The Magic School Bus Gets Lost in Space
For the first time ever (unless you've read the books beforehand), we enter Ms. Frizzle's classroom as the students are building a model solar system. It also just so happens that they have a visitor: Arnold's cousin Janet, who brags that her class—having already studied the solar system—made an even bigger solar system model and shows off her knowledge of the planets. Dorothy Ann then asks Janet why—if she knows so much about the solar system—she is visiting their class, to which she replies that she wants to see these "field trips" Arnold told her about; he said that their field trips were "highly unusual", to which she responded with "Prove it".
At that point, Ms. Frizzle herself enters the room, wearing a funky space-themed dress and wearing a small model solar system around her head, which mystifies Janet. Not wasting any time, Ms. Frizzle decides to take the class on a field trip, and Janet reminds Arnold that this is his chance to "prove it".
While in the school bus, Arnold wonders what Ms. Frizzle has up her sleeve, and lists off field trips that they have already gone on (incidently, he lists off trips that would not happen until several episodes later, implying that this is not the first episode in canon). However, Janet is unimpressed that Ms. Frizzle is taking them to a planetarium, and Arnold is shocked that she is taking them on a "normal" field trip, which he deems as unusual itself. However, Ms. Frizzle appears to have other plans...
The planetarium ends up being closed that day, and Ms. Frizzle states that she's taking the class back the school, to the dismay of everyone on the bus. Janet then starts to gloat about her teacher and how she would not have made the same mistake as Ms. Frizzle did, because her teacher is a "zillion times" better than Ms. Frizzle; an angered Arnold refutes this, to which she responds with "Oh yeah? Prove it."
Arnold has had enough. He orders the bus stopped and stomps to the front of the bus to ask Ms. Frizzle if there is another place to take them, the "big" planetarium. Of course, Ms. Frizzle gets what he is saying right away (or perhaps she expected this), and for the first time to the viewers, displays why it's called the "Magic School Bus": it transforms into a space shuttle (and putting everyone on board into space suits in the process) and launches into outer space, which finally impresses Janet.
The class has fun floating around in their now gravity-less bus, as Ms. Frizzle pulls down a monitor that displays the map of the solar system and heads to the Sun. They ride around the Sun (wearing protective goggles, of course) as Ms. Frizzle answers Keesha's question about how many Earths would fit in the Sun: over a million.
With that done, they head to Mercury, with Janet relishing in the idea of being the envy of her class once she tells them of this trip. They land on Mercury, where they bounce around due to it having less gravity than on Earth. As they bounce along, Janet shows off her prowess with jumping and says that she intends to tell her class that she excelled at jumping on Mercury as well, to which Carlos and Dorothy Ann say that her class will ask her to "prove it", which gets Janet thinking...
The class examines the craters and make note of Mercury's extreme temperatures and lack of air. Janet examines a meteorite as the class moves on with Carlos' first joke of the series.
Meanwhile, Janet takes out a shovel and digs for a meteorite, which she takes as proof.
Moving on, the class heads to Venus, the second planet. The class are awed by Venus' clouds as they touch down on the planet, and they discover that Venus has more-or-less the same amount of gravity as Earth, meaning that they can't bounce around like they could on Mercury. Janet takes Arnold along with her quest for proof, as the class make note of the clouds again. Wanda expects rain to cool things down, but Ms. Frizzle notes that in those clouds is not water but sulfuric acid. The class is a bit worried, but Ms. Frizzle assures them that they are perfectly safe in their suitsnote ; Janet and Arnold meanwhile lug back a bunch of rocks and store them on the bus.
They briefly fly by Earth, and stress how it can support life, before they move on to Mars, the fourth planet. Janet shows off again (this time complemented by Ms. Frizzle), to the annoyance of the rest of the class. They examine the planet's landscape colored red by iron, and its icy cliffs. As the rest of the class climbs said cliffs, Janet once again takes Arnold off to find more proof that she had been in space, and Arnold for the first time says his catch phrase (or at least, a variation of it): "Maybe I should have stayed home today."
The class makes it to the top of the cliff, and as Keesha wonders if Mars could have supported life if its environment was different, Ms. Frizzle leaps off of the cliff while delivering an ice cream pun.
The class follow after her, due to Mars having less gravity than Venus and Earth, their falls are relatively safe. Meanwhile, Arnold piles ice blocks into the bus—which is starting to feel the weight of all of the junk Janet is gathering—before Janet tells him to gather red dust. Back with the rest of the class, Ralphie wonder why they have yet to see any aliens, before they spot a strange shadow in the Martian dust. They freak out, before discovering that it's just Arnold and the bar and buckets that he is carrying.
