Welp, I’ve discussed all the things about The Magic School Bus that make it such a great franchise, but whether or not you want to, let’s face the facts: I have to talk about you-know-what sometime:
For those of you who are freaking out, this is the second part of a three-part post that already explained everything in the first part: I will be discussing the recent soft reboot of the fantastic 1994 PBS Kids Magic School Bus television series, The Magic School Bus Rides Again. And yes, I am very well aware that the critical reception to the show is pretty divisive, and yes, I am on the anti-Rides Again side of what has sadly become a divided fan base.
Some of you may perceive Rides Again as being perfectly fine, and thus, nothing is wrong with The Magic School Bus as a franchise. Others may feel the way I do, and that there are problems with Rides Again and by extension, the franchise as a whole that need to be fixed. That is what this second part is about: what exactly is and isn’t wrong with Rides Again, why Rides Again ultimately doesn’t work and why we all can’t seem to agree on that. I made the first part to hopefully provide a deeper analysis and understanding of this part, by comparing the differences between the quality of the characters, stories, and other aspects in both shows.
After this, the final part will discuss how we even got into this mess in the first place: exactly how Rides Again came to existence, what went wrong during the development of the reboot and the possible options that are next for the franchise to fix its current state. And in doing so, I hope to have succeeded in using Part One to make us realize what gave us this passion to fight, Part Two to make us realize our differences and the things we can agree on to stop fighting each other, and Part Three to make us realize who we should really be fighting. And of course, I’d like to give a heads up to obvious spoilers to the media.
It’s already been quite a field trip that’s about to get crazier (apologies, Arnold). Seriously, even with this post split into three parts, this became my longest post yet, so you’ve been warned. 😉 Anyway, without farther ado…to the bus!
Rides Again Review
I’m not going to lie, part of the reason why I waited so long to put out Part Two was because of my reluctance to watch the series, and rightfully so. There are far worse shows for kids out there, but there are so many things wrong with this series that it’s going to take a while to cover them all. In fact, I didn’t even have to watch the show to already bring up quite a few of these points, in which the problems with the show start from its very premise and direction.
Let’s start with the fact that Rides Again is a soft reboot. Rebooting properties under the right conditions isn’t a bad thing, but there are two types of reboots: soft reboots, which are merely updates to a previously established work and add to the continuity, and hard reboots, which ignore the previous work to try to be their own thing. Soft reboots are tough to make in the sense that you are trying to replicate nearly everything about the original work to allow for a smooth continuation, and if the work was bad, to also make those stories better. However, hard reboots aren’t bound by these rules. They still have to service the original work, but they have a lot more freedom. If a soft reboot is done wrong on a quality work, you run the risk of ruining something that is sacred, which is exactly what Rides Again did. And this is probably worse than if Rides Again was a hard reboot, because making a new version of a great TV show that turns out bad is one thing. However, degrading the quality of that great TV show is another thing entirely.
A hard reboot wouldn’t have to entertain the idea that it’s a new year, and thus a new science teacher. Heck, a soft reboot shouldn’t have to do this either; with what the show ultimately became, Rides Again should’ve basically been Season 5 of the original series onwards, taking place right after the events of the last season. Case in point: the character of Fiona Frizzle shouldn’t even exist. There is no precedent for the character in Scholastic canon, and it’s true that much of the content of the original series had no precedent in the canon either because there weren’t that many books in the series to adapt at the time it was running. But this is no longer the case, and that’s the problem. Writing new stories for Rides Again is still mostly fine, because there are still not enough books in the series (the main one anyway) to carry a whole show. But if they wanted to add new characters, they should’ve looked to the books for inspiration. I’m still waiting for someone like Ms. Frizzle’s niece, Dottie, to show up. Just imagine how much cooler it would be to see an adaptation of her arc with Arnold from The Electric Field Trip (the closest thing we got so far being original series episode “Gets Charged”).
But back to Fiona. Even if you want to argue that she has every right to exist, she still shouldn’t have been put in the role she was put in. If the books had previously established the idea that Valerie could be replaced, then doing so would be far more justified. But the books already made it clear that there is only one Ms. Frizzle. Even if Fiona’s character worked in the same way as Valerie’s while still being her own character (which I’ll get into later), she would still have this sense of not being able to fill in the void left behind by the woman who has been the heart and soul of this franchise for so many years. But Fiona’s character doesn’t even deliver properly, doing nothing more than making us beg for Valerie to come back.
And boy, that character design. I’m sorry, but it’s just atrocious. It’s some of the worst character design I’ve ever seen in any reboot, period. When I first saw the trailer to Rides Again, I was literally unable to recognize anybody from the original at all, I’m not kidding. You know you messed up this aspect of your reboot when your character designs could literally be used for a completely new character and nobody would say “Hey, that kid does look like Arnold” if you were to put the original and new designs right next to each other. Not every reboot even changes their character’s designs to the extent that Rides Again did, and what’s even more perplexing is that as this is a soft reboot, do they actually expect me to think that these characters changed that much in a year? Not that you can’t shake things up with character design a little bit, but emphasis on the words a little bit. It’s like the design team had little to no knowledge on the visual aspects of these characters in order to determine how they would change in a year.
