There’s no doubt that educational television was a big deal in the ‘90s – many children learned everything from history to chemistry from shows like Bill Nye the Science Guy, Reading Rainbow, Wishbone and more. And of all those shows, there was one zany cartoon in particular that captured every kid’s heart – The Magic School Bus. There’s no question that every child of the ‘90s had a deep, deep love for The Magic School Bus, and still has a nostalgia for the show. We all wanted to be a member of Ms. Frizzle’s class, and to go with her on crazy adventures through outer space and the arctic and even the human body. Sure, maybe in real life more of us would be like the constantly anxious Arnold than we would like to admit, but the idea of getting a seat on that magical bus is kind of amazing.
So, imagine every ‘90s kid’s delight when Netflix announced that they would be creating a reboot of the ‘90s classic, entitled Magic School Bus 360. While it will hopefully keep the same silliness and sense of adventure as the original, Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos has revealed that things will get a bit of a technological update, saying that the students will use “the latest tech innovations such as robotics, wearables, and camera technology.” Honestly, we can’t wait to see where Ms. Frizzle takes her students next.
While you’re eagerly anticipating the reboot, here are 15 things you may not have known about The Magic School Bus to hold you over until it pops into your Netflix account.
15. The Whole Idea Was Inspired By A Love Of Field Trips
Let’s face it, every child absolutely loved field trips… And it turns out, it was a love of field trips that inspired the whole premise of this beloved children’s show. You see, in the 1980s, teachers and educators started asking for materials that could be used to help teach children science in a more fun way. There were more and more resources for helping kids learn to read, but who was going to teach them about blood cells and bugs? Craig Walker, the vice president of Scholastic Inc. during that time, said that all those requests gave them the idea of putting science inside a fun story for kids. When he thought back to how much he loved field trips when he was a student himself, the fire was lit. As he told Publisher’s Weekly, “I thought about doing books about kids going on field trips to places they really couldn’t: through a water system, to the bottom of the ocean, inside the earth.” The rest, as they say, is history.
14. The Characters Were Based On Real Life Students
When it came time to illustrate the books, illustrator Bruce Degen had an unlikely source of inspiration – actual, real-life elementary school portraits of his children’s classmates. While the writer didn’t base the characters off of any real life children, Degen would flip through portraits and select hairstyles and outfits that caught his eye, and transform those features into a character.
Most of the children who gave him inspiration for all the characters on the school bus never knew that their childhood hairstyle or outfit selection became immortalized in the series, but one did. Arnold, the constantly nervous student who always seemed terrified of every field trip, was based on a very good friend of Degen’s son. He revealed the secret when the child was 16, and apparently, learning that you’re based on the least fun character isn’t great news. Allegedly, Degen just told him, “Well, that day you were wearing that white and yellow striped polo shirt, and you had that blondish, curly hair, and that was you. You were Arnold.”
13. It Took About A Year To Put Every Book Together
While it may seem like an easy task to create children’s books – after all, in comparison to a novel, they require the writer to pen far less words – it turns out it’s more difficult than you might think. Particularly with a series like The Magic School Bus, where the writer had to combine fun adventures with actual, accurate scientific information to help educate young readers. And, of course, illustrations can’t just be whipped up in a week – the books featured countless illustrations that took time to craft and pair with the story. Overall, each book took about a year to put together. The writer, Joanna Cole, would spend roughly six months researching the topic that the book was to cover and getting all the facts. Then, she would spend about six months writing it and crafting the adventure. Degen would take about the same amount of time illustrating the book and helping to create the finished product.
12. Lily Tomlin Was The Original Voice Of Ms. Frizzle
While every adult now knows that Ms. Frizzle is obviously voiced by an actress, it can be nearly impossible to imagine who voiced her because, well, she’s Ms. Frizzle. The actual voice behind the iconic character is one that might surprise you – none other than comedian and actress Lily Tomlin. Tomlin has graced the screen in a wide variety of shows and films, including Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In variety show, Nashville, 9 to 5, The West Wing and many more.
Now that you know the truth, even if you close your eyes and listen when Tomlin is speaking in any of her other roles, you still may not be able to draw the link between the two – Tomlin added a whole new level of energy to her voice performance as Ms. Frizzle than she does to her other roles. Still, she was good enough that she snagged a Daytime Emmy award for her performance.
