It’s always a wild ride when Ms. Frizzle (voiced by Lily Tomlin) and the gang climb aboard the magic school bus. The beloved book series became an equally beloved animated children’s program when it originally aired from 1994-1997. All 52 episodes are now available in an 8-disc set available for purchase together for the first time. So buckle in.
Each episode focuses on some kind of science-related problem for the kids. But once the Frizz gets involved, the day is anything but ordinary. Thanks to the magic bus the diverse group of kids travel the solar system, the human body, inside a plant and even inside a computer. And while the stories and explanations are geared toward elementary-school-aged kids, adults may find themselves learning a thing or two about long-forgotten topics like photosynthesis or molecules — I certainly did.
Standouts include a trip inside worrywart Arnold’s body, where viewers learn all about the digestive system. Other not-to-miss adventures include a jaunt through outer space, and a lesson about gravity. As a bonus, there are a few jokes geared toward adults in each episode, keeping the program relatively entertaining for the middle-school-and-beyond set. Particular laugh-out-loud moments normally go to Carlos, who has a science-related pun in just about every episode.
The Magic School Bus does a great job accurately portraying science facts to kids. While each episode takes some obvious liberties (no one can travel the solar system in a day, or shrink down at all, for that matter) each episode ends with a brief segment where kids call in and ask questions, and an animated friend further clarifies the actual science in each episode — and drives home the real takeaway points to kids.
For a show that originally aired in the mid-’90s, it has held up remarkably well. Photosynthesis is photosynthesis, after all. The only misstep is an episode about computers. While the show does a great job explaining that a computer can read a ”program” and you need to tell it exactly what to do, some of the references are hopelessly out of date: At one point, Ms. Frizzle turns the class into a floppy disc.
While there aren’t any special features on this DVD set — save for a companion mini-activity booklet for children — it’s a treat to dive back into a classroom with a passionate teacher who make learning hands-on. Whether Phoebe and Co. are learning about rainfall, germs, or dinosaurs, we have to disagree with Arnold: We never would want to stay home from this.