The Magic School Bus: Lost in Space

Today’s cartoon is an educational treat.  I recently watched it in my glass of grade fivers after doing some studying on the solar system.  Even with the language barrier, they loved it and I could see some learning happening.  But who cares about that?  Let’s talk toons.

If you’ve never seen or read Magic School Bus, it’s about a very small class with a crazy teacher that takes them on insane field trips to learn about science.  The school bus is, I guess, magical, although the source of its power is never explained.  It seems to be alive, but can’t talk.  Maybe there was some spell cast on it to animate it, but we may never know.  The class is, as I said, small.  I think if I ever had a class of 8 kids to teach, I would get so much done.  The cast is pretty diverse; only half the kids and Ms. Frizzle (the Friz! if you’re nasty) are white.  The boys and girls are split four each and no one is stereotyped.  Positive role models, everybody!  As is the case with most cartoons, the song is as catchy as herpes and spreads through a class even quicker.

In this episode, Arnold (the class wimp) brings along his cousin to class to show her how “unusual” the fields trips are.  They say Janet is his cousin, but she looks as though she could be his exact twin, dressed in drag.  She seems to be a brat off the bat and shows off whenever she can (examples to come).  It looks as though the class is just going to a boring old planetarium but then, to no one’s surprise, they blast off into space.  I’m serious.  No one is surprised that the bus turns into a space ship and blasts off from the middle of a street.  Not even Janet, who has never been on a Magic School Bus field trip.  She just say,s “Highly unusual” as though she is a British aristrocrat.  The space ship makes it close to the sun in less than a minute, meaning that is is travelling at about 8 times the speed of light.  I’m not completely up to date on the theory of relativity, but I’m pretty sure that means a bunch of time passed on Earth (I really was never sure about that).

The class loops around the sun and makes a stop off at Mercury, Venus, and Mars, where the class jumps around and climbs ice cliffs.  Janet is more occupied with bringing home proof that she was on these planets and so is always getting rocks and ice.  The only time she jumps, she shows the otehrs that she is the best jumper and even brings out her blue ribbon from a jumping contest at her school.  Who carries that with them?  Honestly, when would that ever need to come up in conversation?  She also has her report card which she pulls out twice to show people.

In the asteroid belt, the bus runs into trouble after hitting an asteroid.  The Friz and Janet go out to fix it, but Ms. Frizzle ends up getting knocked aside by a rock and she and Liz, the lizard (another brilliantly named creation) simply float away, but remain in radio contact.  Now the studenst have to try to decypher her clues as to where she is and explore the rest of the solar system.  Their map is also a bit broken, hence the title Lost in Space.

Janet takes control and almost crashes into Jupiter trying to get some of its red spot.  Luckily the class manages to keep her under control after that and so they don’t stop at Saturn, Uranus, or Neptune.  Keeping her in control means having Arnold sit on her lap and be buckled in on top of her which leads to the best line of the show.  Again, Arnold is sitting on her, so keep that in mind.  As they pass the 7th planet Janet exclaims “Uranus doesn’t do a thing for me, so you can get off me!”  Way to slip a dirty joke into a kids’ educational show (not as bad as fingering Prince on the Animaniacs, but that’s a story for another day).

They finally find Ms. Frizzle on Pluto, just stargazing with Liz (this was back when Pluto was considered a full scale planet, not just a dwarf).  This means that she floated faster than the bus, that was already going faster than light.  Insanity!  Anyway, the bus is too full with Janet’s souveniers to take off so they argue about what to do until Arnold just takes his helmet off, turning his head into a block of ice and forcing them to abandon the space rocks and rush for home (presumably at about 1000 times the speed of light by now).  It’s okay, though, as in the end, he just has a bit of a cold.

A great flashback to one of public television’s best shows and a big part of my science education as a kid.  Seriously, I had a bunch of the books and still remember lots from them.  If there is a better was to teach science than through the magic of cartoons, I don’t know it.





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