Chief Science Correspondent
Longtime fans will be excited to learn that Netflix and Scholastic Entertainment are partnering to reboot the widely popular "Magic School Bus," the companies announced yesterday.
The animated educational series, which aired on a variety of television networks from 1994 to 1998, featured a diverse group of students and their quirky teacher Ms. Frizzle (voiced by Lily Tomlin) at Walkerville Elementary. Ms. Frizzle took her students on a series of adventures that included exploring space, turning into bats, and even traveling back in time to see the dinosaurs. Scholastic Entertainment President Deborah Forte said the show was inspired by suggestions from parents and teachers, who requested a series that would promote the scientists to female and minority students.
The new show will be entitled "Magic School Bus 360°" and will consist of 26 half-hour episodes, which will be released through Netflix in 2016. There's no word yet on whether Tomlin will reprise her starring role.
The original program was released on Netflix last August, just a year after it was removed from syndication on television. Chief content officer Ted Sarandos said the show has been extremely successful on Netflix, as it has retained a significant portion of its original nostalgic fan base.
“[Magic School Bus] teaches science in a way that transcends generations,” Sarandos said.
The new show will be updated, with lessons on robotics and camera technology, according to CNN. (Could we see "The Magic School Bus Explores the Human Genome"? I sure hope so!)
Not every '90s show should be rebooted. Some old favorite shows are fine the way they are, and fans would not want to see them changed. However, Scholastic and Netflix should be applauded for their decision for two reasons:
First, the show remains extremely valuable because it is both educational and entertaining. As a former viewer myself, I did not feel like I was watching an educational series. Yet I believe my love for this show translated into a love for the sciences. At that point in my life, I learned more from that show than my science classes in school. Yet it did not feel like an educational show. I loved the characters because they were extremely creative and dynamic. Between their bickering, games and goofiness, the kids acted the way actual elementary school children act. And for that reason, the students were very relatable. I always identified most closely with Dorothy Ann.
Secondly, the show has admittedly become a bit dated. The technological episodes, such as "Gets Programmed," featured older technologies that made more sense to viewers in the '90s than they do now. In another episode, the Bus is programmed with a compact disc. It's not that the actual science was badly portrayed; it's just that it was written in a way that more made sense 20 years ago. And with the remarkable scientific discoveries in the 21st century, the show now has no shortage of new material to work with.
However, the show may find difficulty in appealing to both old and new audiences. Just turn on Nickelodeon and you'll find that children's cartoons are much different than they used to be. I find that I just can't watch them anymore. The animation styles, along with the overall designs and dialogues, have changed dramatically.
I am particularly concerned about how the company's decision to design the new episodes in CGI might affect the tone of the show. Scholastic introduced concept art (see below) and while I understand the value of matching newer show styles to reach out to a modern audience, the change might seem strange to old fans. PBS has created Arthur games and movies with updated graphics/animation, and the new look does not mesh well with the simplistic spirit of the original series.
But ultimately, what's most important is that the show accomplishes its ever-constant goal of making science exciting to young viewers, cultivating an interest and curiosity that will hopefully last a lifetime. "The Magic School Bus" taught elementary school science in a way that I believe has never been matched in television. Hopefully, like its predecessor, the new series will continue to inspire children for years to come.