Some of the redesigns are not as bad as others, but all of them are overall downgrades to their characters. A huge problem with this is that the redesigns reject the main colors of many of their color palletes. We’ll start with Arnold. Despite his red hair in the original series, he actually had blond hair in the books. Rides Again had the chance to acknowledge this, only to make his hair even more red. Not only that, but it’s straight rather than wavy, and his iconic white and yellow stripes are replaced with a single green color. His cousin Janet similarly suffers from these redesign choices, though now she admittedly doesn’t look too much like a visual carbon copy of him. Keesha now wears orange and is no longer in her sweater, and now wears her puffy hair in pigtails. Ralphie no longer appears as chubby as he used to be, and despite the fact that a year passed, he appears younger than the other classmates for some odd reason. His green shirt and trademark “R” are also both gone. They pretty much wrecked Tim with that afro, also adding more to his outfit that he could probably use, but this particular approach doesn’t work for me. Wanda no longer appears to be the shortest classmate, her hair also grew, and she is no longer wearing pink. I guess this can happen to a tomboy in a year’s time, but again, she doesn’t look like Wanda to me.
The only redesigns that come off as okay are Dorothy Ann’s and Carlos’s. Carlos wearing red pants always came off as odd, and inverting the colors of his pants and hoodie was actually a pretty good idea. They also similarly kept Dorothy Ann’s color palette, though her hair is now in a ponytail instead of pigtails. While that’s okay, whatever happened to the fact that her pigtails stay up without hair bands in original series episode “Goes on Air”? What about that? 😛 (“The Tales Glaciers Tell” even briefly shows D.A. with her pigtails worn down instead of up, and I just…I just…😢 Oh, what could’ve been!)
These character design issues continue with Valerie and Fiona. Neither sister’s hair is, well, frizzy anymore, making Valerie disservice the Frizzle family name while Fiona outright insults it. Not only that, but the lighter highlights in Valerie’s hair are now absent while they are similarly missing in Fiona. Okay, so Katrina Eloise Murphy didn’t have them either, but she was her first cousin, not her sister, so I’d argue that the lighter highlights should be present in Fiona. Even Valerie’s face appears different. Jennifer Kline of AOL.com says it way better than I can, so I’ll just quote her here:
The face of TV’s most beloved science teacher has taken on a much rounder shape, completely smoothing out the angles of her jawline. She’s also seemingly made use of keratin treatments. But — most importantly — while she still has a bridge bump, no amount of blend and contour can create that perky upturned tip.
You can argue that it’s wrong to criticize a woman’s appearance, and it is. But no such criticism is worse than when someone actually changes that appearance, and tells the character that this is the way they are supposed to look now. And if you’re going to bring up my drawing of Ms. Frizzle, I actually thought about this when I drew it, but those designs are specifically meant to resemble my art style. Of course I could draw those characters the way they actually look, including Ms. Frizzle, but a lot of artists do that, and I am trying to be different.
But the biggest issues with Valerie and Fiona’s designs again stem from Fiona’s very existence and the role she was put in. By relegating Valerie from her role as science teacher, her iconic wardrobe is no longer able to fulfill its principal function: to change their elaborate designs based on the topic being taught. The concept is now transferred to Fiona’s character, but again, as she has to be her own character and not completely copy Valerie, she has to come up with a different way to carry out the concept. And that’s the problem, because there is no other way to carry out the concept! Rides Again tries the best possible way to do this by only changing Fiona’s skirt and necklace, and it’s just not as great as Frizzle changing every square inch of her clothing. It’s only half the fashion statement, only half of Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen’s original idea. It’s true that the other kinds of outfits Fiona wears, such as diving suits and spacesuits, sometimes work, but that’s pretty much it. And the cherry on the top of a pretty awful cake is the outfit Valerie does wear in the series, which is well…well…
Anyway, I’m pretty sure I’ve discussed absolutely everything wrong with this series at face value, before we start talking about the actual content. Checking off my list, I talked about Valerie and Fiona, all the classmates…I think all the classmates…
My Pheobe. My precious, precious Pheobe, who gave Scholastic nothing but love. And this is what they give her in return. In case you don’t know, if you read Part One, you may already be aware that Pheobe is my favorite of the eight classmates of the original series. So when Scholastic actually decided to not only replace one of the classmates with new student Jyoti Kaur, but pick Pheobe…PHEOBE to replace out of all of them, you could only imagine how I felt. 😭 It was like getting run over in the street by Fiona’s new wheels. And come on, you can’t tell me that Pheobe wasn’t crying in the producer segment room. And here I was, struggling to get up in the street, unable to give her a hug.
I also stated how I often overlooked the “old school” aspect of her character, yet little did I know all these years was that this would lead to her literal kick to the curb. Okay, so I admit that of all the students that could possibly leave the classroom, Pheobe fit the bill the most because of that aspect. Sure, she always mentions her old school, so some of you may argue that she cared too much about it to stay at Walkerville. And I don’t buy that one bit. Heck, she literally started embracing Walkerville in “Goes to Seed”, continued to prove her loyalty to the school in “Butterfly and the Bog Beast”, and was even picked to represent the school towards the end of the series in “Gains Weight”! So even if Pheobe has a reason to stay, why should any of them leave? Well, at least there’s also that part of me that realizes that Rides Again fails in so many ways anyway, that it might have been worse if Pheobe actually fell victim to what they did to the rest of the class, and completely degrade such a great design and personality. And at the end of the day, I think that’s what made Pheobe stop crying, not my hug.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for adding new students like Jyoti to the classroom, even if Jyoti is still an original character; after all, the books do have more classmates than the shows. But replacing old classmates with new ones not only undoes this purpose, but it shows just how much you care about the character that’s being replaced, and it also gives the new character the unnecessary task of having to fill the void left behind by the replaced character. A huge purpose of Jyoti was to push for more diversity, and that’s great. But race is usually only a minor aspect of any character. I didn’t fall for Pheobe because she was Caucasian; I fell for her because she was kind, because she was Pheobe. And while Jyoti tries, she doesn’t completely succeed in doing the same.
Wow, We’re Finally Talking About That Pilot?
Yes, I know. Titled “Frizzle of the Future”, it’s…well…interesting, to say the least. The show actually appears to be aware of all the mistakes it’s making, yet it conditions the viewer into thinking that all the changes that are being made are a good thing. Admittedly, I like how the episode starts. We see the bus showing off its shapeshifting abilities just miles near the sun, revealing that it’s now solar-powered. It’s a pretty cool update for an environmentally conscious science teacher like Ms. Frizzle, only Valerie isn’t riding it. The show tricks you into thinking that it is Valerie, but one look at that skirt, and it’s clearly Fiona. Now let’s fast forward a little bit. Aren’t the next scenes all about how Fiona is getting the keys to the bus? Why is this scene so out of place chronologically?
But it only gets crazier from there. We then see Walkerville Elementary, and Arnold and the class talk about how aside from Jyoti, everything was exactly the same as last year. Again, how everything was exactly the same as last year. Uh, HELLO? Guys, your hair! Your clothes! Wanda is suddenly taller, Ralphie got shorter, what? After all these kids learned in the original series, do they actually expect me to think they got this stupid??? Not even two minutes in, and the show is already butchered!
Arnold then shows Jyoti around the classroom, and he tells her that he “handles the worrying for all of them.” Huh? Imagine yourself as Arnold for a minute. I’m talking original series Arnold, the real Arnold. You just want a normal school year, hoping your eccentric science teacher’s field trips don’t kill you. You end up on a field trip anyway, and now, you’re freaking out. Do you really think that you’re going to care about the other students around you? Of course not! To you, this is the survival of the fittest, an-every-kid-for-himself situation! This line would work better for someone who actually handled the worrying for all of them. Someone who would keep them calm in the midst of a situation, and Arnold is anything but that person. If anything, Arnold actually makes things more stressful!
The class then recalls everything they know their teacher does before they wait for her arrival. The bus arrives, with Arnold noting that Valerie was late by a second. This is then revealed to be because it wasn’t Valerie. It was Fiona, and Arnold’s reaction is basically the same as that of a lot of other people.
Fiona greets the class (even saying she likes Keesha’s outfit), before Valerie walks in and tells the class that she now has a PhD. At first, I actually liked this nice neat addition to Valerie’s character, and unlike the other changes that supposedly happened in a year, it’s not completely out of the question for Valerie to get a PhD within that short time. But that was before I realized why they did it. It turns out that this is to help differ between the two Frizzles so that the viewer doesn’t end up referring to the both of them by “Ms. Frizzle”. With the PhD title, Valerie is now able to be called “Professor Frizzle”, while Fiona completely steals the Ms. Frizzle name. And while part of me would love for Valerie to have a PhD, she can no longer be called Ms. Frizzle, even though that’s what we’ll call her anyway. Ironically enough, in gaining something after all she’s lost, Valerie loses yet another thing as well.
The class’s reaction to Valerie getting replaced is again, the same as everybody else watching what is already a total disaster. Fiona then decides to place her plant (with a ridiculously long name I can’t spell here after hearing that’s too over the top even by Magic School Bus standards) on what was (and still is) Valerie’s desk, which Arnold quickly confiscates, and rightfully so. After the class struggles to process Valerie’s plans for the future, the infamous passing-the-torch scene occurs, and you get the idea.
The class then piles on the bus, not even giving Valerie a goodbye, because you know, you got to have that inconsistent character development, right? By the way, I’ve noticed that inconsistency is a HUGE problem with Rides Again, which I’ll get into later. They do give her a quick wave before the bus drives off, but it’s just not enough.