Leaving Mars, the class reaches the Asteroid Belt, where the bus starts to have problems. Janet is proud of her stockpile so far, as the class turns their attention to the asteroids flying by outside. As Janet muses over taking an asteroid for herself, the bus is soon struck by one, which knocks out the bus' map, effectively stranding them in outer space (despite the fact that they have essentially been traveling in a straight line).
Ms. Frizzle and Liz step outside of the bus to try to repair the damage, joined by Janet, who soon spots her ideal asteroid and goes off after it. Half of the map returns to the monitor, before Ms. Frizzle's work is interrupted by Janet pulling in her asteroid, which hits the bus; Ms. Frizzle and Liz escape in the nick of time and then fly off deeper into the solar system, leaving behind her worried class (though she does not seem too concerned about it).
Back on the bus, Ms. Frizzle contacts the class and reassures them that she is still with them, and encourages them to visit the rest of the planets and find her, filling out the rest of the map along the way.
Continuing their trip, they head to Jupiter, the fifth planet and the first of the Gas Giants. As Janet desires to take some of the gas from the Great Red Spot, Ms. Frizzle contacts the class again to tell them that she is not in Jupiter. However, Janet takes the bus into the planet's atmosphere to take some of the gas that she wants, annoying the class greatly. As the class begins to tattle on Janet to Ms. Frizzle, she tells the class that she is on a planet that is very dark and cold, so the class still has a ways to go before finding her.
Next, class reaches Saturn, the sixth planet, and are awed by its magnificent rings. Janet and Carlos get into a brief argument about going into Saturn, before Ms. Frizzle contacts the class again and mentions that she can see the stars, which eliminates Saturn as her location due to its thick gas clouds. The class then comes to the seventh planet: Uranus. Janet displays her knowledge of the planet, but by now she has been bound by not only a seatbelt but by Arnold sitting on top of her at Wanda's insistence to control her.
They leave Uranus after realizing that it too is very cloudy, but not before Janet whines that she needs proof, which the class disregards. They fly to the eighth planet: Neptune, which is Janet's favorite planet and thus she is especially insistent that she gets her proof of visiting it. However, the class quickly deduces that it—like the three planets before it—is too cloudy for Ms. Frizzle to see any stars and thus leave it behind, prompting Janet to give a Big "NO!" in response.
With eight planets down, the class wonders where to go next. After finally breaking from Arnold's restraint, Janet tells them that there is one planet left: Pluto.
Pluto is certainly cold and dark, and after a brief search, the class finally finds their beloved teacher, looking at the stars through a telescope. Ms. Frizzle points out the Sun, which is now no bigger than a star at Pluto's distance and explains why Pluto is so cold and dark. The bus then drives to the class, with Janet having stuffed the bus to over capacity with her proof, and as a result, everything spills out of it. Janet then goes into full stubborn mode: she refuses to leave without her proof, and Arnold refuses to leave without her. Janet insists that without her proof, no one will believe her, but Arnold says and he and his class will believe her, which is not enough for her.
And now, for the scene that gave many a child nightmares: Arnold gets fed up with her stubbornness and—despite Janet's pleading of him to not do it—removes his helmet to show her proof of what would happen if she stayed there. Arnold's head freezes solid and he almost dies, which completely horrifies Janet and immediately convinces her to head back to Earth, leaving behind her proof on the lonely Pluto.
Back in the classroom, Arnold is revealed to have only gotten a cold from the ordeal. Janet though is grateful that he brought her to her senses and declares that she does not need proof—the field trip was amazing itself, and anyone who does not believe her, well, that's their problem. As the class congratulates Janet on her new mindset, the PA system seemingly comes on with a news announcement that scientists have made contact with alien life. However, Liz quickly reveals that this is merely a prank being pulled by Ralphie. Ms. Frizzle states that her class is "out of this world", and everyone laughs.
- The producer acknowledges that the bus would make a bad space craft, and the caller accepts it only because it's called a magic school bus.
- All of the planets being visited in the span of a single school day. The producer states that if it was done in real time, the caller would have been an adult (and then some) by the time the class reached Pluto.
- At the time of the show's airing (and to an extent, even today at the time of writing), no one knows what Pluto's surface looks like.