11. The Theme Song Was Sung By Little Richard
Let’s be honest, every time the theme song started playing, you sang along to that fun, jazzy tune. However, did you ever stop to think who was singing the hit you were crooning along to? Turns out, it was none other than music legend Little Richard. The star had a hugely successful music career that spanned decades, and included smash hits like “Tutti Frutti.” He had a huge influence on countless musicians in genres from rock to soul to funk, and could basically take on any project he wanted to. But, for some reason, when Peter Lurye composed the theme song for the new children’s show, Little Richard decided to lend his talents to the humble hit, and we’re glad he did – it just wouldn’t be the same if someone else sang it, and we’re honestly quite curious to see who sings the theme in the reboot (or if they’ve crafted a whole new theme). Come on, sing along with us – “cruising on down Main Street…”
10. There Were Way More Students In The Books Than In The Television Series
If you were a huge fan of the television series, chances are you still remember the students who comprised the cast – Arnold and Phoebe and Carlos and Keesha and Wanda and the whole crew. They all had their quirks and defining characteristics, and everyone had their favourites (and everyone had a soft spot for the class scaredy cat, Arnold). However, if you ever wondered why Ms. Frizzle had such a small cast, the reason is simple – it was too tough to create truly developed characters if you were trying to showcase a class of 20.
In the books, Frizzle had a standard sized class of around 20 students, which was roughly the size of an average American elementary school class as the time. And, the characters were really just secondary to the more complicated, educational plot. In the television series, though, they were given a bit more personality and turned into legitimate characters.
9. The Bus Transforms Into Over 50 Things Throughout The Show
Every episode, Ms. Frizzle took her class on a new adventure to help explore a particular scientific topic, and every episode, the bus transformed into something to help them on their way. From shrinking down to ride through the bloodstream to transforming into an animal, that bus certainly had some crazy shape-shifting skills. I mean, it was even able to shrink or grow its passengers to whatever size they would need to be to go on the adventure. That’s just plain impressive!
Throughout the show, the bus transformed itself into countless animals including a bat, a frog, a bear, a spider, a hen, and an alligator. It becomes a space ship, a boat, a blood cell, and way, way more. I mean, honestly, your regular school bus that just stayed a bus and took you to school seemed way, way more boring after you saw a few episodes of The Magic School Bus.
8. Kate McKinnon Is Set To Voice Ms. Frizzle In The Reboot
It’s incredibly difficult to take on iconic characters, because you run the risk of disappointing fans by not living up to their expectations. It can be a nerve-wracking pursuit for any actor or actress, no matter how skilled they are – but Kate McKinnon isn’t one to shy away from a challenge.
The hilarious actress, who you probably recognize best from SNL, is slated to voice the larger than life Ms. Frizzle in the reboot, and we’re totally digging the selection. She may want to chat with Lily Tomlin, the reigning Frizz, to get a few tips and tricks, but we’re confident she’ll also be able to put her own unique spin on it. After all, McKinnon is used to transforming into celebrities and taking on crazy characters on SNL – becoming the new voice of Ms. Frizzle shouldn’t be so tough with that kind of a track record under her belt.
7. The Writer Had A Really Tough Time With The First Book
One of the reasons that The Magic School Bus continues to be such a memorable series decades after it was first released is because it had a little something special, a little something different from other shows and book series at the time. It combined real scientific information with fun adventures that would appeal to children, and did so episode after episode, book after book, taking the readers through countless larger than life adventures.
However, it was tough to really get an understanding of what the series should look like at first – and Joanna Cole, the writer, had some major writer’s block for the first book in the series, Magic School Bus at the Waterworks. “I didn’t know if I could do this – to combine all these things. So I cleaned out my closets and I washed things. I mean, the kinds of things I never do. And one day I just said to myself, ‘you have to write today. You have to sit down.’ And so I wrote.” We’re glad she managed to kick her writer’s block and pen the masterpieces we grew up with!
6. Liz Is A Jackson’s Chameleon
Perhaps the only cast member as iconic as the zany Ms. Frizzle with her crazy wardrobe and insatiable sense of adventure was her partner in crime, Liz the Lizard. No one really questioned why the teacher would be bringing the class pet on every field trip because, well, she was Ms. Frizzle – it totally seemed like something she would do.