Fiona then takes some time in deciding which button to press instead of knowing the button right away, and the reason why soon becomes obvious. And this is what kills the character and much of the show for me, and is why Fiona’s character does not work in the same way as Valerie’s. The bus is revealed to land on the Galapagos Islands. And an impatient Arnold walks off the bus, only to see that it was parked on the edge of a cliff. He falls off, and Fiona catches her. It all seems like something Valerie would do, until she says this:
It’s amazing how one line uttered by one character can make or break your entire story. See, if you read Part One, I explained what it is about Valerie that’s so awesome. She may get questioned for the things she puts her classmates through and even be dismissed as insane, but the reason why she’s ultimately able to get away with it is because again, she knows what she’s doing. There is a reason why we don’t need to question the idea that she can get a PhD in a year’s time, because of the woman’s vast amount of knowledge and experience in science, busanautics and magic. She can send her class on a trip to under the ocean, in each other’s bodies and outer space, and keep them safe throughout the entire trip. She can even do this if she ends up missing in the cosmos or elsewhere. She can even do this if the only way for her to get found is to guide the class to her with a half damaged navigation system because she is Valerie Felicity Frizzle, and she will keep you safe without any uncertainty of herself, no matter what.
Fiona is at best a rookie who trained under Valerie’s tutelage that graduated way too early. She thinks she’s got this, but to put it lightly, she doesn’t. Valerie actually made her train with live students before instead of dummies for some reason, and Fiona failed those tests.
And then they had to Obliviate the parents. Fiona makes you unsure of whether or not she did this, and that seals the deal on her insanity, as well as her chances of ever being likeable. So if any character in this franchise deserves the “she’s insane” argument, it’s Fiona, not Valerie. Though then again, the fact that this Valerie thought that Fiona was ready to take on her beloved classroom probably still makes her worthy of the argument, which is the final blow to all this. As a result, I was genuinely scared for these kids throughout the entire first season. Though it’s a kids show, so of course the things you’ll come up with will never happen. Fiona does get it right most of the time, but she screws up at least three times throughout the season. The first time being in “In The Swim”…
The second time being in “The Magnetic Mambo”, in which Fiona gave Ralphie too much responsibility and actually loses the bus, not even helping the class during the very last attempt to get it back…
And the final time being in “Three in One”, in which Fiona not only loses the bus again (and taking full responsibility), but she actually admits that she lost the bus. I was just sitting there LAUGHING during that awkward confession, and the sad part is that I’m sure that moment was intended to be more dramatic than humorous.
She also appears to be uncertain of herself when the bus falls victim to deep sea pressure in the season finale, “DA and the Deep Blue Sea”, and while she does get them out of their dilemma, it’s still worth pointing out. Also, she’ll even take the class places without a lesson to teach such as the beach or a campout (imagine that in elementary school), until the class gives her an idea such as in “Monster Power” and again, “DA and the Deep Blue Sea”.
But anyway, Carlos actually thinks she’s NICE after she says this line. (Carlos, apologies in advance that this is actually happening, but forgive me if I briefly hate you.) After Fiona really convinces you that she’s going to crash the bus from bad parking, the class gets out and meets Galapagos Gil, whom Fiona apparently met before because he never leaves the islands. Either islands can float now, or the more sensible explanation is that Valerie likely gave Fiona all her contacts. As Gil shows the class around, Tim actually has to ask Fiona to use magic. Because the writers obviously remembered that “show, don’t tell” rule I talked about in Part One. The episode then starts teaching about ecosystems, but by this point it has failed to reel me in entertainment wise, thus, failing with the whole edutainment aspect as I also previously explained. I’ll find value in the education, and parents obviously would, too. But the kids are a whole other thing.
Fiona, who had transformed Carlos and Wanda into a tortoise and finch, clearly hadn’t had enough fun with the device she used to transform them while she was still training under Valerie, because she transforms them into different animals before turning them back to normal. The class then learns of invasive species and how officials inspect visitors’ belongings to keep them in check. This gives Fiona the idea to shrink the class to check these small species up close. Jyoti is excited about all of it, and all I can think of is how much more excited she would have been if she was in Valerie’s class. After they explore a boot, Arnold, inspired by Fiona’s talk about the balance of ecosystems, is convinced that Fiona is disrupting the “class’s ecosystem”. He tries to convince Ralphie, but he’s become too one-dimensional like everyone else to really care. He then takes matters into his own hands to ruin Fiona in order to get her out of the classroom. And never have I rooted more for a character that you know is going to lose.
Arnold places the Plant-That-Must-Not-Be-Named onto the back of a tortoise as the class heads back to the school. And he praises the tortoise for his new fashion statement, continuing to prove his stupidity as he fails to see that the shell is obviously not good foundation for a vase. It cracks to the floor as he leaves, placing the plant on the soil of the islands. And thanks to what’s clearly the Frizzle magical know-how, it proves to be the biggest threat on the islands yet. Back at the school, Arnold talks to Valerie, who shows him her replacement for Liz, because you know, she has to ditch Liz, too. Enter Goldie, a Golden Tamarin monkey who is nothing to write home about, thanks to Rides Again‘s poor animation and use of body language, which I’ll also get into later. Also, she’s willing to ditch Liz, but not her lip-shaped speakerphone for some reason.
Arnold (and I) beg Valerie to come back, using his explanation of Fiona disrupting the class ecosystem in his defense. But then Valerie states that some invasive species benefit their ecosystems, convincing Arnold that by using magic (because he has that now), he can accept Fiona. As Arnold leaves, Valerie is shown exchanging winks with Fiona through the school window. And that’s when you get that sinking feeling that Valerie really does think it’s time to release Fiona, and there is nothing you can do to change her mind. Fiona talks to Arnold about his concerns in the classroom, and Arnold tells Fiona that he is unsure of how magic will make things better in the future. That is when Fiona decides to actually go to the future to see if her inclusion in this franchise was really a good idea. And what we see got me extremely exasperated.
As it turns out, Fiona not only fit into the class excellently, but she ended up teaching the children of the classmates. Again, the CHILDREN of the classmates. Valerie never came back, and the class came to terms with the fact that their beloved teacher wasn’t so beloved after all, instead ditching them with a less capable teacher that somehow never harmed them or their own children. Also, by that point the adult versions of the classmates trusted Fiona to the point that they would actually put their own children in Fiona’s hands. What? If you ask me, this scene is worse than the ending, because it not only hurts Rides Again, but the entire original series, because it’s as if all those actually meaningful times with Valerie meant absolutely nothing, and that the time spent with Fiona is all that matters. Also, as far as I’m concerned, the episode ends here (and it’s not just because I can’t take it anymore). Because if you’re going to travel to the future to see how everything ends, what’s the point of developing everything in between?
That is unless you’re trying to change the course of events, which would have completely turned this episode around. Though that’s not what happens, because c’mon, look at this show. Instead, Arnold is actually relieved to see this fateful timeline. (Okay, now I can’t take it anymore, but I got to finish this, right?) Wanda’s daughter then shows the Galapagos covered with the vines of Fiona’s plant 30 years in the making, leading Arnold to make the class head back there, still in the future, to try to stop the plant. And that’s when it gets worse: before she heads for the bus, present-day Fiona exchanges winks with future Fiona, revealing that this was a three-way plan between Valerie and the two versions of Fiona to ensure that this future happens. WHY?????
After the class encounters the vines and an army of admittedly cute rabbits, they encounter Galapagos Gil’s son, who explains that no one knows how the vines ended up on the island. He adds that they sent in rabbits to eat the vines, with nothing to contain the rabbits. Fiona deduces that the vines came from her plant, and then manipulates Arnold into admitting that he was the one who caused the crisis, not her, by pretending to admit that she doesn’t live up to her sister after all, even though she really doesn’t. Arnold doesn’t cave in at first, even as the class stands with Fiona. Ideally, this would end with Fiona walking off, falling off the screen, and back into the head of whoever dared to create her. Then the other students would realize just how right Arnold was after all. But you know how this is going to end: Fiona winning out, and Arnold confessing all.
He elects to talk to Valerie privately, getting teleported to her in the middle of a sky dive. He first confesses to her, saying that his plan to get Fiona out of the classroom completely backfired as he caused the biggest change of all. Valerie then reminds him of her words about magic, and Arnold comes up with the idea to head back to the present before the plant ever hit the Galapagos soil. (As far as changing the course of events, it’s better than nothing, I guess.) Valerie sends Arnold back to the class, who goes after the plant, but is unable to catch it in time. He is forced to fight it before it gets too large, and the class helps him. I’m not going to lie, but Jyoti’s efforts in this fight are among her best scenes in the entire first season. This is before we really get to know her penchant for technology, so it was cool to know that she also has some knowledge of martial arts, even if the animation makes her movements too rigid to be as enjoyable as they should’ve been. This is also the only time in the season we see these fighting skills, so that aspect of her character definitely needed to be developed more.
With the plant pinned down, Fiona is able to use her magic to put the plant back in its vase. We get back to the whole Arnold-realizing-that-Fiona-isn’t-so-bad-after-all thing and accepting her in the classroom, you know, that stuff. Then Valerie arrives to make the same statements before flying off, saying how she’s going to miss the class. Really. Then Arnold calls her, allowing for what is admittedly a really smooth transition into this version of the show’s producer segments. Of course with all the other changes however, the producer segments also take a pretty heavy hit. Valerie has taken the position of the male and female producer, who are now both gone. Goldie has similarly taken Liz’s role in these segments, but again, as I’ll get into soon, Goldie’s body language isn’t convincing enough for me to be invested in the character. However, there is one particular change to the segments that the original series actually could’ve needed. The last question that Valerie gets usually provides a hint as to what will take place in the next episode. This is a nod to a minor trait Valerie’s dresses had in the books, in which the dress would change on the last page to reflect the topic that’s going to be explored in the next book. I like how Rides Again at least referred to the books for this. But the problem with it is that the depiction is not authentic because again, Valerie doesn’t have her dresses!!! See what I mean? 😤
And There’s Still More Problems With This Show?
