The Magic School Bus is a pillar of children’s education television. It ran for four season on PBS from 1994 – 1997 and starred Lily Tomlin as Ms Frizzle, who leads her class of students through adventures that reflect their weekly science lesson. All of this is done with the help of the titular Magic School Bus, of course, that could transform into seemingly any vehicle the audience could imagine.
The show excelled at converting often complex subject matter (like the laws of physics, for example), into an easily digestible 25 minute long episode and things often got wacky along the way. Netflix recently announced that they have teamed up with Scholastic Media in order to bring an all new CGI Magic School Bus series to the latest generation of children. The updated version will star Saturday Night Live breakout performer Kate McKinnon as Ms Frizzle.
The new Magic School Bus is sure to create memorable adventures of their very own, but so many people who grew up with the show when it was first on the air will also be tuning in to find familiar faces. With so many iconic stories already in the cannon, why not go back and visit some of the best ones?
Here are The Craziest Magic School Bus Episodes!
15. The Magic School Bus in the City
Ms Frizzle takes her class on a “normal” field trip to zoo. The students don’t seem to understand that animals can live in an urban environment outside of the zoo and have a really, really difficult time leaving the zoo in a timely manner. In order to teach them a lesson, Ms Frizzle transforms herself and all the kids into North American city dwellers like raccoons and possums. Arnold, the show’s red-headed step-child, winds up transformed into a fox and the bus itself becomes a bear.
Magic School Bus in the City is an important episode that bears drawing inspiration from because it teaches kids the importance of respecting the wildlife that can dwell in their own backyards – even if they’re from the big city! It drives home the lesson of sharing the Earth with our fellow living creatures and could be used to highlight modern conservation efforts. Not to mention how cute all the students look in their anthropomorphic forms!
14. The Magic School Bus Goes Cellular
A.k.a the one where we go inside Arnold! Arnold is the Chief O’Brien to the Deep Space Nine that is The Magic School Bus. He must suffer. Repeatedly. And often. In this episode Ms Frizzle and the entire class abandon Arnold (and Phoebe to look after him), to discover why Arnold suddenly has orange skin! It turns out, he has eaten too many carrots and the carotene is the cause of his strange new hue. From inside Arnold’s body (a common trope on the show), his classmates disperse the carotene and Arnold is returned to normal.
The best episodes of The Magic School Bus were always the ones where they went inside someone’s body. It’s super important for kids to understand the inner working of their own body, particularly in a world where obesity is as problematic as it is. The Magic School Bus Goes Cellular probably has the silliest conceit, which is why it’s far down on the list. Look out for more to come later.
13. The Magic School Bus Gets Planted
Putting on a school production of Jack and the Beanstalk means the kids in Ms Frizzle’s class have a lot of questions about how plants actually grow and the science behind that. Phoebe gets the lucky job of being transformed by Liz the Lizard into a beanstalk herself and planted as the guinea pig for the educational experience. The rest of the class travels inside a sweet potato plant in order to learn what Phoebe needs to grow as tall as she can.
Gardening is making a big resurgence into the schools – especially public school, including in urban areas – with a new focus being put on where food comes from and what is needed to feed the masses. This episode highlight photosynthesis and if it inspires children to take an interest in the natural world that so need protecting then it has done a good job. Plus, Phoebe is a bit annoying and by making her into a plant she’s mostly out of the way.
12. Magic School Bus Blows Its Top
An argument between Carlos and Dorothy Ann (one of the show’s longstanding rivalries), leads Ms Frizzle to take her class to discover a new island that is so new it hasn’t even been discovered yet. So, why not be the first? Once there they go inside a volcano and learn how island springs up out of the ocean by the water cooling down the magma almost as soon as it springs to life.
The Magic School Bus Blow Its Top is important for two reasons. Firstly, the actual science behind how landmasses are formed can be humbling. Nature is a lot bigger than humans are and teaching the proper respect for the natural world can be difficult. Secondly, the episode teaches kids how to work together to take care of something that they have – more or less – created together can teach skills that will serve them as adults in the working world.
