Knowing the theme for this blog series is Valerie, if I asked you to think of “Valeries” from television history, it might take you a while to come up with our subject for today. We are learning about Valerie Frizzle, an eccentric teacher who takes her class on educational field trips on her magical school bus on The Magic School Bus.
Based on the books that are written by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen, the original television show ran from 1994-1997, producing 52 episodes. It was created by Joanna Cole, Bruce Degen, and Laskas Martin. (A reboot The Magic School Bus Rides Again began recently.)
The premise of the show is that a class taught by Valerie Frizzle at Walkerville Elementary take field trips to learn about science. Mr. Ruhle is the principal, and he is not aware that the bus is anything other than a simple school bus. However, the “Friz’s” bus can change shape and form to explore anything: far into outer space, deep in the ocean, back to the days of dinosaurs, and even into the human body. The bus can transform itself into a plane, a jeep, or other form of transport. It can become a frog or another type of animal to get into a specific ecosystem.
The Friz has a pet lizard named Liz who accompanies the class on its trips. Liz eats insects, but when the bus shrinks, she is very frightened by bugs.
Apparently Walkerville is in a small community, because there are only eight children in her third-grade class: Arnold, Carlos, Dorothy Ann, Keesha, Phoebe, Ralphie, Tim, and Wanda.
The bus itself is a 1970s Ward International R-183 manufactured by Ward International Trucks, Inc. The bus is painted the typical school bus yellow. The magic part comes in with the devices that are installed in the bus. There is the shrinker scope that can shrink and re-size the bus when Ms. Frizzle asks it to. There is also a portashrinker that doesn’t work if the bus is wet and if someone tries to use it then, the Dew Dinger alerts them. There is also a mesmerglober which can change the shape of the bus. A magic battery runs on solar power.
The bus seems pretty indestructible. In one episode it floated around in lava. The bus has eyes and a mouth and often shows emotions like fear, anger, and sadness.
Valerie Felicity Frizzle is a quite a character. She has fiery red hair that is usually seen in a bun. Static electricity makes her hair frizzy. So, what do we know about Ms. Frizzle? She was a Shakespearian actress at one point in her life. She also had a band called The Frizzlettes and toured with rock star Molly Cule. She then went back to school for education. She learned about “busanautics” from a mechanic she knows, R.U. Humerus.
Voiced by the funny Lily Tomlin, the Friz is always optimistic. She cares about her students and is passionate about science. She lives in a mansion that has a bridge on the property as well as a fountain with a statue of Liz. You can often spot the bus parked in her driveway. She keeps a framed photo of Mr. Seedplot, suggesting that they may be romantically involved. She loves to tell jokes. She is very protective of her students who love and respect her.
Miss Frizzle has an interesting wardrobe and most of her clothing is science themed.
Some of her taglines are “To the bus!”; “Okay, bus, do your stuff!”; and “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”
During the four years the show was on the air, we got to know her students very well.
Arnold was not a fan of field trips. Like The Friz, he is a redhead. Arnold wears glasses. He was the shyest kid in the class, but he was brave. He cares about the environment and is interested in rocks. His aunt, Arizona Joan, is a famous archaeologist. He also has an uncle who is a firefighter in a national park.
Arnold’s favorite color is orange and he is Jewish. Pollen and pepper both make him sneeze. He also loves cold weather because that means he can drink hot chocolate.
His most famous sayings are “I knew I should have stayed home today”; “We’re doomed” and “Carlos!”
In one of his interviews, illustrator Bruce Degen mentions that Arnold was based on his son.
Carlos, a brunette, is the class clown. He tells a lot of jokes, some not so good which always gets the reactions, “Carlos!” from his classmates, especially Arnold. Carlos and Dorothy Ann often butt heads about learning because he is a hands-on learner while she is not.
Dorothy Ann likes to learn by reading. Her favorite science area is astronomy and she has a telescope at home. She tends to argue with many of her friends and one of her favorite sentences starts, “According to my research . . .”
Keesha can be a bit sarcastic. While Arnold and Dorothy Ann have different perspectives, Keesha and Ralphie are opposites. Keesha is a realist. Like Ms. Frizzle, she keeps her curly hair in a bun most of the time. Unlike most girls her age, she likes garter snakes.
