own spin on it; like how Keesha was hard on the kids because the story was important to her and how Tim’s comic was in the focus and not the background.
But if those episodes were evidence on how to do it right, then “Monster Power” is an example on how to do it wrong. Said episode is about Arnold ruining a camping trip because he saw a scary movie about a monster whose feeds off of pollution and whose weakness is bright like. Leading him to waste the trip trying to power a shit ton of lights to scare off the monster. Thus leading into an episode where the class focuses on clean energy. This is an obvious spin on the original series’ episode about clean energy “Getting Energized”, but this episode takes too much from that. Just like in the original episode, the class makes water wheels and pinwheels to power up the lights after they discover wind and water power, just like in the original. But the problem is that the educational part of this episode is just that: just like in the original. Every other episode of this revival either focuses on a science topic the original didn’t focus on at all (the human brain, magnets, etc.) or only focused on a little (camouflage, the rock cycle and also etc.). But this episode just feels as if they plucked the clean energy episode and put it into a new story. Also, there was a point in the orignal energy episode where they tried manual power and realized quickly that it wasn't going to work. In the revival, they try man power, but they stretch it across several minutes, making the episode really, really boring. And that segways me to how the story is the other thing I hate about it; because the implications of telling a kid “you need to stop pollution or a monster will eat you” is just as fucked up as it sounds. And there’s no point in the story where Fiona or anyone tells Arnold that the movie was fake and there is no monster. It ends with him, and even the class, believing it. Luckily, that glacier episode starring D.A. I mentioned earlier works as a better anti-global-warming episode.
Now, that’s not the say the original didn’t send any bad messages; one that comes to mind is the aforementioned Q and A producer segments telling kids that animals are not friendly and they will attack, but I’d be lying out of all 4 of my nostrils if I said that this wasn’t worse.
As for the best episode of this reboot, I’ve already talked about it. Way back in the character section regarding Keesha, I mentioned she was the star of a space episode (buh dum tish). Said episode was called “Space Mission: Selfie” and it is, honestly, my personal favorite episode of this reboot. Now, people will argue that space is not the first frontier for the Magic School Bus, since the literal first episode of the original was about that, along with several others. But all of those episodes revolved around planets, stars, space rocks and the gravitational pull that those things create. And after seeing all of those episodes as a kid, most of which on my copy of the Space Adventures DVD, I once thought “Well, duh, of course there’s only 4 space episodes, they pretty much covered everything”.
Yeah, “Space Mission: Selfie” proved me wrong. The episode focuses on artificial satellites, how they work, how different satellites do different things, how there are different stages of orbit, and other things about satellites that even I; a 20-something year old tech nerd, didn’t know. And like I mentioned earlier, this is an episode that focuses on Keesha’s stubbornness. Her stubbornness to get a picture for her space camp application during a mission to fix Fiona’s Frizz Tech satellite. But during her obsession regarding the picture, Keesha ends up sending the space pod she was driving into a frenzy because she didn’t listen to Fiona’s instructions of “Don’t press the red button” and she ends up breaking all of the Frizz Tech satellites like an orbital pinball.
Now, a nostalgia driven fanboy could complain and say that Keesha would never ruin a field trip’s mission like that. But here’s the thing: she already had. In the original. Remember when I said that there was an original episode where Keesha was so stubborn with her money, she didn’t want to spend a cent on the star shopping channel until she saw the stars for herself? Well, that mentality of hers caused the class to miss their window of opportunity multiple times and having to find more and more stars because other star shoppers (including Arnold's cousin Janet) beat them to the punch.
So, yeah, Keesha would do that, because she did it before.
Still, I love this episode because of the satellite topic, but not just because I’m kinda a techie. It’s because this revival surprised me with a subject the original didn’t focus on entirely. Which gives me hope for this revival, if it gets renewed for a 2nd season. Although, the episode isn’t 100% perfect; at the beginning of the episode, Keesha daydreams about meeting her astronaut idol, but at the end of the episode, that exact same idol just comes floating into the Bus out of nowhere, in a very rushed attempt to end it on a happy ending. So, this episode is an A- at best.
Ok, this has been a long review, so let’s wrap this up like a mummy on Christmas morning. I started off this review on the fact that this reboot’s title went from “Magic School Bus 360” to its current title “Magic School Bus Rides Again”, but you wanna know what I would’ve suggested for the title of this reboot? “Magic School Bus Season 5”. Because this doesn’t really feel like a reboot or a revival, it just feels like a continuation of the original. And if you've been paying attention to anything I’ve said so far (again(?)), you’d know that there really isn’t a lot of things about this revival, good or bad, that I can’t immediately turn around and say was in the original. And that mostly has to do with the fact that the crew behind this revival is made up of 50% people were on the original’s crew and 50% people who were such big fans of the original that they wanted in on the project. A lot of fanboys like to cry that the worst thing about reboots is that they aren’t anything like the original product, but when they usually say that, they mean in terms of the animation style and the characters voice acting. What makes a reboot like the original is knowing what made the original good on an objective level; focusing on the episodes’ plots, the characters’ personalities and other stuff that focuses on the story. Which, as I’ve said before, is the main important thing in any movie or TV show and is far more important than any animation style or choice will ever be.
“But, Ruben, counterpoint: reboots are bad, like Teen Titans Go and Powerpuff Girls 2016!”
Well, counter-counterpoint, asshole: if all reboots were bad, why is Ducktales 2017 and Samurai Jack Season 5 considered to be hits? The same reason why MSB Rides Again works; understanding the characters and the plot formats of the original and modernizing them to be both unique and entertaining.
Let me end this review with a tangent: I am sick to death of people hating on reboots nowadays. Fanboys and crybabies screaming out of every orifice because of the kind of changes that reboots need in order to function, like making the Ghostbusters girls or having Bob the Builder be in CGI animation. And especially here because most of the detractors to the reboot’s trailer were saying shit about how the original was great simply because of the animation, how the characters were great because of their catchphrases or how the fans liked to ship them and even now, I’ve seen people who looked at the reboot and said “Yeah, it’s as educational as the original, but who gives a shit?”.
That, that right here, that is a lot more disrespectful to the original product than any reboot could’ve been. Because that is actually disrespectful to the creators hard work in making the orignal Magic School Bus. And most of the people who said this shit claimed to be fans of the original Magic School Bus. I don’t buy it, because the original series--the franchise of a whole of the Magic School Bus--was created to help kids learn about the world on an objective scientific level and pursue into the unknown for the sake of knowledge and to take chances to experience something new.
Saying you’re an MSB fan and saying shit like that is like wearing leather while claiming you’re a vegan.
If you’re an actual fan of the MSB, you loved this show because of the class’ field trips as they ventured into the world of science in amazing and wondrous adventures.
If you’re an actual fan of the MSB, you loved the characters for being kind and smart kids who learned from their mistakes and solved their own problems as they learned a subject along side you.
And if you’re an actual fan of the MSB, you’ll love the MSB Rides Again just as much.
I’m Ruben Falcon. Thanks for reading.