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Magic School Bus: Space Adventures (DVD + Book), The

New Video // G // July 30, 2013
List Price: $12.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Randy Miller III | posted October 15, 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: underwater, inside the human body, exotic ecosystems, and more. Space Adventures is a stripped-down version of Scholastic Entertainment's 2012 three-disc compilation Blast Off! From Sea to Space that serves up a trio of like-minded episodes dealing with far-off planets, deadly asteroids, and life in zero gravity.

"Gets Lost in Space" (incidentally, the 1994 series premiere) is up first and, as expected, ties into the theme nicely. Essentially, Ms. Frizzle's class---including Arnold's annoying cousin, Janet--- is whisked away on a planet-hopping adventure, but it's cut a little short after Janet gets greedy for souvenirs. "Out of this World" (from the second season, 1995) beats Armageddon by three years as the kids are tasked with stopping an errant asteroid from colliding with the school. Finally, "Gains Weight" (from the fourth season, 1997) has fun with gravity after Phoebe has trouble with her slam dunk. Educational and entertaining, all three episodes feel like a cohesive unit that explore different aspects of space and zero-gravity, name checking such popular franchises and movies as Star Trek and The Right Stuff.

A quick glance at the series' episode list doesn't reveal that they left anything important out of this themed collection, although the fourth season episode "Sees Stars" might have tied in nicely. Either way, the concept of a paltry three-episode release does seem more than a little outdated, and that's perhaps my only complaint here. Those interested in he Complete Series collection should ignore discs like this entirely...although this disc 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 are typically more like dark grey. Space Adventures still serves up a watchable presentation overall, at least enough so that young fans won't find much 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 are 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 Space Explorers (2000). It's a nice little book but obviously aimed at older readers (at least 7-10), even though younger kids should easily be able to enjoy the animated series. Both the keepcase and book are housed inside a matching slipsleeve.

Bonus Features

Aside from the softcover book mentioned above, we get one Bonus Episode: "Plays Ball", which was also part of the series' first season back in 1994. Though it doesn't completely tie in to the disc's theme, this friction-based episode still hits the spot. As expected, the A/V quality is slightly weaker during this episode, most likely due to its age.

Final Thoughts

Anyone familiar with The Magic School Bus will find Space Adventures worth watching, and why not? These highly accessible episodes are educational, entertaining, and just edgy enough to grab kids' attention without repulsing them completely. With that said, New Video's current themed "DVD + Book" packages are strictly for new fans only...but aside from better options like Complete Series, the 2012 three-disc compilation Blast Off! From Sea to Space offers three times the episode content for just a few bucks more. The included chapter book is a nice little touch but hardly a genuine selling point, which makes Space Adventures more of a weeknight curiosity than anything else. Rent It.

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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