Phoebe keeps her brown hair in a flip with a yellow hairband and bangs. She is kind-hearted, sweet, very bright, and patient. She’s left-handed and she cares a lot about animals. She often refers to her previous class, saying “At my old school . . .” When her father visits the school one day, he also refers to her old school.
Ralphie is a heavyset boy who often wears a baseball cap. He loves baseball, basketball, soccer, and hockey and is athletic. He daydreams a lot, learning through imagination. He is a fun-loving kid. He has a dog named Noodles. We learn he loves comic books and superheroes but dislikes anchovies and roller coasters. He worries about creatures like vampires which probably comes from overusing his imagination. His mother is a doctor and they seem to have a lot of fun together.
Tim is quiet and artistic; we often see him off drawing somewhere. Sometimes he tells jokes with Carlos. An interesting family fact is that his grandfather is a bee keeper and he delivers honey every winter.
Wanda is a tomboy. She is the smallest member but may be the toughest. She dreams of being a pilot and loves it when the bus can fly. She hates cold weather. Her mother visits class now and then; she is a science journalist. It’s often mentioned that her mother keeps reptiles around the house; one time an alligator is found in the bathtub and a gila monster in the sandbox. Wanda is a gaming expert; she also likes to play the guitar.
We often hear her say, “What are we gonna do, what are we gonna do, what are we gonna do?”
Famous Guest Stars
For an animation show, this series featured an incredible number of famous guest stars. Tyne Daly was Ralph’s mother; Elliott Gould was Arnold’s father; Swoosie Kurtz was Dorothy Ann’s mom, and Eartha Kitt was Keesha’s mother. Ed Begley Jr. showed up as Logaway Larry; Carol Channing was Cornelia C. Contralto, Cindy Williams was Gerri Poveri; Dolly Parton was Katrina Murphy; Sherman Hemsley was Mr. Junkit; Rita Moreno was Dr. Carmina Skeledon; Dabney Coleman was Horace Scope; and Bebe Neuwirth was Flora Whiff. Tony Randall took the role of mechanic, R.U. Humerus while Wynonna Judd became rock star Molly Cule. Dom DeLuise was a baker; Ed Asner a general; Alex Trebek an announcer; and Tom Cruise played himself.
The theme song is sung by Little Richard. The show begins with:
(Bus honks, drives up, doors open)
Valerie Frizzle: Seatbelts, everyone!
Arnold: Please let this be a normal field trip.
Wanda: With the Frizz?
Kids except Arnold and Dorothy Ann: No way!
Little Richard: Cruising on down main street. You’re relaxed and feeling good! (Yeah!)
Next thing that you know, you’re seeing…
Valerie Frizzle: (driving into ocean) Wa-ha-ha-hoo!
Little Richard: An octopus in the neighborhood?!
Surfing on a sound wave! Swinging through the stars!
Ralphie, Wanda and Carlos: Yee-ha!
Little Richard: Take a left at your intestine. Take your second right past Mars!
Kids: On The Magic School Bus!
Little Richard: Navigate a nostril!
Kids and Little Richard: Climb on The Magic School Bus!
Little Richard: Spank a plankton, too!
Wanda: Take that!
Kids: On our Magic School Bus!
Little Richard: Raft a river of lava!
Kids: On The Magic School Bus!
Little Richard: Such a fine thing to do!
Little Richard: So, strap your bones right to the seat, come on in and don’t be shy….
Just to make your day complete,
You might get baked into a pie!
Kids and Little Richard: On The Magic School Bus!
(Dorothy Ann, Keesha and Ralphie run up to Bus and enter before Bus shapeshifts)
Little Richard: Step inside, it’s a wilder ride!
(Bus appears under big title that reads “The Magic School Bus…”)
Kids and Little Richard: Ride on The Magic School Bus!
(Bus disappears to reveal title of episode)
I did not watch The Magic School Bus a lot. It went off the air about the time my older boys would have been the age to watch it. However, we read most of the books, and my kids learned a lot from them. Along with Arthur, this is probably one of my favorite cartoons for combining fun with learning.