- At the time of the show's airing, Pluto was actually closer to the Sun than Neptune, due to the former's elongated orbit that sometimes takes it inside Neptune's orbit.
- Stresses that you should not look directly at the Sun without proper eye protection.
- Calls attention to why the class was floating in the bus sometimes due to lack of gravity, and at other times were walking normally. The producer acknowledges that they screwed up.
- Points out how all the planets were lined up in a row, the chances of which happening in real life are so low that it's almost impossible to happen. The producer mentions that it makes it easier to keep track of them all for the sake of education.
- Points out how no one should ever remove their helmet while on Pluto (or for that matter, in space or any planet hostile to Earth-based life), because they'd end up with much worse than a cold.
The caller then gets to the point of the call: they're still waiting for someone to clean up the mess that someone made on their planet. Both the producer and Liz are stunned at this revelation.
- Adaptational Villainy: In the book, Janet didn't have an obsessive quest to collect stuff from every planet; she was just tagging along and Ms. Frizzle got separated from the class by pure accident. Janet not only takes charge of the bus and Ms. Frizzle's notes, but she also finds instructions to override the autopilot, which allows the bus to turn around and pick up Ms. Frizzle.
- Aliens - Comes up a few times in the episode.
- Ralphie asks Janet about aliens in the solar system, to which she replies that Earth is the only planet that can support life.
- The class fears that they have encountered an alien on Mars, due to their poor vision through the Martian dust they knocked up. It was actually just Arnold carrying buckets of Martian Dust.
- At the end of the episode, Ralphie pranks the class into thinking that scientists have made contact with an alien complaining about the mess left on Pluto.
- In the Producers Segment, the caller is heavily implied to be said alien.
- And I Must Scream:
- Arnold takes off his helmet on Pluto, so that, as the Producers segment describes, his head becomes "a block of ice"! Janet has to carry him into the ship to get him back to Earth.
- Apologetic Attacker: Arnold apologizes for sitting on top of Janet to keep her from collecting more stuff from the 'gas planets,' but he has to make sure she doesn't endanger everyone on the ship.
- Artistic License Astronomy - Several, some of which were pointed out in the Producers Segment:
- Asteroid Thicket - Asteroids are actually very far apart and it is rare that a spacecraft would encounter even a single one while traveling through the belt. This is not addressed in the Producer's Segment.
- Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale - The solar system is far too big to travel in the span of one school day, as addressed by the Producer. However, as seen with this accurate scale, it would take far more time to accurately show how far the planets really are from each other. File this under Acceptable Breaks from Reality.
- Also addressed by the Producer is that all the planets are rarely ever aligned with each other. Another case of Acceptable Breaks from Reality.
- Subverted when the caller points out that there are alternating scenes of the kids floating on the Space Bus and then walking around normally. The Producer asks if A Wizard Did It counts, but the caller rejects it.
- Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: Janet's moment of this in the asteroid thicket causes Ms. Frizzle and Liz to zoom off into space.
- To clarify, she goes out to help Ms. Frizzle repair the map, handing her tools. Then she sees an asteroid and abandons Ms. Frizzle and Liz to lasso a space rock. Because of her actions, the asteroid nearly crashes into Ms. Frizzle, and Liz has to operate the teacher's rocket boots to zoom both of them to "safety" . . . and lose contact with the bus. Janet only doesn't get called out on this because no one in the ship saw her moment of weakness.
- Berserk Button: Do NOT insult Ms. Frizzle in Arnold's presence!
- Brake Angrily: Early in the episode, Arnold gets sick of Janet insulting Ms. Frizzle to his face, culminating in an aborted trip to the planetarium. Arnold calls for a bus stopdown, and asks to go someplace else. The next thing you know, the school bus is launched into space.
- Janet: "Prove it."
- And Arnold gets two variations of his "should have stayed home today" quip at two different points in the episode.
- Chekhov's Skill: Much to the other classmates' chagrin, they have to use Janet as a navigator when Ms. Frizzle gets lost in space, because she's the only one who has studied up on the planets. Even worse, Janet wants to take detours at different planets to collect more stuff.
- Driven to Suicide: Arnold gets fed up with his cousin Janet and takes off his helmet on Pluto to show what would happen if she stayed with her "proof," his head freezing over into ice. Janet is horrified and takes the frozen Arnold back onto the bus before he can die, leaving behind her proof.
