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, the ocean, exotic ecosystems, and more. Human Body is a re-issued disc from Scholastic Entertainment that serves up a trio of like-minded episodes dealing with all things internal. Well...most things, at least. It's one of several themed collections that have been in and out of print during the last decade or so.
Episodes include "For Lunch" (also included on Takes a Dive, released simultaneously), which provides a trip through the digestive system; "Inside Ralphie", an up-close investigation of a fellow student's sickness; and "Flexes its Muscles", which deals with bones 'n muscles and, by association, how they might work together as one of the students builds a life-sized robot. All told, these three episodes were aired as part of The Magic School Bus' first two seasons (1994-95) and are interesting slices of mid-90s animated fare. I admire the show's willingness to explore subjects in a realistic manner (relatively speaking, of course), and these episodes are no different. From showing how intestines work to emulating bacteria by entering an open wound, this is surprisingly stomach-churning stuff at times---not on Ren & Stimpy's level, but it's close---which means most kids will absolutely love it, regardless of gender or background.
A quick glance at the series' episode list shows that two additional adventures would've also tied in nicely: "Works Out" (Season 3, dealing with circulation) and "Goes Cellular" (Season 4, investigating skin cells). Their exclusion is a little disappointing, plus the concept of a paltry three-episode release does seem more than a little outdated. But other options are certainly available, including a still in-print Complete Series collection...although this re-issue also arrives with a themed book, 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 interlacing and compression artifacts can also be spotted on some occasions. Colors are relatively bold and bright, although warmer hues are prone to bleeding. Black levels typically look more like dark grey. Human Body still serves up a perfectly watchable presentation overall, at least enough so that kids 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 Missing Bones
(2000), in which our teacher takes the class to the Hugh Mann Costume Company to learn all about skeletons. It's a nice little book but obviously aimed at older readers (at least 8-10), though younger kids should still be able to enjoy the TV show. Both the keepcase and book are housed inside a slipcover...and it's kind of bulky for a four-episode release.
Aside from the softcover book mentioned above, we also get one Bonus Episode
: "Gets Planted", which aired as part of Season 3 back in 1996. It revolves around plants as part of the school's production of Jack and the Beanstalk
; specifically, how different kinds of plants eat and grow in a similar way to most other living things. It's a nice bonus, but I'd have much rather had the two related episodes listed above. Like everything else, no subtitles are included.
Whether your enjoyed The Magic School Bus as a kid---either in book, video game, or animated form---or you're just testing the waters with your own kids, it's a solid mix of education and entertainment that most students will enjoy. I can't say that I'm over the moon about these piecemeal "volumes", though: in all honesty, anyone halfway interested should just shell out for the Complete Series collection. But if you just want a few sample episodes grouped by theme, releases like this one might fit the bill...and, though aimed at slightly older kids, the included softcover book is a nice touch. Either way, those who fall into the latter category should check this one out. 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.