Well, if you ever wondered whether Liz was based on a real animal or was just a creation crafted for the television screen, now you finally get to find out – it turns out that Liz is a species known as the Jackson’s chameleon. The illustrator chose the species because it was “the weirdest-looking one” he had ever seen, and it’s easy to see that – the three-horned lizard looks like a unique relative of the triceratops rather than your average lizard. It makes sense – Liz certainly wasn’t your average lizard, so her look should reflect that!
5. Ms. Frizzle Eventually Branched Out Into The Realm Of Social Studies
Fans of The Magic School Bus knew Ms. Frizzle as the science teacher they all wished they had – with her solar system dresses and crazy outfits, she was all about making science fun. However, though the concept was originally created to get more fun materials related to science out there, since there was a fair bit related to the humanities, eventually The Frizz decided to expand her repertoire a bit.
As Degen has said, “After many science adventures… we started to think that it might be fun to take Ms. Frizzle in a different direction and go into the study of cultures and world history.” She left her curious class behind for those adventures, and even left her bus behind, with the series that started up in 2001 entitled Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures. In order to ensure no readers would confuse the two worlds, Degen used a different type of illustration style than he did for The Magic School Bus series to set them apart.
4. Richard Degen (The Illustrator) Was Inspired By A Teacher
There’s no doubt that Ms. Frizzle was a big inspiration to both her students on screen and students in real life watching the show or reading the books – she made learning fun! And, it turns out, the illustrator behind the series actually had an elementary school teacher that inspired him way back in the day. His teacher apparently encouraged him to go down the path of becoming an illustrator, and to pursue his passion for art. And while some artists may think that becoming a series, gallery-exhibited artist is really the only way to go, Degen’s not one of them. As he’s said in an interview, “you don’t see many people walking around a gallery that are chuckling. And I realized that I wanted a chuckle.” So, instead of refining his craft to become a darling of the art world, he became a children’s book illustrator – and earned thousands of young fans.
3. NASDAQ Helped Celebrate The Series’ 25th Anniversary
In case you haven’t figured it out, The Magic School Bus is kind of a big deal – while other book series and shows from decades ago have been long forgotten, it continues to maintain such a fan base that Netflix decided to reboot it, which is certainly saying something. And, it’s not just children who are interested in paying tribute to the iconic franchise – it even made its way to the New York Stock Exchange!
As a gesture to commemorate 25 years of zany scientific adventures, an actress dressed as Ms. Frizzle (yes, it’s as amazing as you might imagine) rang the closing bell at the NASDAQ MarketSite in Times Square on October 17, 2011. Okay, we’re going to admit, all we can do now is picture what Ms. Frizzle would be like as a stock broker – probably pretty amazing. Perhaps some writer will create a series of Frizz’s adventures made for adults someday.
2. There Was A Segment Cut From The Show On Commercial Networks
When it comes to television shows, sometimes certain things have to be cut in order to make room for commercial breaks. After all, as much as they want to bring viewers great content, they also have to pay the bills. When The Magic School Bus originally aired on PBS, there were certain perks to that network that allowed each episode to run as the producers wanted it to.
However, when the hugely popular show was syndicated and began airing on commercial networks, a tweak had to be made – in order to make room for commercials, there was a segment, Producer Says, that was cut. The Producer Says segment was basically a fun way to close out the episode where “producers” would take calls from “viewers” who pointed out some kind of inaccuracy or raised questions about whether the adventures portrayed were even real. It was just a fun added feature that viewers who saw the show on commercial networks didn’t get a chance to see.
1. It Has Aired On Many Networks Over The Years
Technically, The Magic School Bus is said to have aired from 1994 to 1997. However, fans who have seen the show in later years might be confused – and there’s an explanation.
The series originally aired on PBS as part of a children’s block of programming, and appeared there until the last episode on December 6, 1997. Then, PBS aired reruns for about a year. When Fox faced mandates to have more educational television, it aired repeats of the series from 1998 to 2002. It then went on to air on TLC from 2003 to 2008, in the Ready Set Learn block on Discovery Kids from 2004 to 2009, on CBC as part of the Kids’ CBC block from 1999 to 2004 and more.
The unique nature of the show – educational yet a ton of fun – meant that networks all around the world were scrambling to get a chance to air reruns, which is why it was introduced to so many audiences even after its original late ‘90s air dates.