- Early Installment Weirdness - This episode features Janet as a protagonist. D.A., Tim, Ralphie, Arnold and Keesha don't use their catchphrases. Phoebe only gets "On my old planet, I couldn't jump so high." Carlos doesn't get a First Name Ultimatum. Arnold and Janet's personalities are shown in full, but while D.A.'s intelligence, Ralphie's Agent Mulder tendencies and Wanda's determination are hinted at, the non-Perlstein kids are basically wallpaper. The relationship dynamics between the kids (beyond the fact that everybody hates Janet) aren't explored and the plot is more episodic than usual. By the next episode, "For Lunch," the tone had switched, all of the kids' abilities, personalities, catchphrases, and relationships explored or at least hinted at.
- Heck, even Arnold asks Ms. Frizzle for the field trip!
- Everybody Laughs Ending
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: If you do the math, you'll find that this is necessary just to get to Pluto and back in a single school day, even without the side trips to Mercury and Venus or stopping at any of the other planets.
- Harmless Freezing: Arnold's head is frozen completely solid, and he only gets a cold from the ordeal. Count the number of things wrong with that. Lampshaded by the Producer and the caller.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Arnold takes off his helmet on Pluto so that Janet will abandon her "proof" since she can't carry it on the bus and return to Earth and his head turns into a block of ice onscreen. He said it was to show what would happen if she stayed on Pluto.
- Hypocritical Heartwarming: One of Arnold's character traits. He may not like Ms. Frizzle's field trips going to wild places, but he will not tolerate anyone, even his own cousin, saying that their teacher is better.Arnold Nobody is better than Ms. Frizzle!
- Insufferable Genius: Janet, as we are constantly reminded.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Arnold claims that Janet is this, but she only proves it at the end of the episode.
- Never Say "Die": The Producer and the caller make it all too clear what would really happen if you removed your helmet on Pluto, but without actually saying the words "die" or "death".
- However, this is averted in the episode itself when Ms. Frizzle describes the sulfuric acid in Venus' clouds as "a deadly poison".
- Never My Fault: Janet refuses to take responsibility for driving the space bus through Jupiter's red spot, saying that she needed it to prove they went past Jupiter. Never mind the fact that the bus could have crashed and everyone could have died.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!:
- Arnold's Hypocritical Heartwarming leads to yet another dangerous field trip.
- Yes, Janet technically is the hero here, given she drives a lot of the action and most of the plot centers around her. Her quest to "find proof" not only causes Ms. Frizzle to get separated from the class in the asteroid belt, but she clutters the bus with everything she picks up. When the bus can't hold all of it, she's willing to stay on Pluto than go back with no proof. Arnold has to pull a Heroic Sacrifice to knock some sense back into her.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Arnold hates field trips, but he hates his cousin insulting Ms. Frizzle more when the planetarium is closed. When Janet tries, the class knows something is up when he asks Ms. Frizzle to go to the "big" planetarium in the sky.
- Planetville: The kids find the Friz rather quickly after arriving on Pluto. Yes, Pluto is tiny in astronomical terms (too tiny to be a planet, as it turns out), but it's still huge on a human scale. The surface area of Pluto is roughly the same as that of Russia. Try searching all of Russia for one person. Granted, it would be easier with Pluto since it lacks foliage, buildings, and a human population to blend in with, but still.
- Scary Shadow Fakeout: When the class thinks that they have encountered an alien on Mars; it's actually Arnold, hidden behind the Martian dust.
- Title Drop - After the class loses their map, they cry that they are "lost in space".
- Too Dumb to Live: If this was real life, Arnold would've suffocated on Pluto by taking off his helmet!
- Unexplained Recovery: After his head becomes a block of ice, somehow after getting back to Earth Arnold only has a cold.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: If it were not for Carlos and Dorothy Ann teasing Janet about proof while on Mercury, Janet would have likely not gotten the idea to gather her stellar stockpile, which in turn would have prevented the many complications in this episode from happening.
- Villain Episode: And it's the series premiere, too!
- Walk Through The Camera: When Arnold is walking to the front of the bus after being angered by Janet early in the episode. The camera focuses on the front of his pants as it approaches, and then cuts to the back as he walks the rest of the way to Ms. Frizzle.
- Welcome Episode
- We Need to Get Proof: This becomes Janet's obsession during the episode, to show she traveled to outer space; see Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!.
- What the Hell, Hero?: The class says one thing in unison after they barely escape Jupiter's red spot: "JANET!" Wanda then puts Arnold in charge of keeping Janet from collecting stuff, a task he takes to readily.