The Magic School Bus Rides Again was something I was unsure about. I was a fan of both the 90’s show and the book series it was based on. Going into my viewing of it I knew I would have to defeat my nostalgia, put it on the backseat and judge this alongside the original, but as something meant for the children of today. So, how does the show stand?
It is a great show that I think today’s children and parents need.
Picking up after summer vacation and the start of the fifth grade, the class’s kids are the same yet different. They are not the previous walking archetypes that the last series had. They still have their habits, or their “gimmicks”, but have had their previous special skills refined and made more a part of their characters.
Tim is an even more skilled artist, Arnold has dreams about rocks, Carlos and Ralphie have developed what I call “scientific instincts”, Wanda is now a junior animal protection activist, and Dorthy Ann is what I can only label as an “undergrad research student,” replacing her previous purple book with the new “Frizztab”. All the students now have something more to offer, and that brings us to new character: Jyoti.
Jyoti is the new Phoebe who, in a throw-away line, is said to have moved back to her old school. Jyoti as a replacement Phoebe (and yes, that is what she truly is, let no one tell you different) is somehow so interesting a character, that she is kind of boring. She feels like she should be a character that pops up every now and again rather than a cast staple. She is a highly skilled inventor. We are not talking about some simple mechanisms; she, at one point, develops an active camo poncho and a robot armed with a laser and advance A.I., all without the help of her teacher. In a series about a teacher using a magic bus to teach children about science, it comes off distracting when one of them is a super-tech genius. The original series had characters like Jyoti, but treated them like guest stars.
Personality wise, I like her a lot! She definitely adds a unique personality of hyper excitement and wonder at the bus and the actions of the new Ms. Frizzle, and I enjoy that dynamic—that one day she may be a Frizzle like inventor, but her current gadgets make her feel like she is far too ahead on that path.
Speaking of Frizzles…
I adore the new Ms. Fiona Frizzle (voiced by Kate McKinnon). The original Ms. Frizzle (voiced once again by Lily Tomlin) leaves Walkerville Elementary following her becoming a Professor over the summer. She leaves her class and the magic school bus in the hands of Fiona (with the help of Liz) while she goes off to do field work on what appears to be a magic motorcycle?
No, Fiona isn’t fully like her older sister. She shares the same love of teaching, making mistakes, and clairvoyant planning, but when it comes to her as a entire character, Fiona is her own. The best way I can even describe Fiona is that she is someone from my generation animated into an educator. She is quirky, she is kinda nerdy, and to be honest, her outfits look like things I have seen people I know wear. The entire package is sold by the great voice work done by McKinnon.
She is the kids’ teacher and friend all while the first episode’s theme is about the growing pains of Professor Frizzle leaving. The kids warm up to her and so did I.
Saying all that about Fiona, Professors Frizzles’s departure felt underwhelming until the show revealed its greatest nostalgic move. In a returning version of the “Calls to the Magic School Bus” segment, Professor Frizzle now answers questions children watching might have while also setting up the next episode.
And yeah, while there is no over all plot, the nature of Netflix binge ready shows has the new series doing callbacks to the previous episodes, and the end of each episode hinting at the next one. The fact that this is a sequel series that is shown to have continuity between episodes hurts it slightly. They return to a few old topics the previous series handled. I was okay with this as new discoveries constantly happen in every field, but episode 9: “Space Mission: Selfie” is the most infuriating thing to watch. It has the kids head out into space in order to check satellites and help Keesha take a selfie for space camp. The entire time, the kids act brand new to the idea of being in space, despite the fact that one of the most signature episodes in the original was them going to space.
In the new series, the kids are excited and act like they have never been there before, ignoring that the show makes it clear they are the same kids we are use to. Some may say that’s a nitpick, but since it is so weirdly annoying, I will be fair and say that the previous space adventure was about the solar system, and this one focuses more about orbit and space junk. This also ties into the new show’s animation style. As someone who has to watch a lot of modern cartoons, I know this is just one of the styles we live with now. Kids won’t mind, but adults will rag on it.
Before we close out this review, it’s time to discuss what I have seen quite a few people complain about online already and that is “The Social Justice Warrior” portions of the show. Character Keesha now has two moms, there is an episode supporting climate change, and Jyoti replaced Phoebe and is from an Gujarat family while Phoebe was just plan old American.
To those with these qualms, let’s make it clear that The Magic School Bus, like most shows from both its era and genre, had its own version of inclusion and that is okay. Educational shows have a duty to help children not only learn about scholastic topics but social ones as well. Showing different dynamics and people are important. It not only gives children a view of the world beyond what they may interact with, but it helps them by seeing versions of their own life on TV. It helps them feel less ostracized. In the original series Phoebe’s father was blind, Keesha’s on-screen guardian was her grandma, and Carlos’s paraplegic brother Mikey was a computer expert. The original series often made note to not even tell us if the kids lived in two-parent homes, sometimes opting instead to leave it open if they were divorced or widowers or indeed even married. I see the complaints of it being “SJW” now as the internet consciousness being hyper-aware
Oh, and as for climate change. I will make it known that I support the idea that Co2 emissions have been because of people so…. meh.
Overall, I enjoy The Magic School Bus Rides Again and the world it was trying to not only continue, but create new journeys in as well. Kate McKinnon is great as Fiona Frizzle and Lily Tomlin still holds my heart as Professor Frizzle. The kids updated forms are okay but by the end of the first season I enjoyed them as characters, even Jyoti by the end was considered a real member of the class (just next season, cut back on her tech skills a bit, please). If you are one of those 90’s kids who cant stand change from the previous version, stay away. But if you have kids and you want to share something with them, watch it, have fun, and learn beside them.
I can’t wait for season 2!
(All images used belong to Netflix)