Seatbelts, Everyone! A Review: The Magic School Bus Rides Again
About a year ago, Netflix released season two of The Magic School Bus Rides Again, a reboot of the 1990s classic that many (myself included) hold near and dear to our childhood hearts.
Since Netflix first announced the reboot in 2017, many who had grown up with the original Magic School Bus series were suspicious of the new series, as were critics: most of the resistance was aimed towards the revamped art style, the replacement of Lily Tomlin with Kate McKinnon as Ms. Frizzle, and a fear that the new show wouldn’t live up to the legacy of the old series. An article from the Washington Post claimed that someone has stolen the show’s “visual soul,” while another article from AOL questioned Ms. Frizzle’s “nose job.”
From a practical standpoint, this apprehension does make a lot of sense. The beloved original series The Magic School Bus, with Ms. Frizzle voiced by Lily Tomlin, ran from 1994 to 1997 alongside the original book series by Joanna Cole—between them 52 aired episodes and 17 books. So understandably, this franchise formed a great deal of the 90s kids’ scientific and educational curiosity in those early years. An article from Bustle claims that these kids, all grown up, would be the most likely to be “protective” of the show’s legacy.
Despite this audience’s apprehensions, the new reboot of the show has been relatively successful among general audiences in the past few years. Soon after the reboot’s premiere, an article published by The Houstonian showed appreciation for The Magic School Bus Rides Again, commenting on its ability to stick true to its predecessor’s educational and moral values. Similarly, a review Christianity Today received the reboot well, claiming that it managed to retain the “original genius of the franchise” by enticing children into the complexity of the natural world. The most robust review of the premiered series came from Common Sense Media, which outrightly praised the reboot, claiming it to be a “worthy” successor to the original series. The article goes on to claim that one of the most “notable” ways in which the new reboot remains innovative, yet grounded in its roots, is its incorporation of more gender and ethnic diversity into its commitment to teaching children about the S.T.E.M. field.
To me, this ability to remain traditional yet innovative stood out as one of the most salient features of the reboot’s first two seasons: the cast of students on Ms. Frizzle’s bus, while indeed more diverse, still retains largely the same personality as the old show. And unlike previous Netflix reboots of childhood educational shows, such as Bill Nye Saves the World, the new show is especially apt in remaining grounded in its original content and style, while also making a positive strides to inspire and motivate a broader audience of children to take an interest in S.T.E.M. fields. For instance, the first episode of the first season, Frizzle of the Future, jumps straight into the science of ecosystems, which, while highly relevant in the context of issues like climate change, is nonetheless presented to the audience of children in the same manner as the original show would: teeming with curiosity. Similarly, McKinnon ended up making a great replacement for Tomlin, and the first episode handles this transition seamlessly. Tomlin actually appears in the episode, as the original Ms. Frizzle, and passes the keys down to her daughter, Fiona Frizzle, voiced by McKinnon. And from that point onward, McKinnon does her best to embody the titular and eccentric personality of the wacky science teacher, just as Tomlin had. Nothing feels forced, nothing feels out of place, but the show just feels (dare I say in front of the old fans) a little better.
The show is just as valuable in this decade as it was in the 1990s—even today, interest in S.T.E.M. fields still needs a large push at the early childhood level. The original series and the reboot both accomplish this by actively seeking to spark children’s curiosities in the natural world in a way that is both fun and educational. Additionally, many of the moral themes retain both their strength and significance between the two series. Children viewers are still reminded to question everything, to delve into the hidden connections in their everyday lives. One of the best examples of this would be the season one episode “Carlos Gets a Sneeze,” which honestly taught me more about allergies than I probably would ever have known otherwise, even after Intro Bio. The episode encourages the students to take a closer look into what causes something as simple as Carlo’s sneeze, despite their assumptions.
Additionally, the show still presses the fundamental elements of the scientific method: to make educated guesses, to find out the facts, to figure things out as you go along, and most importantly, to trust the process of discovery. This is one of the most moralizing messages that both series have consistently offered to their children viewers over the years: Ms. Frizzle and her magic school bus, through their adventures, embody the mantra that “anything is possible.”
The course of a regular school day was unpredictable: by the end of things you could end up lost in space, eaten by a whale, or being attacked by antihistamines—but there’s always a way out if you use your imagination, if you believe in the process, and you allow yourself a degree of trial and error. This is what made Ms. Frizzle into the hero that so many children of the 90s came to love and admire in their childhoods, and just as strongly today—but they can rest easy knowing that the new Ms. Frizzle still has that quirky, unorthodox, but brilliantly magic touch.
So seatbelts, everyone! With an anticipated third season of in Magic School Bus Rides Again predicted to be released in the next year or so, there’s plenty more adventures to be had—will any of them be normal? (despite Arnold’s classic wishes for “please just a regular field trip”) With the Frizz? No way!