11. The Magic School Bus in a Beehive
Wanda and Tim team up to deliver honey from his grandfather’s apiary, unfortunately, there’s an accident and all of the honey winds up spilled in the gutter. Ms Frizzle and the class drive to a nearby beehive, transform into bees and make honey of their very own. Originally, they were planning to steal the honey, but Phoebe felt bad, so the kids make their own nectar. In the end they have to defend their new hive from a bear!
Bees are an integral resource that is waning from the modern world. They need preserving and bigger conservation efforts than are currently underway. By teaching younger generations about how bees work and how peaceful they really are then kids would have more respect for bees. Getting up close and personal with the bees could also help remove some of the fear children have for bees. The Magic School Bus In a Beehive is basically a good promo piece for bringing children and bees together!
10. The Magic School Bus Out of This World
After going inside a human body, adventures in space are the other most important staple of a Magic School Bus episode. When Dorothy Ann notices an asteroid hurtling toward Earth – Armageddon style – and determines that it is going to make landfall exactly where their school is. Oh, no! Ms Frizzle hustles the kids under the bus and they trap the asteroid in the vehicle’s gravity in order to pull it off a collision course with Earth.
The Magic School Bus Out of This World doesn’t show the kids going to any planets, which is why it’s lower down on this. There are important lessons sprinkled throughout the episode about the laws of physics Those laws can be really difficult to impart to children and this episode does a really wonderful job at making it comprehensive. Plus, the kids get to call NASA in a plea for help and that could present a unique opportunity to have an actual astronaut play a voice role.
9. The Magic School Bus Gets Lost in Space
Episodes with Arnold’s awful cousin Janet are frequently, the worst, but The Magic School Bus Gets Lost in Space is a spectacular episode in spite of her. Janet wants to learn about the solar system, so they climb onto the bus and visit each planet until they land on Pluto. That’s right, Pluto was still a planet when the episode was made. Remember that? When Janet throws a hissy fit and decides she’s going to stay on Pluto Arnold removes his helmet and freezes himself to teach her a lesson.
Okay, so there would be some important updating if The Magic School bus Gets Lost in Space is going to be remade, but the premise is just so good! Kids have been enamored with outer space forever and teaching them everything unique about the individual heavenly bodies is only going to be increasingly important as the years go on. Also, the Arnold scene at the end is so iconic that it would be a shame not to revisit it.
8. The Magic School Bus Gone Batty
The Magic School Bus Gone Batty features a vampire subplot – bet you didn’t see that coming? Parents and grandparents are meeting Ms Frizzle, drinking tomato juice and convincing the kids that they are being systematically transformed into vampire. Ralphie accidentally turns the bus (and the class), into a bat and the episode teaches the students about bats eating habits, home life and echolocation skills. They also learn by the end of the episode that none of them are actually related to the undead.
Much like the episode with the bees, The Magic School Bus Gone Batty is important because it takes an animal that children traditionally think of as being frightening – bats – and reveals that truth about their special evolutionary skills. By combining this with the vampire subplot the episode has a real Scooby-Doo sensibility to it that is surprisingly fun. Not to mention the fact that the bus looks cuter as a teeny tiny bat than it has ever looked before!
7. The Magic School Bus Cold Feet
Strap in for the kids to be transformed into other animals! Liz is a hard working lizard, so she goes to Herp Heaven a day spa. When The Magic School Bus Cold Feet begins, Liz has gone missing so Ms Frizzle and the class are determined to rescue her! They are each transformed into different reptiles and over the course of their misadventures they learn what is special about each different type of animal on top of learning what makes cold and warm blooded animals different.
There is a lot of heart in The Magic School Bus Cold Feet because the focus is on Liz. Everyone who has ever had a class pet knows how important they are, and even though Liz never talks, she is just as important to the show as anyone else. Probably more important than some of the kids. When she is reunited with the class at the end of the episode it’s a really nice moment. While the science lesson here is important the subtext of having empathy for the animals in all of our lives is just as important.
6. The Magic School Bus The Busasaurus
Aka the Jurassic Park Episode! The Magic School Bus The Busasaurus sees Ms Frizzle and her class time travel to the late Cretaceous Period after visiting a colleague of hers on a fossil dig. The students are mostly confined to the bus that has transformed into a dinosaur in order to blend in, but in one of the final scenes they do battle with a Tyrannosaurus Rex and what kid doesn’t love a good row with a t-rex?
