When I think back and ponder my youth, some of the best days in first grade were the ones spent watching The Magic School Bus on a giant black TV monitor strapped to a cart. The teacher would roll it into the room, hit the lights, and we’d circle up on the rug. As the opening theme song blared, I’d whisper to my friends about which cartoon child — Arnold or Ralphie, Wanda or Keesha — we all had crushes on, while twirling my pigtails. The opportunity to watch the magical teacher Ms. Valerie Frizzle (Lily Tomlin — yes! Of Grace & Frankie!) take her students on unorthodox field trips that were borderline child abuse dazzled me.
And when I found out The Magic School Bus show was having it’s 25th anniversary, after premiering on September 10, 1994, (the books came out in 1986) I knew I had to write about the educational and mysterious series that brought me so much joy. The best place to start was obviously the human body episode.
When I dove into the series, I learned there are at least two episodes in which Frizzle shrinks the bus down to the size of a raisin and takes all the kids into the body of one of the other little rugrats. I watched both episodes: “The Magic School Bus for Lunch” and “The Magic School Bus Inside Ralphie,” which are available on Netflix. It was a tad disturbing to think about these little children exploring the actual guts of their friends, but it was also extremely informative. Ultimately, it was an illuminating trip down memory lane. For those who don’t remember the human body episodes, there are many dramatic twists and turns. Here is my unfiltered review of all the weird shit that occurs.
“The Magic School Bus Inside Ralphie”
Plot: Ralphie has to stay home sick, but he was supposed to be leading the “broadcast day” project. So — in a totally unchill move — the class gets on the bus and comes to his home. He sees them coming from his window. They all creepily wave at him in unison from his yard, Children of the Corn style. The class needs to film something for broadcast day, so they set up cameras and monitors in his room. Then they decide to go inside of him through his mouth. “We’re live from the scene of a natural disaster of major proportions: My poor sick body,” Ralphie quips. Soon, they get to his throat and see his swollen vocal chords. But sadly, he coughs up his little friends with some flem. And that isn’t even the worst part.
They then decide it’s too dangerous to go in through the throat, so Frizzle leads the children into Ralphie through an open wound on his hairy, scraped knee. He peels back a bandaid, and his friends dive into his blood and pus, eventually finding themselves in his bloodstream. They note that the liquid is actually clear, and it’s the red blood cells that make it red. They observe “jaggedy things” called platelets, which help the body heal cuts.
They follow the illness-fighting white blood cells to Ralphie’s throat. Then the kids go scuba diving with actual flippers on their actual feet, totally going rogue inside of their friend’s bacterial infection. They learn about how medicine and white blood cells fight off bacteria together to cure infections. Soon their bus is marked by antibodies as an intruder and the white blood cells try to destroy the children and their bus. They have to get out. So they go to his nose, and he shoots them out with a snot rocket.
If you took away the cute animations and cheesy jokes, you could absolutely make this plot into a horror movie.
What I learned: I now have a new understanding of antibodies, the body’s Y-shaped proteins that help your body recognize and fight toxins and bacteria. Also, Frizzle really hits home with the point that it’s not as easy for germs to get into your body as you might think — unless they’re riding on a school bus.
“The Magic School Bus for Lunch”
Plot: To learn how the digestive system works, Ms. Frizzle takes her children inside of another student, Arnold. They go in through his mouth and are eaten Hansel and Gretel-style along with “Cheesy Weezies and a green olive chaser.” (For the record, I want to know what kind of animal is packing olives in a child’s lunch.) They journey through Arnold’s esophagus (it’s not called “asparagus,” you silly gooses!) and go into the stomach where they bungee jump off of some gum that he swallowed. “Now that’s what I call a belly flop,” one student, Carlos, jokes (FYI: he’s voiced by Daniel DeSanto, AKA Jason from Mean Girls).
There’s a moment where Frizzle and her students consider going through with it. Yes, they think about letting Arnold shit them out of his body. However, the teacher points out that “this is day time TV,” and it’s just too gauche. So, they go back up into the stomach and yell at Arnold through a tiny microphone, asking him to drink some seltzer (they tell him the voice is coming from is conscience). He chugs some (I hope he had the good taste to drink La Croix). And then he burps his friends out of his system.
The Takeaway: Here is the most shocking part of the episode: The whole time they don’t tell Arnold that they’re inside of him. The class lets him in on this fact after they’re already outside of him. They break the news while giggling. All the lessons about the human body are completely overshadowed by the fact that they violated this child’s intestines, esophagus, and stomach without consent.
Overall, in some ways, the show is a genius way to trick kids into learning while also enjoying a quality Lily Tomlin character. Although they could certainly take a page from a handbook about consent, the show has good intentions. And on its anniversary, it’s important to note that it offers one great piece of lifelong advice by way of Frizzle’s favorite catchphrase: “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy”