This review originally appeared on the now-defunct site FamilyWonder.com, which showcased children's entertainment for parents and caregivers.
Title: THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS: CREEPY, CRAWLY FUN!
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
CREEPY, CRAWLY FUN! brings together three spooky but popular episodes of THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS. The kids have adventures straight out of horror movies, yet discover that spiders, bats, and scary sounds can be really interesting.
Unconventional teacher Ms. Frizzle takes her students and their parents on field trips to learn about the raw material of many nightmares. In the first installment, "The Magic School Bus Spins a Web," she gives new meaning to "drive-in" as the bus enters the plot of a horror film about a giant praying mantis. Though a bossy movie general shrinks the kids to bug-size and tries to use Liz as mantis bait, Ms. Frizzle shows them that they can learn lessons from spiders to save the mantis and return home safely.
In "Going Batty," the kids help prepare a science show about nocturnal animals for their families. But when Ms. Frizzle takes the adults on a field trip to a spooky castle, Ralphie becomes convinced that his beloved teacher is really a vampire. Not until the children transform into bats -- learning to eat, sleep, and fly like the harmless mammals -- do they realize that Ms. Frizzle just wants to teach grownups the same appreciation for bats.
"In the Haunted House" finds Carlos struggling to create an instrument for a group performance. When the bus breaks down near a sound museum housed in a mysterious old house, the group learns that its founder, Professor Cornelia Contralto, disappeared a hundred years ago after collecting hundreds of sounds. Most of the kids just want to get home, but Carlos is determined to make his instrument work, so he braves all the scary noises just to find out what's making them.
Best For Ages:
6-8 - Clever stories and engaging characters keep young viewers interested during science lessons.
9-12 - Older kids can learn about nature from this series, even if the humor may be too juvenile for pre-teens.
Educational Value: Viewers learn all about the feeding, sleeping, and hiding strategies of spiders and bats, including how spiders avoid getting caught in their own webs and how bats use echo location to navigate. The highlight of the sound segment is a lesson in the vibrations that make music.
Entertainment Value: These episodes about common fears all use horror movie settings. The spiders spin webs in an old B movie, the bats fly around a Dracula-style castle, while a creaky haunted house provides a lesson in how sounds travel.
Frightening Situations: These episodes aim to scare so that they can explain away the fears. Some of Ms. Frizzle's students are afraid of spiders, bats, and an apparent ghost. Younger viewers may be disturbed in "Going Batty" at the suggestion that Ms. Frizzle could be a vampire.
Like most MAGIC SCHOOL BUS adventures, these three spooky stories are engaging enough for four-year-olds, yet will hold the interest of pre-teens who will remember the trivia about nature and the fundamentals of scientific investigation. These episodes combine witty stories with science lessons that dispel myths about common fears.
Flamboyant Ms. Frizzle enjoys wearing spider woman dresses and talking like Countess Dracula. Her enthusiasm and her fearlessness draws viewers in, even as her own students in the stories express reservations about some of her wilder ideas. Fearful comic book fan Ralphie and nervous Arnold make uneasy young viewers feel more comfortable, while sensitive Phoebe and eager-to-please Carlos are characters to whom older kids can relate. Some may still not like spiders or bats after CREEPY, CRAWLY FUN! but at least they'll understand how the creatures live and realize that they have nothing serious to fear.
Horror movie conventions that may go over the heads of juveniles will amuse pre-teens. The black-and-white giant mantis movie within "Spins a Web" bears many similarities to alien invader movies of the 1950s, and strongly resembles recent echo THE IRON GIANT right down to the know-it-all general. "Going Batty" offers Dracula jokes and clever suggestions about Ms. Frizzle's preternatural talents. "Inside the Haunted House" offers organ music, creaking trap doors, and furniture that seems to pop out of nowhere to scare the kids.
Young viewers are quick to point out impossibilities in the shows, and are delighted when the concluding "Question and Answer" session with the producers addresses their own concerns. For enthusiasts, THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS: GREATEST ADVENTURES travels into outer space and introduces Ms. Frizzle's students to dinosaurs. THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS GETS EATEN takes kids on a journey into a human body.
Children's Television Reviews