The Magic Shool Bus – 313, “The Family Holiday Special”

So I’m writing this recap in March, and I’m not sure if so far my blog has just been Boy Meets World or if I’ve branched out yet. So maybe you’re wondering, “Why a Magic School Bus recap? And why of a Christmas episode? In July?”

Why not? I love Christmas. And The Magic School Bus is an awesome show. And Christmas in July has been a thing for a while. A thing I fully endorse. Well now… enjoy some holiday and recycling-related shenanigans!

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Ah, well, first, if you’ve never heard of The Magic School Bus, it’s a children’s educational book series-turned television series where a crazy-awesome teacher (voiced by Lily Tomlin) takes her students on awesome adventures to learn about science, with the help of a magic school bus. Both book and tv series are notable, I think, for having a portion dedicated to explaining that they altered some of the science-y stuff – for instance, shortening the length of time it takes to do something, or only featuring three spiders when there are obviously more than three types of spiders on the planet – so that it would easily fit into the running time of the show (or length of the book), or so that they could actually show what was going on (for instance, portraying the digestive system as being well-lit so we could see what was going on). It was one of my favorite books AND shows growing up, and I think the series still holds up really well today.

So with THAT out of the way:

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We begin with a performance of perennial Christmas favorite, “The Nutcracker”, being seen by Wanda. Before you can say “Wait, I thought this show as about sciencey things”, Ralphie’s insistent calls of “Wanda!” break Wanda away from what was apparently a fantasy sequence.

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The class is sorting recycling – a boatload of recycling, my goodness – on the last day of class before winter break. All the other kids are pretty enthusiastic about it, but Wanda is pretty unhappy. She wishes they could just dump off all the recycling at the plant without sorting it, so she could go home already. Apparently this whole thing was the idea of Arnold ‘I Knew I Should’ve Stayed Home Today’ Perlstein, but Arnold hasn’t shown up yet, despite this being presumably at the end of the school day. There’s not really an explanation for why they need Arnold to show up before they can leave with the recycling anyway, but maybe he’s just the only one who knows where the recycling plant is, which is a plausible excuse for 3rd (4th??) graders.

Wanda almost lets it slip that the thing she doesn’t want to be late for is the ballet, but everyone else in class pretty much forces her to tell them what she’s talking about anyway. No one laughs at her when they find out she’s going to the ballet, but they do seem to find this hilariously unbelievable. But Wanda’s pretty excited. She’s waited to see this all year long, and you don’t even need a ticket to see the show – you just donate a toy to get in. That’s pretty cool, why don’t actual plays and ballets do this more often? Like they could have special performances where you donate a toy or food to get in, and still have some performances where you have to actually buy a ticket so they don’t all end up working for free or anything.

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The toy Wanda is donating is a tin soldier she’s had ever since she was little – although she’s saying this as an 8 year old so I don’t know how long she was supposed to have had that thing – and she hopes whoever gets the soldier will love it as much as she has. Someone then says something about recycling, and then:

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Why is there a picture of a moose on that mini refrigerator?

Gosh. How long was Ms. Frizzle waiting in there? I can’t imagine her crouched down, getting aluminum cans tossed on top of her, thinking “Oh yeah, I’m gonna surprise those kids SO much!”

Arnold finally arrives, saying he had to take care of some stuff at home. He brought more recycling, including a plastic ladle, which is something I never really thought of as recyclable – I’ll have to check if my ladles have that recycle symbol on them. All the kids are glad he’s finally here, because they’re just about finished sorting everything, and Wanda has to hoof it to go home. I think it’s actually really great of these kids that they’re staying to do all this on the last day of school before winter break, when it doesn’t seem to be required or anything, when they could easily just say they have to leave to go out to down or see the ballet or whatever. Even though they all have plans, they’re all there, sorting recycling, because it’s a nice thing to do.