Absolutely; I didn’t even get into most of the general aspects yet. As you can tell by now, the characters are not only no longer what they used to be visually, but emotionally as well. The classmates are only half the personalities of what they once were, and even worse, they occasionally say and do things that you wouldn’t see them do in the original series, making their characters very inconsistent throughout the series.
There is far too much emphasis on Arnold’s fear and paranoia, which has almost become the only aspect of his character. He is literally the reason the class learns anything in “Monster Power” when he tries to make a eco-friendly light source to repel a monster he’s convinced exists. Dorothy Ann not only pronounces “research” like any other person does, but she also says “according to my research” too often, and says the scientific names of plants and animals, which I don’t think the show’s target audience will get on the first hearing. Also, I’ll get into how I like the emphasis on technology in the show soon, but D.A. seems to hate books now, because she is always on that tablet. In fact, I was almost shocked to see books fall out of her bag in “The Tales Glaciers Tell”. I get that we may prefer technology to paper these days, but for D.A. to suddenly shift from books to tech like that in a year is unconvincing, and I think it would be great if she had a balance between the two. Ralphie now comes off as a slacker or even unintelligent, occasionally bringing up concerns of his grades and being unable to grasp complicated concepts. Sure, he came off as that in the original, but the difference was that he never admitted this and focused more on wanting to learn, which he only does half the time here.
Wanda paid the price for Phoebe’s absence; I know her enough to see that they transferred some of her kindness into Wanda’s character, making her too empathetic. Not only that, but she now shows fear pretty often, butchering her spunky demeanor. Keesha similarly suffers from these problems, with her cynical and down-to-earth personality now nearly gone. She is a lot nicer now, which may be a welcome change for some, but again, it’s too unbelievable for her to change so quickly in a year. I think it would be interesting if she went on a path to becoming nicer, but even if this happened, she should still retain many aspects of her original personality, so that we know it’s still Keesha. Also, she apparently forgot that she’s been to space before in “Space Mission: Selfie”. Carlos still jokes around, and the class still reacts. But his penchant for technology and hands-on learning is nearly gone, being so obvious that they transferred this aspect into Jyoti’s character. Even if they would share the same character trait, it would have been great to see Carlos and Jyoti interact as they built certain devices together.
The only student from the original that got only slightly better in this series is Tim, and this is only because he wasn’t given enough attention in the original. As I said in Part One, none of the episodes in the first season focused on him, and while subsequent episodes eventually did, most of these episodes had him sharing the spotlight with another student. In Rides Again, he gets a first season episode, “The Battle for Rock Mountain”, and what makes this more impressive is that the episode is probably the best one in the first season, which I’ll get into later. He’s also a lot more involved with the class when the episode isn’t about him, but this does make him come off as too social for his character. I guess anybody who is as distant as Tim was would gradually get more social over the course of a year though, so this change is not as questionable as the others. Janet is still antagonistic, but she has truly become a side character, only teasing and annoying the classmates (as they try to look annoyed), but not truly integrating herself into the class’s antics to show just how much of an antagonist she is.
As for Jyoti, she’s an interesting case. Like Fiona, she has no precedent in the canon, so there is no prior incarnation of her to compare to and criticize. Because of this however, her biggest flaw isn’t of what she has, but interestingly enough, what she doesn’t have. The character works fine enough for a show that has downgraded itself to the point of little expectation, and because of this, the character leaves much to be desired, with you only being able to imagine what she could’ve been. I do like what is presented, though. A huge purpose of Rides Again was to update the franchise to fit in into today’s world, mostly through the technological advancements that have been made since the original series ended, and that’s great because it was also inevitable. This is reflected in Jyoti’s character, and I love her knack for technology and how intelligent she is. I love her robot, Naniben, who only appears in one episode in the first season and could’ve been an interesting character in itself. I love her invisibility cloak. As I said before, I love her fighting skills. I love how she can flip her entire body several feet into the air as shown in “Ralphie Strikes a Nerve”.
And while Jyoti has her strengths, she has little to no flaws, and I think that this is the biggest problem with her. To see what I mean, look at the episodes in the original series that focus on Carlos; remember, they transferred Carlos’s penchant for technology into Jyoti’s character. In the episode “In The Haunted House”, Carlos invents an instrument, just like how Jyoti invents her own gadgets and gizmos. But where Carlos actually struggled to get his instrument to work, Jyoti is able to build her far more advanced devices with little effort. I want to see how she struggled to make Naniben (after reworking her story). I want to see how she struggled to make that invisibility cloak (seriously, she’s ten). I want to see how she struggled to make the motion sensor for Fiona’s plant. I want to see the sensor blow up in her face, and watch her process her disappointment and see how she grows from it. I want to see her miss a punch or a kick. I want to see her crash after a flip. I want to see her be like us.
