The idea of a new version of The Magic School Bus seems like something that anyone between the age of 18 and 40 would naturally enjoy.
If you were young during the Nineties, you no doubt spent time with Ms Frizzle and her class of field trip-loving kids, as the travelled inside the human body, turned into lizards, and travelled among the stars.
Naturally, then, the thought of a show revival, on Netflix, the undisputed masters of this kind of content, sounds like a dream come true on paper.
In practice, though, if you’ve seen the initial trailer for the show, you’ll be aware that something doesn’t quite feel right here.
It’s not a hugely noticeable thing, and you’ll be hard-pressed to put your finger on what’s wrong without comparing old Magic School Bus with The Magic School Bus Rides Again directly, but something just feels off, right?
If you think so, you’re not alone, nor are you simply misremembering the classic show. A very strange design choice has been made by the creators of new School Bus that makes it difficult to watch, not just for nostalgists, but for anyone old enough to have caught even a single episode of the original show.
It’s all in the animation – Netflix has gone for a very simple, easy “rigged” cartoon style here, where each arm and limb, each facial element, can be moved and swapped out quickly in order to make the process of animating the show as easy (and cheap) as possible. It’s essentially a Flash animation cartoon like the ones that made Newgrounds a household name among teenagers a decade ago.
A lot of cartoons use this animation style, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with it – unless, of course, you’re remaking a traditionally animated show from the Nineties that wasn’t able to rely on shortcuts.
Putting the footage side-by-side, it’s hard not to notice that the original Magic School Bus has a lot more life to it. The characters are more expressive, have a greater range of movement, and even have more distinct character designs.
Part of the simple animation style chosen for the new Magic School Bus has involved toning down the designs of key characters in order to make them easier to animate. That’s why Ms Frizzle doesn’t seem to look quite right – her wonderfully Nineties clothing and accessories from the original show have been toned down so that she doesn’t look out of place in a far more bland animated world.
This has been better touched on by professional animator Aaron Margolin, who points out that all of the kids in the new show have exactly the same face models, just with different hair, clothes, and skin tone.
It’s worth watching Margolin’s entire video, as he points out just how limiting the art style is in the new show when compared with both the original, and other comparable shows.
Here are my frustrations with the new Magic School Bus’s visual style and why it matters. pic.twitter.com/COF4Go1BnV
— Aaron Margolin (@ARMZAaron) September 5, 2017
This isn’t to say that the new Magic School Bus isn’t going to have great stories, or engaging, interesting characters. The new show, though, doesn’t capture the heart of its source material, and isn’t designed to be watched by anyone who might hold a nostalgic candle for the original.
Maybe that’s fine – after all, this show is aimed at kids who won’t notice the crude animation, just as we didn’t notice when kids cartoons of the Nineties all featured limited traditional animation.
But if this isn’t aimed at bottling that nostalgia and giving modern parents something to watch happily with their own kids, then why even remake The Magic School Bus to begin with?