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Wanda, being headstrong and impatient, commands everyone to start loading up the bus so they can take their recycling to the plant. She bumps into Arnold and finds he has some giant rock in his pocket. Actually, it’s a geode, and Arnold’s mom gave it to him as an early Hannukah present, since they won’t see each other that night. Wanda sincerely thinks it’s really cool, and after she walks away with the recycling, Arnold blushes. I think when I was a kid I always paired Phoebe and Arnold together (“shipping” is what the kids are calling it these days), but rewatching the show as an adult, I totally see Arnold and Wanda working together. Of course, I feel awkward saying that, since they’re only 8 or 9 years old.

Everyone heads out with their recycling, with Arnold lagging behind. He mutters to himself that Wanda really liked the rock, so he wraps it up – I mean he puts it on a piece of paper, moves his hand slightly and it’s completely wrapped up, including having a bow. He puts the thing in his backpack and spots Wanda’s soldier. Thinking it’s another thing to be recycled that everyone must’ve missed, he puts it in his recycling bin and heads out to the bus.

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En route to the recycling center, the kids sing a recycling-themed version of “The 12 Days of Christmas”. Thankfully they start with the 12th day instead of singing the whole thing, probably because ain’t nobody got time for that. So, “On my twelfth day recycling, my teacher gave to me: 12 plastic cartons, 11 ketchup bottles, 10 soap containers, 9 piles of paper, 8 empty milk jugs, 7 cardboard boxes, 6 paper napkins, 5 soda caaaaaaaaaaans, 4 bottle caps, 3 used cups, 2 plastic bags, and a whole mess of magazines.” I’m pretty sure you aren’t allowed to recycle used paper napkins, though. You’re supposed to compost them or put them in the trash.

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The kids arrive at the recycling center, and aren’t sure what to do, until the center’s one and only employee – I guess – shows up in a forklift. She turns out to be Ms. Frizzle’s cousin, “Murph” (her last name is Murphy), and she’s voiced by Dolly Parton. She’s also really enthusiastic about recycling and says things like “without junk, I’m sunk!”

Wanda just wants to know where they dump everything, and Murph tells them in what at first sounds like it’s going to turn into a full-on rap number, but only turns into 4 rhyming lines with a funky back beat. Everyone gets headphone/earmuff/whatevers, for a reason that’s not immediately clear, and everyone goes to the proper place to pour out their recycling.

Arnold tells Wanda that things are going so smoothly, she’ll definitely make it to her ballet on time. He says this as Wanda’s soldier is dumped into the bin.

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She just sort of points to it and stammers and tries to ask Arnold if that’s her soldier, instead of, I don’t know, just picking it up out of the bin? Well, this logic eludes her, and giant mechanical arms pick up the big bin. Wanda calls out to Murph, trying to tell her to stop, but Murph has on headphones too. You know, it seems like a really bad idea to have a bunch of 8 year olds, all wearing noise-blocking headphones, running around a potentially dangerous recycling plant that’s currently operating with them all standing around the floor.

Ah, well. The recycling plant works in an accelerated and fanciful manner, full of automated robot arms and a giant washing machine, and Wanda’s soldier, and thus her ticket in to see the ballet, is turned into a bunch of plastic pellets.

Wanda is confused, saying she thought recycling meant stuff got cleaned up and turned into new things, not stupid plastic pellets. Carlos and Keisha chime in, saying they were under that impression as well, and they don’t understand what good little plastic pellets are.

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Before we get an explanation for that, Arnold apologizes to Wanda. The soldier was on the floor, he didn’t know it was hers, and he had a lot on his mind. Wanda doesn’t blame Arnold, though. She blames his “crummy idea” instead. Wanda wonders what the point of recycling is anyway. If it hadn’t been for recycling, she would still have her soldier and would be on the way to the ballet right now. Ever-optimistic Phoebe tells her there are plenty of good things about recycling. When Wanda tells her to name three, Phoebe can’t come up with anything specifics, she just knows there are a lot of good things about it. Wanda then wishes recycling had never been invented, and before you can say “No springs!”, Frizzle and Murph have Liz (the Lizard) activate a “no recycling” ray.

They then drive through town, zapping everything recycling had a hand in, set to one of the tunes from The Nutcracker (forgive me, I’m not sure which one).

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Keisha says that they use recycled paper to make newspapers, with Carlos pointing out that if there is no recycling, they have to cut down more trees for the newspapers (since they can’t recycle old ones because… NO SPRINGS, er, RECYCLING). Phoebe counts this as 1 good thing about recycling – it saves trees!

Wanda has a sudden burst of genius – if there’s no recycling and no recycling plant, that means her soldier is probably still at the school! Wanda is glad there is no recycling. One of the kids asks if there’s no recycling, why are there still blue recycling bins? So the bus zaps all the bins and the streets fill with garbage. Wanda doesn’t mind that, though, because the park is still okay. Except for one thing:

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Park and playground equipment tends to be made of recycled material! Oops. The kids all wonder what’s wrong with the bus, and I’m not really sure why. Ms. Frizzle wanted to show them a world without recycling, and that’s what the bus is doing. I think maybe they’re talking about how the bus seems to just be zapping things indiscriminately, without anyone asking “hey, what about the [whatever] if recycling doesn’t exist?”, but I’ve watched this episode a couple times and I’m still not sure.

Anyway, Wanda tries to head into the school for her soldier, when the school gets zapped by the ray and the schoolyard fills with garbage. The town dump is pretty small, and if everything is getting thrown out instead of recycled, they had to open up another dump somewhere, I guess, and what better place than where our young, growing minds go to learn?

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There’s an awful lot of stuff like mattresses and sinks and home appliances in that dump. Those aren’t really things you can take to a recycling center anyway. They do have special ways of recycling appliances, but I don’t know about sinks and mattresses. There’s actually only a small amount of stuff in that dump that would actually be there if recycling didn’t exist (like there’s a few boxes and some formless junk).

Tim calls “a lot less garbage” reason #2 for recycling. Arnold offers to look for Wanda’s soldier in the mess, but Wanda tells him he’ll never find the soldier in that mess. I was under the impression that the dump was just in the school yard, so the soldier would still be in the classroom, but… well I don’t know. Wanda says the ballet theatre has probably been turned into a dump too, and sobs about how she’s messed up everything, while pounding the bus. This sets off the “NO RECYCLING” ray, and it hits the bus this time.

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The kids wonder why the bus turned into a bunch of junk that don’t have to do with buses at all. Wanda thinks for a minute, and asks Frizz if the stuff the bus turned into was stuff people had recycled. Frizz tells her yes, and the kids conclude that the bus is made of recycled materials, like the playground. Carlos wants some specifics about how exactly the bus was made from this stuff, and the Frizz asks the kids if they have any ideas. That’s another great thing about this series – Ms. Frizzle always asks the kids first to think stuff out for themselves, and then further explains concepts to them after the kids have figured out the basics. So she’s not just telling everyone everything explicitly, and not telling them to figure everything out for themselves. She’s guiding them towards the right answer, and supplementing their knowledge.

So the kids figure it out: Glass bottles – glass windows. Aluminum cans – the bus’s body is made of aluminum. Phoebe doesn’t know what the plastic helps with, so Frizzle mentions the dashboard, the seats, the “do-dinger”, the port-a-shrinker, and other things that often aren’t on buses. So all the kids are enthusastic – they know what the bus is made of, so now they just have to make the bus out of the stuff! But Phoebe has to ask… exactly how do they make a bus out of bottles and cans? But Murph has the answer: melt it!

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And luckily, Frizzle has her “portable melt everything every time recycling vat” in her back pocket. She also has a bus mold back there. Then everyone sings a recycling-themed cover of Jingle Bells. Also it turns out Murphy has some portable recycling tools in her back pocket as well.

They rebuild the bus, and Wanda has learned the error of her ways. Without recycling, they’d never have been able to rebuild the bus – although if recycling had never actually existed, there’d be no reason the bus had been decycled in the first place – and recycling saves natural resources, and stuff.

Wanda asks Frizzle if they can undo what they undid, and with just a small adjustment, the decycling ray reverses. They drive back to the recycling plant, zapping everything along the way, while singing a recycling-themed version of “Here We Come A-wassailing”. It’s not clear if anyone along the way noticed the recycling-related changes to the stuff, such as the kids who were in the park when it got zapped both times.