Now let’s talk about the art style and animation. Before I do, I think it’s important for us to distinguish between the two, as they often get mixed up when criticizing one or the other. Art style is the visual appearance of a cartoon, a characteristic of nearly all forms of art, such as the children’s book characters that I draw in my art style. Animation is the way those visuals move, of which cartoons are one of the few art forms with this characteristic. The art style of the original series is faithful to the spirit of Bruce Degen’s illustrations, whereas Rides Again‘s art style deviates too far away from it. The biggest problems with this is that the colors are too bright, and objects are usually filled in with a single color instead of adding detail, with the exception of shadows. These art style elements are commonly associated with the show’s Flash animation (now called Animate by Adobe), which is frequently criticized as a poor form of animation.
After looking into it, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not that Flash animation is bad in itself. It’s just that it’s an easier form of animation compared to the hand-drawn animation of the original series and other techniques, which are not as popular anymore because of that. With advancements in technology, things are no longer as hard as they once were, but we are no longer inclined to work as hard on the things that we make as a result. Hence, a lot of Flash animated series, though not all, suffer from rigid movement, no longer making facial expressions and body language lifelike. And if you still don’t believe me that not every Flash series has poor animation, all you have to do is to look up a list of Flash animated shows. And you’ll be surprised to see that many of your favorite cartoons are on the list, such as Phineas and Ferb, Gravity Falls, DuckTales (an actually good reboot, by the way), and WordGirl (ironically enough, another Scholastic-produced series and one of my childhood favorites).
Rides Again is unfortunately one of these lazier Flash cartoons. The characters are no longer expressive and true to life, giving only half the effort when they react to any given situation. If you still don’t want to admit it, all you have to do is to look at a side-by-side comparison of the intros of the original series and Rides Again playing at the same time, and stop as early as the scene when Arnold complains about the field trip.
Arnold may come off as frightened in Rides Again‘s intro, but he’s not really evoking that fear like he does in the original. Liz is no longer bouncing around him as he complains. He doesn’t put his hands on his face when he moans, nor is there a dramatic close-up to help translate that fear to the audience. If you do want to look beyond that scene, the bus doesn’t bounce to the same degree as it drives off. After the bus catches the kids falling from the volcano, Fiona’s face doesn’t stretch like Valerie’s when the ceiling closes (I loved that part!). And when they burst out of the pie, the teacher eating it looks more like a fainting zombie than the truly freaked out Baker in the original. They may sound like small things, but you’d be surprised with the difference those things could make.
Speaking of Liz, the issues with the animation absolutely kill the character on the show. There is practically no reason for Liz to be there, compared to the original series in which her actions on the screen were so great that I would sometimes direct my attention to her instead of the rest of the scene like I stated in Part One. There will actually be moments in which Liz will just sit there, as if the animators didn’t even know what to do with her. When she does move, she will often copy other characters, rather than showing how she stands out compared to everyone else. Her facial expressions are even poorer than the classmates, who are at least trying. As for Goldie, it’s a similar situation with Jyoti: a character who leaves much to be desired that should basically be the same way Liz was in the original series.
And if you’re going to bring up my Poptropica movie trailer, first of all, I actually don’t use Flash. That trailer was a combined effort of Photoshop, Premiere Pro and After Effects. And second of all, you can’t compare the standards that I had to achieve to those of Rides Again. The show had to uphold to the legacy of a phenomenal series, while I was making an animation for a franchise that hasn’t had one yet.
The voice acting is just about on the same level as everything else. Lily Tomlin’s reprisal as Valerie is still the Lily Tomlin we fell in love with all those years ago, just this time having very little to work with. And it’s clear that Kate McKinnon cares about her role as Fiona; it’s just a shame that this is the character she was given. And while the classmates give their fair share of effort, their voices are often of a similar quality to the animation. Again, compare Arnold’s voice in the intros: he is not evoking enough fear in his voice when he makes his iconic “please don’t let this be another field trip” quote. When he moans, it’s very weak, as if he’s bored or doesn’t care.
While a couple of episodes in the first season stand out, most of them are flawed in their storytelling to varying degrees, compared to the original series in which the stories in nearly every single episode were nothing short of perfection. For example, you can’t tell me that a kid should be operating a mech like Ralphie did in “Ralphie Strikes a Nerve”. Also, cheering someone on in a sport isn’t everything when it comes to winning a game; it’s also about figuring out how to be the best player.
And there was literally no reason for the field trip to continue after Jyoti’s locket was found in “DA and the Deep Blue Sea”; if they wanted to explore the abyssal zone, the locket should’ve fallen there. The episode is literally named after Dorothy Ann because of a mistake she made, as if she was the owner of the locket or something. 😒
But Isn’t There Anything Good About The Show?
