The subject matter and the children star in this new animated science series, based on the popular books by Joanna Cole and illustrator Bruce Degen. Billed as PBS’ first fully animated series, “The Magic School Bus” expertly balances entertainment and education.
The show features an ethnically diverse group of students who take fantastic field trips on a yellow school bus piloted by their teacher, Ms. Frizzle (voiced by Lily Tomlin). Each adventure is exotic enough to keep young viewers glued, plus there’s a steady flow of information.
The topic of the first episode is the solar system, with the bus turning into a rocket and taking them to the planets. The students are far from passive, asking good questions and teaching one another.
The most inventive part is an epilogue in which fictional children call an animated “producer” (guest Malcolm-Jamal Warner), who explains the gaps and unrealities in the preceding episode.
Tomlin’s Ms. Frizzle is the perfect facilitator, whimsical yet trustworthy. Armed with crazy outfits and magical powers, the character doesn’t dispense facts as much as urge her students to “take chances” and “ask questions.”
With her lizard sidekick, she inspires the children and helps them discover rather than just absorb. Inevitably, Tomlin’s talents are underutilized, but that way Ms. Frizzle doesn’t outshine the students or the science.
The series, aimed at 6 to 9-year-olds, is part of a multimedia effort by Scholastic Prods. Inc. to teach science using television, print and community outreach. The producers are providing off-air taping rights to schools for three years.
Above-average animation is by Nelvana. Head writer Jocelyn Stevenson, co-creator of “Fraggle Rock,” has put together clever, tight scripts that ascribe sophisticated emotions to the characters. The hip theme by Peter Lurye is performed by Little Richard.
Thirteen episodes of “Bus” have been completed and in conjunction with other parts of the project, the television series should achieve its goal of motivating children to pursue science.
Fox will preview “The Magic School Bus” on a one-time basis before the show moves to its slot on PBS.