As someone who grew up with no cable, my brothers and I didn’t watch the same cartoons as those ’90s kids with access to everything cable had to offer. However, we occasionally visited my grandma and watched Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel until our eyes fell out and, after we left, we didn’t really miss it. Why? PBS.
In the ’90s, PBS Was King
If you were a homeschooled nerd who read the encyclopedia for fun, like I was, the shows on PBS were just as good if not better than the ones on basic cable. With shows like Reading Rainbow, Arthur, Wishbone, and Kratt’s Creatures, PBS had it all. (Just don’t bring up Barney and Friends, Teletubbies, or Caillou. I prefer my history rose colored.)
Among the shows I loved so much, one stands out as the show that probably singlehandedly developed my love for science: The Magic School Bus. I loved Ms. Frizzle. I wanted her to be my teacher so badly. No offense, Mom. (I was homeschooled, remember? See above.) I wanted to go on adventures with her. I wanted her to take me to the farthest reaches of the solar system, to the time of the dinosaurs, and into some kid’s large intestine, because she made it seem just that cool. But that was impossible, so I settled for watching her every single day, even if the episode was a repeat.
It’s pretty safe to say that I loved this show as a kid. But loving something as a kid does not always translate well to adulthood. There are plenty of things that I look back on and shudder in disgust at my childhood self who seemed to have no taste at all. A big purple dinosaur that giggles and hugs everyone he meets? Really, six-year-old Jonathan? Really? Good grief. So does The Magic School Bus hold up? In a word, yes.
The Magic School Bus Season 3 DVD
From the second I turned on the first episode of The Magic School Bus season three DVD, I was all in. I was literally singing along with the theme song because, somehow, 20 years later, I still remember just about every word. Forget “Tutti Frutti,” the theme song to The Magic School Bus is Little Richard’s finest work.
As I said before, I loved Ms. Frizzle. I still do, actually. I now realize that a lot of my love for her had to do with her voice. Lily Tomlin was absolute perfect casting. She brings Ms. Frizzle to life in a way that not many other people would be able to do. I hope they will be able to get her back for the Netflix reboot next year. I can’t imagine anyone else doing her voice.
Ms. Frizzle is everything a kid could ask for in a teacher. She explains just enough and then steps back so the kids can figure things out for themselves. I wish all teachers could be like Ms. Frizzle. Even without a magic bus to go on crazy adventures Ms. Frizzle would still be an awesome person to be around.
The kids are all great too. I love how different they are. Not just in nationality and looks, but in personalities too. You have a nerdy kid, a jokester, a shy kid, and a know-it-all, just to name a few. Their personalities may clash from time to time, but they are all good friends, and they work well together. The voice actors all have a lot to do with the likability of these characters as well. While none of them are recognizable names like Lily Tomlin, they are all really good actors and the show would not be the same without them, either.
Every season has its share of memorable episodes, and season three is no exception. Here are a few from the 13 episodes that are my personal favorites. I will warn you in advance that these choices are probably heavily clouded with nostalgia. Because I so distinctly remembered them from my childhood, these particular episodes are just that much better to me personally.
Episode 5 – “Gets a Bright Idea”
This episode deals with the way that light works as the kids investigate Arnold’s disappearance inside a dark theater. Arnold’s cousin Janet is nursing a grudge against Keesha and tells everyone that the theater is haunted. She then disappears along with Arnold. The kids become light so as to better search the theater and discover Janet’s secret, ghostly plot to scare them using a light-based magic trick.
Episode 8 – “Goes Upstream”
This episode sees the class follow a school of migrating salmon, inside their bus (which has become a salmon), to find out where and why the salmon migrate. If you know the answer to those questions, then you know where this episode goes (and it definitely goes there). The reproductive cycle of salmon is thoroughly explored, and by thoroughly I mean thoroughly. No aspect of the salmon’s mating habit is left unexplored, including the children literally being laid as eggs by the bus and fertilized by a passing male fish. This episode could have been an uncomfortable mess, given the subject matter, but was handled very well.
Episode 11 – “In the Rain Forest”
When the class’s Earth Day present for Ms. Frizzle, a cocoa tree in the Amazon rain forest, seems to yield less than stellar results, the kids go on an Amazonian excursion to find the tree and discover who is responsible for the shortage of cocoa beans. The trip turns out to be a lesson in rainforest ecology. The inspector in charge of the trees covered the ground of his land with artificial turf. This led to the disappearance of midge flies, the insect responsible for pollinating the cocoa trees, which resulted in unfertilized trees that produced no fruit. The episode is a lesson about “The Web of Life” and how interconnected all life on earth is.
Episode 13 – “Holiday Special”
When Arnold accidentally recycles Wanda’s toy soldier she wishes that there was no such thing as recycling, which results in an It’s a Wonderful Life style alternate universe where recycling doesn’t exist, and it’s not very nice. This episode is literally the thing that taught me everything I know about recycling, how it works, and why it’s important. With Dolly Parton as the voice of Ms. Frizzle’s cousin, the episode is practically a musical, full of recycling themed Christmas songs. Watching it now, I will admit it is just a little bit cheesy, but – like I said before – my opinion is heavily clouded with nostalgia so I really don’t care.
The Magic School Bus is an excellent show for kids of all ages. Unlike most cartoons I still like, shows that have jokes on multiple levels catering to kids and adults, this show is basically just written for kids. That in no way means that it is bad, however. Unlike most shows that are “just for kids,” this show does not talk down to kids at all. It presents the facts in a straightforward manner, and doesn’t treat kids like they’re idiots. It’s just good, clean edutainment. And, as someone who grew up on all manner of educational books, shows, and games, I don’t see this as an insult at all.
The Magic School Bus season three holds up so much better than so many other things from its era. If you’ve got kids in your life, or if you grew up on this show, I highly recommend you get this DVD.
The Magic School Bus Season 3 DVD: Amazon
Did you grow up on this show? What was your favorite The Magic School Bus Field Trip?
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes