Last night I introduced my son to Magic School Bus. The real version. The one I grew up with. The one I realized I still have all of S1E1 memorized. (It’s the one where they visit all *nine* planets) There were a lot of things I realized about the original looking back as an adult/teacher/parent. First of all: no one considered the consequences of having Arnold march toward the “camera” and the camera is at crotch level? Secondly: I appreciate the immense diversity included back in the late ’90s. All of the kids are smart, and the different background characters are actually played by voice actors within those respective backgrounds. Third: The show shared information. In a very jam-packed manner. And in a manner where the students would make an observation and either fit it with a model and come to a conclusion (intestinal ville are like sponges!) or pose a question that Ms. Frizzle or another student would answer. It was based on a field trip and so each episode is like a museum exhibit on magic, but in a very “hands on” sense.
The remake, however, seems to be trying too hard at its mission of “integrating technology”. The Netflix Revival Series, “Magic School Bus Rides Again” is produced by Stuart Stone, who most of us know as the original “Ralphie” from the 1990’s series. First of all, I get the idea that this series wasn’t made for me. But they clearly intended to cater to us now parent-aged fans: Ms. Frizzle (the real one) is still there, with Lily Tomlin reprising her role. The original gang is just a few grades ahead. Our favorite lizard, Liz, is still a part of the classroom. The opening sequence is identical, but with Lin Manuel Miranda putting his own twist on the meter of the music.
And then there was the first episode: Miss Frizzle of the Future.
Now, I must preface this with something related to my work-life. Our Creative and Performing Arts Academy has their fall musical this weekend. The show is Little Shop of Horrors. Audrey II has literally taken over the school.
Now, being the sheltered individual I was/still am and since Little Shop of Horrors was just slightly before my time, I was unaware of anything about the musical or film until this weekend.
So I’m sitting down to check out the new Magic School bus and what happens?
The New Ms. Frizzle brings in her very special magical plant.
And the plant is Audrey II.
Yea Arnold, I’m right with you on that one
So the kids go on their field trip to the Galapagos Islands. DA has an ipad in place of her books and the kids wear special goggles that trace out food hierarchies. It’s like tech integration for the sake of tech integration…which is definitely not best practice. Like, “hey kids, let’s wear these $100 goggles which will let you see ONE thing! Ok, we don’t need them ever again!” yea, no thanks.
Meanwhile, Arnold, in an attempt to foil the new Frizzle, dumps Audrey II on the Galapagos.
Well… we all know how that is going to go…
So the theme of the episode was invasive species. Arnold goes into the future and learns that the plant has taken over the whole island. They tried to tame it with bunnies, but the bunnies took over too.
Meanwhile, I keep waiting for the plant to speak…
So Arnold goes back to the past to stop the plant from taking over…but it still breaks through the pot. The new girl, we shall call her Audrey, drop kids Audrey II.
Fortunately, she is NOT mortally wounded and does not feed herself to the plant, neither does Arnold run into it with a machete, rather the whole class kicks in to wrangle it
Ms. Frizzle saves the day, and at the end of the episode I’m like
I wasn’t able to make it to my school’s production of Little Shop of Horrors, but apparently, it didn’t matter. I got the Magic School Bus Invasive Species Episode instead.
Needless to say, I wasn’t really impressed. I think the show tried too hard making us empathize with Arnold that, “hey kid, things are changing, and this show is going to be different” The majority of the complaints about the revival are related to the “cheap” animation and the apparent lack of creativity/weirdness of the new Ms. Frizzle, but I’m going to argue that if we can look past the superficial stuff, this revival has deeper, fundamental problems.
I recognize that generations change and we, as teachers, learn to adapt to that change, but I have a really difficult time lowering standards because “times are a-changing”. What do I mean by that? That somehow nothing is interesting if it’s not sensational. If the characters aren’t yelling at each other or at a situation that the show is boring. That this show needed to trade close, careful observation by its characters (hey, what’s that?) for sensationalism (oh my god, the plant is everywhere…and so are the bunnies). If the original show demonstrated to kids how to be scientists, the revival is demonstrating that cool gadgets are the only way to really see the world.
Maybe the other episodes are better, but my guess is given the rapid production of these Netflix reboots, there’s not much change to be anticipated.
Update 11/6: I stand corrected. Perhaps it was just the irony of the weekend. I watched the magnetism episode tonight and it was excellent. Like.. so much so I’m considering using it in my regular physics class in the spring. Explaining magnetic domains is so hard because it’s not tangible at all. I was really impressed. Granted, I still feel like the volume of science content just isn’t quite at the same level, but I certainly appriciate tacking such difficult concepts!