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Magic School Bus: Takes a Dive (DVD + Book), The

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Review by Randy Miller III | posted September 8, 2014 | E-mail the Author

Best known as a long-running book series by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen, The Magic School Bus also existed as a popular animated series on FOX. It aired for four seasons (1994-97) and scored a daytime Emmy for good measure, loosely adapting the books' free-wheeling blend of education and entertainment. In a nutshell, the show follows beloved teacher Ms. Valerie Frizzle (voiced by Lily Tomlin) and her students as they travel on spontaneous field trips just about everywhere: the moon, inside the human body, exotic ecosystems, and more. Takes a Dive is a re-issued disc from Scholastic Entertainment that serves up a trio of like-minded episodes dealing with oceans, swamps, and a boatload of undersea life. It's just one of several themed collections that have been in and out of print during the last decade or so.

These three episodes, coincidentally enough, were all broadcast as part of the series' fourth and final season (1997), and our title adventure even served as the series finale. "Takes a Dive" follows Ms. Frizzle and her class on an undersea adventure where they learn to form partnerships; transformed into various animal teams, they work together to find a treasure and save a coral reef in the process. "Goes to Mussel Beach" teaches us about tide zones and undersea life as our group travels to the beach house of Ms. Frizzle's mysterious Uncle Shelby. Finally, "Gets Swamped" shows us the importance of certain ecosystems after plans to develop a shopping mall put a nearby wetland on the chopping block. They're all lightly entertaining and educational...but since I have room for complaints about this series, the dialogue and pacing are pretty inconsistent. A handful of the voice actors are more than a little grating at times, whether intentionally or not. But it's all in good fun and, chances are, most kids between 4-10 should have no problem enjoying themselves.

A quick glance at the series' episode list doesn't reveal that they left anything important out of this themed collection. The concept of a paltry three-episode release does seem more than a little outdated, but other options are available. Those interested in the Complete Series collection should ignore discs like this entirely...although this re-issue also arrives with a related book packed inside, which is a nice touch. Either way, any kid with an interest in science could do much worse.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Video quality is just...OK, but I'd imagine ten years ago this disc would've gotten an easy pass. All three episodes (plus a bonus one, listed below) are presented in their original tube TV-friendly 1.33:1 aspect ratio and look no better or worse than your average mid-90s animated series ported to DVD. Image detail definitely runs a little on the soft side, while mild interlacing and motion blur can also be spotted on some occasions. Colors are relatively bold and bright, although the warmer colors are prone to bleeding. Black levels typically look more like dark grey. Takes a Dive still serves up a perfectly watchable presentation overall, at least enough so that younger fans won't find anything to complain about.

DISCLAIMER: These compressed and resized screen captures are strictly decorative and do not represent this title's native 480p resolution.

Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0; the default track is English, and optional Spanish dubs are here too. Both sound fine under the circumstances, but they're obviously limited by the source material. Voices and music are relatively crisp and clear without fighting for attention, while a modest amount of channel separation gives many of the action-driven moments a modest amount of punch. Unfortunately, no optional Closed Captions or SDH subtitles have been included.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

Basic, show-themed menus offer easy navigation and only the bare minimum of logos and warning screens. This one-disc release is housed in a standard keepcase; also included is a full-sized Softcover Book titled The Great Shark Escape (2000), in which our teacher leads the class into a number of undersea adventures. It's a nice little book but obviously aimed at older readers (at least 8-10), even though younger kids should easily be able to enjoy the animated series. Both the keepcase and book are housed inside a slipcover; all things considered, it's kind of bulky for a one-disc release.

Bonus Features

Aside from the softcover book mentioned above, we get one Bonus Episode: "For Lunch", which was only the second episode aired from Season 1 back in 1994. It's a grossly fascinating trip through the digestive system that, for obvious reasons, stops short at the intestines. But they do say the word "anus" and we get to see stomach acid and squishy organs hard at work, so don't eat during this one. The A/V quality is slightly weaker during this episode, most likely due to its age. One note: this episode is also included on the Human Body collection, so you might end up buying it twice.

Final Thoughts

I'm fairly new to The Magic School Bus and so is my daughter, but she had no problem enjoying herself even though it's aimed at an older age group. I found the show more than a little grating in spots and it's definitely aged a bit, but the educational value is appreciated. Takes a Dive serves up three like-minded undersea (or at least wetland) adventures, along with a seemingly random bonus episode that only fits in if you classify digestive juice as water. Either way, a Complete Series collection is already available, so you might want to avoid piecemeal releases like this entirely. But if you're just interested in specific themes, this one isn't bad and the book adds some value. Mildly Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.
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