Netflix nails ‘Magic School Bus’ sequel series


In an age of reboots, re-imaginings, and god-awful unnecessary sequels, the paragon of edu-tainment ‘The Magic School Bus’ returns with a Netflix-exclusive series.

For those who avoided PBS cartoon blocks or video days in 1990s middle schools, “The Magic School Bus” portrayed the educational adventures of a middle school class with a wacky Willy Wonka-esque teacher named Miss Frizzle (voiced by the comedic titan Lily Tomlin). In each episode Frizzle would teach the class about a given topic by going on a field trip aboard the titular magic bus, allowing them to go anytime or anyplace.

With “The Magic School Bus Rides Again” the kids return for a new semester to find Ms. Frizzle is now Dr. Frizzle, PhD and is going off to explore the galaxy for her research. In her stead she’s brought in her sister (Kate McKinnon) to take over the classroom.

After several weeks of mulling this over, I genuinely can’t think of a more Lily Tomlin-esque person to hand the show over to than McKinnon. She perfectly encapsulates Ms Frizzle’s unbridled, sometimes manic love of education. She celebrates experimentation and gives her students all the room they need to come to conclusions on their own.

Fans of Phoebe will be momentarily disappointed to discover she’s been written out of the show, replaced by new student Jyoti. It’s cool to see the show representing a wider field of diversity than the original series.

The kids have also been re-designed for a 2017 aesthetic with all new clothing. My one main gripe for the series that knocks this down to a four star is the fact that beyond their clothing and minor height differences, there’s not much to differentiate the kids.

Every character has the same head shape, as if the narrators used the exact same template in a misguided attempt to keep everything looking like it fits in one visual style. Unfortunately, this comes off as lazy copy-pasted computer animation

Ralph was a chubby dude, that was part of his character. Now he’s the exact same physical shape as the rest of the class, except it’s mentioned in the pilot he’s a messy eater.

DA was a bookish nerd in pigtails who had read so many books she could quote facts out of nowhere and rocked a big comfy sweater. Now she looks like she writes a novel at Starbucks on the weekends and summons all of her research from a tablet, something literally any other kid in the class can do.

On the subject of animation, the body horror segments of Frizzle transforming her class into various animals and objects to illustrate a lesson returns to the show, unfortunately.

Turning the kids into animals or even water droplets in the original series was haunting enough, episode two of “Rides Again” turns most of the kids into trees to demonstrate how trees are better at withstanding strong winds than rigid brick buildings.

I get it, these segments are visually engaging ways to demonstrate to kids how various things work without becoming incredibly boring, but they still rub me the wrong way as an adult. The transformed versions of kids usually resemble something you’d see in a story about a character poorly phrasing a wish to a mischievous genie.

Haunting visions of children transformed into objects aside, “The Magic School Bus Rides Again” is one of a rare few continuations of an existing property that perfectly captures the spirit of the original while expanding and improving.

Both shows treat children far better than most children’s edu-tainment. “Rides Again” can explore what makes trees resilient to wind, how to build a building to not fall over in a windstorm, how fixed-wing flight works and the importance of teamwork in the span of time a lesser show would drone on about how photosynthesis or a battery works.

Also, it’s worth noting the iconic theme song has been re-done by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who does a damn fine job of capturing the funky nature of the original theme and bringing a modern twist to the music.

Whether looking for something to enrich a kid’s brain while entertaining them, or looking to re-live a childhood nostalgia anew, “The Magic School Bus Rides Again” comes closer to perfection than any re-imagining I’ve seen in a long time.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)