It is only fair that I bring up what it is about the show that works, and I’m not going to pretend these things don’t exist. After all, there is a reason some people like the series. To start, after the part when Arnold speaks, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s version of the intro mostly works, except for the way he composes a couple of the lines that I think work better in the original. For example, I liked how the line “octopus in the neighborhood” came off as more of a question. But the techno-based beats in the song fit the emphasis on technology, which is pretty great. However, it doesn’t try anything new with the lyrics or the scenes, copying the basics of nearly everything in the original. Then again, given everything else that happened with the show, preserving the identity of the intro was probably the best move, and because of it, it’s the best part of the show to compare the animation and voice acting between it and the original.
In Part One, I also stated how I kind of wished the original series had a stronger sense of continuity, which this series does try to do, even if it often fails miserably. It will put care into the continuity within the show itself, and even give some nods to the original series. But those nods are not enough for a soft reboot, with the continuity between the two series being largely weak and inconsistent. One of the biggest examples of this is how the class will act like they haven’t been to certain places before, such as again, Keesha reacting to outer space.
I also like the intro sequence to the producer segments, which really lets you know that this show is focusing on technology. The way it starts with the astronaut looking over the Earth in space, and the way it zooms into the planet, into the camera of a girl’s phone and through cyberspace is pretty awesome. The cyberspace scene is where we see the children around the world calling Valerie about the episode, and you can even see a couple of the same children in the sequence of the original series (notably the girl hanging from the tree, albeit slightly redesigned). It’s no longer as simple as the original sequence, and even though that sequence was fine, I’d say that these additions make it much better.
I also haven’t gotten to the couple of standout episodes in the first season, such as “The Tales Glaciers Tell”. Fiona hardly screws up, her coat’s design is more spread out on her body, D.A. wears her pigtails, and most importantly, it provides a subtle yet insightful lesson on climate change. Rather than treading into controversial territory, it focuses on past history of the Earth and how we should nonetheless care for our planet by going eco-friendly, regardless of which side we are on of the climate change debate. Also, what a light show!
But the best episode in the first season is without a doubt “The Battle for Rock Mountain”. Tim’s attempt to make a comic for the school time capsule creatively uses superhero culture to explain the rock cycle. Each student makes their own comic book character that represents a part of the rock cycle and work together to write the comic in their attempt to make their character the one that wins the battle. But the beauty of it is that because the rock cycle is a cycle, no one wins or loses, and the class is more than happy to agree on that. Also, the episode takes great care in reflecting aspects of the classmates in the comic book characters that they create, which was pretty great. Of course these episodes still suffer from everything else in the series, but I don’t blame some people for liking Rides Again if they can overlook these flaws during the show’s best moments.
But The Show Wasn’t Created With You In Mind, So Why Did You Even Write This?
I’m sorry, but this has got to be the most ridiculous argument regarding criticizing this show that I have ever heard in any such argument for proper children’s entertainment. First of all, I was a 2000’s kid. I didn’t even grow up with the original series in the 90’s, so you can’t use the whole “the fans of the original don’t matter” argument on me as well. Second of all, are you seriously telling me that Scholastic is just willing to throw the fans of the original series that cemented the reputation of this property under Fiona’s bus?
Even if they are, they couldn’t be making a bigger mistake. Entertainment companies shouldn’t reject the fanbases that they previously established and act like they don’t exist. They care about these properties just as much as the company does, and in many cases, more than the company does. Sure, these fans may not be children anymore, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have things to say about what should be done with these properties like I do, and ensure that the next generation of children get the same love, care and respect that they got when they were children. They gave us so much, so should it really be that hard for us to give them something like that in return, for our sake and our children’s sake?
I get it. You may view certain things from a different perspective, and depending on that perspective, Rides Again can come off as perfectly okay. And that’s what makes critiquing the show so tricky, because it’s not like it’s absolute trash. It gets away with being half the show its predecessor was, and that’s completely fine to some people. But it’s not, and I think that this is the main reason for our fighting. Yes, Rides Again has its moments, and succeeds in what it mainly set out to do: to update the franchise. But the negatives far outweigh the positives, making the positives mostly not worth it. The long story short is that it pales in comparison to the original, even bringing it down to its level. It’s unacceptable for a franchise like this, and our children deserve better.
Whew! That was something, wasn’t it? The bulk of this monumental task is done, and I can only hope I made you realize our differences and the things we can agree on to stop fighting each other. Fortunately, there is always light at the end of even the darkest tunnels, and that means we can always look to the future for hope. Who’s to blame for the travesty of our fighting? Can Rides Again improve, considering a second season that’s somewhat improved over the first? Or is it for the best that it ends before it gets more episodes than it deserves? And what could possibly be next for the franchise to repair the damage that’s been made once that happens? The final part of this post will be an interesting one indeed, and I think many of us will be more than happy to tread back into more hopeful territory for the franchise that needs it.
Maybe Valerie didn’t take that lip-shaped speakerphone after all. Until I use it to call you back again, folks. 😉