Dinosaurs are a really easy in with kids, and for that reason alone The Magic School Bus The Busasaurus should probably be revisited. Surely there is new information that can be integrated from the past twenty years of research that could maybe shake an adaptation into an even better episode. Besides, if Jurassic Park is going to blossom into an ongoing franchise kids are going to need somewhere to turn to learn the actual science of dinosaurs.
5. The Magic School Bus in a Pickle
The Magic School Bus in a Pickle is driven by the ongoing rivalry between Keesha and Ralphie. When the class returns from vacation and Keesha sees that her prized cucumber has been transformed into a pickle she immediately blames Ralphie and Ms Frizzle has to use the power of science to restore the pair’s friendship. After shrinking down to microscopic size they learn about what goes into pickling and brining. Although, the pickled school bus is one of the scarier transformations that has been seen on the show.
Much like the episode that deals with plant growth, The Magic School Bus in a Pickle takes a food item that most kids love and brings the science to it. Again, with the epidemic of diversity the more that children can begin to understand about the food they consume the more well-equipped they will be later on in life. Maybe a pickle is no longer right subject, but the blueprint of this episode is very strong.
4. The Magic School Bus Gets Eaten
The Magic School Bus Gets Eaten is a food chain lesson. There are more than one of these over the course of the show, but this is the best one. Members of the class each find themselves with a piece of an aquatic food chain and no idea how they fit together. Ms Frizzle takes the kids on a field trip to the ocean where they shrink all the way down to microscopic levels and grow in size as they make their way up the food chain from phytoplankton to a tuna.
This is an episode with a clear thesis from the beginning and has one of the most streamlined visual representation of what it is trying to teach. The Magic School Bus Gets Eaten os also one of the most beautiful episodes of the show with sprawling oceanscapes as the setting for most of the action. There’s also the added bonus a land food chain lesson tacked onto the end for clarity’s sake.
3. The Magic School Bus Works Out
The Magic School Bus Works Out is another inside the human body episode. Although, this episode differs from other inside the body episodes because it is set inside a healthy body, rather than a body with a problem. Ralphie is in charge of training Ms Frizzle for the Teacherathalon where she will faced a lot of surprisingly buff competition. In order to help their teacher win, the kids board the bus, shrink themselves to microscopic size and go inside Ms Frizzle to see what is going on. In the end, Ms Frizzle is triumphant and all of her students couldn’t be prouder!
On the heels of programs like Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move, revisiting The Magic School Bus Works Out would be a great idea. Not only does it stress the importance of regular exercise and training, but it breaks down the reality of what can happen to the body when it is under strain or duress.
2. The Magic School Bus in the Rainforest
Much like the beauty of the underwater episode, The Magic School Bus in the Rainforest is probably the most objectively beautiful episode. The class travels to the Amazon Rainforest in order to investigate the health of a cocoa tree they rented for Ms Frizzle that is under performing. While there, Ms Frizzle illuminates all of the complicated and beautiful systems that keep the rainforest running and have established it as one of the world’s most valuable resources. On top of that, the class must discover the identity of the mysterious Inspector 47!
Unfortunately, decimation of the rainforest is as prevalent today as it was when The Magic School Bus in the Rainforest first aired. A lesson in conservation that can also inform children about the sheer diversity of species in the world and warn against aggressive destruction of our natural resources is pretty much a perfect episode of this show.
1. The Magic School Bus Inside Ralphie
The Magic School Bus Inside Ralphie is exactly what it sounds like. Ralphie is sick and has to stay home from school. Rather than leave poor Ralphie to suffer in solitude, Ms Frizzle and the class climb on board their trusty bus and go to visit Ralphie on his sickbed. They enter his body through a scrape on his knee (highly unsanitary!!!), and get to see how the immune system works when it is attacking a virus. White blood cells are heroically on display and the class even gets to help their friend feel better.
Of all the inside the human body episodes, The Magic School Bus Inside Ralphie is the best of the bunch. It gives children a better understand of how their very selves work, which is a really profound idea. Not to mention, being inside one of the funniest characters on the show means that there are jokes galore throughout the episode!
Do you have any episodes of The Magic School Bus that you would like to see the new series revisit? We would love to read about them in the comments below.
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