This weekend consider dedicating your morning to trying a true classic cartoon series; one that is beloved by the children of the nineties and the aughts alike. How about a show that is as packed with celebrity cameos as it is educational anecdotes about science? Maybe you’d be captivated by a show that whets your appetite for the next exciting adventure via a rousing intro song performed by none other than legendary ageless performer and 2006 GEICO commercial feature, Little Richard. Would it shock you to learn that the anchor of said show, the dynamic teacher Ms. Valerie Frizzle, is voiced by beloved comedienne, star of screens both big and small, and noted David O’ Russell tamer, Lily Tomlin?
Clearly no further enticement is needed! Unless you weren’t born yet, lived under a rock, or were in one of those families that “didn’t believe in television”, you now know that the show to which I am referring is called The Magic School Bus, and magical it most certainly is!
The Magic School Bus initially began as a Scholastic Company book series first published all the way back in 1986. The concept was the merging of children’s fiction tales with science teachings as a way of making science more appealing and fun for kids. Eight years later Scholastic Entertainment would take this wildly popular series and repackage it into an equally, if not more, popular animated series. True to their mission, Scholastic created a quite compelling series for kids and parents alike to enjoy together and, possibly, learn a little something while doing so.
Originally airing on PBS, The Magic School Bus lasted a full four seasons from 1994 through 1997. It came into even wider appeal in syndication on several major networks, including a Saturday morning stint (thus making it a perfect candidate for this column!). The show was regularly broadcasted for over a decade, creating fans across generations.
The Magic School Bus centers around the third grade class at Walkerville Elementary School and their eccentric teacher, Ms. Frizzle, also known as “The Friz” to the children. Valerie Felicity Frizzle uses magic to take her class on educational adventures that us real kids could only dream about. Of course this is often done with the assistance of her magnificently magical bus. The Friz’s magic school bus is seemingly sentient and possesses the ability to shrink down to any size, along with the passengers inside of it. And she uses the bus to take the children on many exciting and certainly not legally defensibly dangerous field trips. The best of these take them to some pretty odd spots, including a spa for reptiles called “Herp Haven”, inside a 1950’s B-Movie, an arctic ice floe and even inside more than one of the students themselves (it’s less dirty than it sounds).
One thing that was unique for the show format as well as for a science related production was the diversity of the characters. Ms. Frizzle is a revelation of a character as a knowledgeable and respected female scientist, the concept of which had, sadly, not previously been popularly accepted as the norm. The character makes for an excellent role model for children and so too do the rest of the class, including the class pet chameleon, Liz. The main characters are comprised of Carlos, who is Mexican-American, Arnold and Janet, who are Jewish, Keesha and Tim, who are African-American, Phoebe, who is Irish-American, Ralphie, who is Italian-American, Wanda, who is Chinese-American, and Dorothy Ann who is apparently “brainiac-American” and/or Caucasian.
Lily Tomlin shines as The Friz and even won a Daytime Emmy Award for her work on the show (Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program – 1995). On top of that there is a cavalcade of celebrity cameos. The episode where Liz winds up at the Herp Haven boasts a guest starring role for star of Logan’s Run, Michael York. Other magnificent guest stars include: Dom DeLuise, Tony Randall, Rita Moreno, Elliott Gould, Eartha Kitt, Edward James Olmos (Mother-fracking Adama!), Sherman Hemsley (George mother-truckin’ Jefferson), Swoosie Kurtz, Ed Asner, Alex Trebek, Paul Winfield, Dan Marino, Dolly Parton, Wynonna Judd, Dabney Coleman (Jack mother-spyin’ Flack!), Malcolm McDowell (Alex from A Clockwork mother-droogin’ Orange), and, my personal favorite, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, who is most famed for his star turn as Wesley Snipes’ character’s brother in the classic action film “Drop Zone”, for which Snipes almost assuredly did not pay taxes on his earnings. Warner was also on a program called The Cosby Show or something like that.
It cannot be overstated how fun this show is. If you’re sharing with a young loved one or just kicking back and enjoying the edu-tainment yourself, The Magic School Bus delivers! And this is the right time to get in on the ground floor as last year Netflix greenlit a reboot called The Magic School Bus 360° which is slated to air in 2016. As The Friz would say: “Get out there and explore!”