They return to the newly restored recycling plant, and Arnold wonders, well, if they could make a new bus out of recycled pellets, why can’t they make a new toy soldier out of some pellets as well? Luckily, Murph just happens to have a handful of toy soldier molds on hand, as well as a toy painting machine.

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They make enough toy soldiers for all the kids in the span of about 10 seconds, and each soldier has part of Wanda’s old one in it, giving each soldier its own life. Arnold’s happy, and tells Wanda she can go to her ballet now. Wanda points out that everyone can go, because they all have their own toy to donate. But Arnold has to catch a train to visit his sick grandmother. His mother already went ahead, and he’s going with his father on the train that night, on the first night of Hannukah. Wanda feels bad for Arnold, but Arnold doesn’t really seem to care that much about being on a train for Hannukah.

He hands Wanda her knapsack – Arnold’s words, I’m not from a part of the continent that refers to backpacks as knapsacks – because she forgot it in the classroom. Wanda is disappointed Arnold can’t come, and his geode falls out of her bag. He left a note with the geode, saying he’s giving it to Wanda because she liked it, and he’s sorry for being late.

We then see Arnold on the train with his dad – who was voiced by Elliott Gould in an earlier episode, although he doesn’t say anything in this episode. Arnold looks at his toy soldier, turning it over in his hands, when he hears Dolly Parton – I mean, Murph – singing about a little yellow ladle – remember, Arnold brought in a ladle at the beginning of the episode? Well… we have a recycling-themed cover of The Dreidel Song here, this time specifically about a ladle.

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It turns out his classmates all decided to forgo the ballet, to… I don’t know. Visit Arnold’s grandmother? Were all their parents okay with this?

Wanda thanks Arnold for the rock, and gives him a present. It’s a bag of plastic pellets. He says “Plastic pellets, my favorite!” to which Wanda replies “They have so much potential.” Ooookay. Wanda then says that the funny thing about doing something nice is, it’s easy to recycle. The Muppet Family Christmas special has a song called “Pass It On” about this very same thing. Well, about how you recycle presents and love and whatever. It involves a yellow rock and not any actual recycling, though.

…Anyway, Murph sings a song that’s not a recycling-themed Christmas carol, but is recycling-themed Country gospel-ish song with the main theme of “what goes around, comes around again.”

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Murph takes care of the “Word from Our Producers” segment at the end of the episode. During this, we learn that recycling actually goes to several different factories before it’s made into something new, it’s not all done in one place like it was in this episode. It was also an exaggeration that they’d turn a school into a landfill, but they would need more space for garbage if there was no recycling. Also of note, glass makers have been recycling glass for 3000 years, and people have been recycling paper for hundreds of years. What’s new today, is that people are treating recycling like a business, and are always looking for new ways to recycle more material.

So, this wasn’t really much of a Holiday episode. This is a gripe I have with a lot of tv shows and movies. I feel that if you’re going to call something a “holiday special” or “Christmas movie” or whatever, it should be Christmasy. Let me explain. There’s a difference between a Christmas movie, and a movie set at Christmastime. A Christmas movie has the holiday season figure into the plot somehow. A movie set at Christmastime just has holiday decorations up in the background and people wearing heavy coats.

This episode was sort of in-between being an episode set at Christmastime and being an actual holiday special. The holidays did figure in to the plot, but only a little bit. Wanda could’ve been going to any event at another time of the year where you donate toys to get in, and it didn’t have to be the first night of Hanukkah, BUT it would’ve seemed out of place, I think, for there to be a ballet where you need to donate toys to needy children to get in during, say, March. And of course, there was a lot of singing in this episode. It was all recycling-themed, but mostly set to Christmas music, and as far as I’m concerned, anything that involves singing Christmas songs counts as being a holiday special.

It was really weird having a holiday special where we mostly learned about how you should recycle instead of just throwing things away, instead of about being generous and how your family is… whatever. But they did have stuff about being there for your friends, and passing good deeds on, and such.

I did learn a lot about recycling. I mean, I already a lot of stuff, but I did learn some things I didn’t know. Like that you can recycle plastic ladles.

So all-in-all, this was an episode on par with the rest of the series, if not a great holiday special. It did have Dolly Parton singing in it, which is always awesome.

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