This episode undoubtedly takes the prize for the greatest number of people out of character at the same time.
The teaser opens with a surprisingly aardvarky-looking aardvark dressed in Fred Flintstone attire worriedly glancing at darkening skies whilst trying to start a fire in the mouth of his cave.
Actually the fire bow/drill technology is pretty advanced for a Neanderthal aardvark
Somebody's pushing evolution these days... surprised there aren't complaints ;) -- For more cave-varks, see also:
Meanwhile, Arthur is talking:
Arthur: Ever since the beginning of time people have been trying to conquer darkness...The cave aardvarks efforts finally succeed and he heaves a sigh of relief. Unfortunately a gust of wind blows the flame out.
- The scene switches to a shot of a medieval village street full of strangely jovial looking peasants bearing torches. A sudden cloudburst extinguishes them.
- Next comes gas lamps in what looks like Victorian England. Onlookers look on as a lamplighter lights the lamp. Just as quickly a gust of wind blows it out.
Yes, Arthur tells us, gas lamps had their problems.
Now it's the 19th century. Time for a visit to Thomas Edison.
Patron Saint of Elwood City judging by the number of times he's been referenced over the seasons...
Mr. Edison is inventing the incandescent lamp. It looks to be in remarkably modern form and Mr. Edison asks some minor assistance from Arthur to light it. Eureka! It works! Arthur suggests calling it the lightbulb but Edison has lost interest, he's off to invent the electric motor.
Now cities could be lit for hours, even all night. With all this is there any reason anyone should be afraid of the dark? Arthur asks us.
Suddenly we see DW approaching a large main power switch. She pulls it, plunging the screen in darkness. Arthur screams.
"Someone turn on the light!"
- * * The Cave * * *
The title card is: Arthur's-running-a-race-and-he's-passed-by-everyone-so-he-cheats-by-jumping-on-the-back-of-DW's-tricycle.
The episode finally opens at school. Ratburn is asking if there is any truth to the phrase "as blind as a bat" He calls on Arthur. Arthur stammers, fooling with his glasses before guessing "No."
This is the correct answer but Brain decides to elaborate.
Thanks, Brain, guess we're all going to learn something now.
There has never been a report of a bat that cannot see.
Ratburn is pleased with this and proceeds to set the scene. Tomorrow they will be bringing in their cave replicas. (cue panicked look from Buster) and at the end of the week they will be visiting a real cave.
Now, forgive me for trying to tell a teacher like Ratburn what to do, but I'd think it might make more sense to have the kids visit the cave, then make their dioramas. You'll find out why soon.
This opens up a class conversation in which we learn more facts about caves that will have nothing to do with the plot of the story. Everyone is looking forward to the experience except Muffy who has minor reservations about cleanliness. Arthur backs her up with concerns about bats being a little creepy.
- * *
At home around the dinner table, Arthur's parents aren't exactly helpful at reassuring their son about going into a cave. DW picks up on it and dives into tormenting Arthur. Having a very simplistic view of the nature of caves she declares Arthur a scaredy-cat and teases him.
Ignoring DW's out-of-control behavior Arthur's Dad tells us about his own childhood in which he was afraid to go down into his grandparent's cellar. To alleviate his fears he would whistle a familiar tune.
During the story we see him, dressed very much like Arthur, creeping down steep wooden stairs to retrieve a jar of something. He hurriedly whistles "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" as he dashes up the stairs. Arthur's Mom is touched by the story. She never knew that. Dad says there was no need, now he has D.W. to protect him.
After dinner Arthur goes to his room to work on his cave replica while DW continues to plague him. She's pretending to be a bat, speaking in her spooky voice from #10402 - "Arthur's Lost Library Book". Arthur is not impressed with her and sends her out of the room.
- * *
Another example of 5th season regression syndrome.
Meanwhile it's time for Ratburn to inspect the models. Arthur is first.
"Nice bats" Ratburn approves.
- Buster's effort is a hollowed out mound of spray can cheese.
- Muffy's offering is what you would expect if Mattel came out with Cave-girl Barbie, (except the moss covering would be pink instead of green) Ratburn thinks the Jacuzzi is a bit much.
- Binky has a cornucopia-shaped construction of clay eimbedded with rocks and inhabited by frightened-looking plastic chickens.
- Brain's creation draws the greatest attention. He's even fashioned a pulley system to cause model bats to appear to fly about inside and a black-light lighting system (all in a shoebox).
Well, apart from Arthur's, and Brain's, natch, the cave dioramas are all dumb. What was the point?
He asks for the lights to be switched off and the shades drawn to most effectively display his model. Ratburn hesitantly agrees and seems strangely in a hurry to get the lights back on again when the presentation is over.
- * *
Back at home D.W. is like a dog with a bone tormenting Arthur. Now she hides in a closet and calls for help. Arthur, running to rescue her is met with her leaping out dressed as a vampire. He's still not impressed. She's irritated she can't get more of a reaction.
Next morning, it's time to go to the cave, which is at a State Park, "Palisades Park".
Gee, short week!
The guide is instructing them on what to expect in the cave. He looks like a gopher, which would make sense. Palisades Park looks like Utah.
I believe this is, as seen in the show, a fictional place. There are several Clark caves in the USA, all named after Lewis and Clark and therefor all west of the Mississippi. Palisades Park may be a reference to a long beloved amusement park that was in New Jersey until 1971. Freddy Cannon sang a song about it...
He sure did. I think it was in 1962, not that I was around at the time...
Last night, I took a walk after dark, A swinging place called "Palisades Park", I went there, to see what I could see... That's where the girls are... He goes on and on... He eats a hot dog, dances, goes on various rides, etc.
...You'll never know how great a kiss can feel, When you're stopped at the top of a Ferris wheel... The song is fairly short, but that's not unusual for songs at the time. Sheesh, now I feel like Brain myself. :)
The name "Palisades Park" was probably the most amusing thing to me in this episode, on par with the "Augean Stables" in #20502 - "Francine Frensky, Olympic Rider".
With a final admonishment of "Leave only footprints and take only pictures" Gopher guide is ready to take "Group A" down.
- and Ratburn.
("A" as in A-list... All the marketable kids get to be in the "A" group, everyone else gets stuck in a different group, I guess. Wonder who's supervising them?
That strict "leave only footprints and take only pictures" policy probably is now enforced state-wide as a result of Buster's naughtiness in #10302 - "Buster's Dino Dilemma". Seeing as how Buster now takes whatever he wants as a matter of course, as in #50202 - "Nerves of Steal", that park ranger/warden/whatever had better keep an eye on "Group A". Wouldn't want anyone going home with a bat in their pocket or something. :)
- * *
There are several different shots of them walking through generic cave surrounding, all on level ground.
The people animating this were either not in a creative mood or have not been in a cave personally.
At one point Muffy is spooked by some dripping water but Arthur assures her it's okay.
The guide stops to inform them that they are about to pass through a narrow passage. (Even the narrowest of narrow passages in this cave seem wide enough to drive a truck through) Then they will be able to view a room called "Bat's Basement".
I don't know who comes up with names for cave parts, but that's fairly typical. There's a cave in Ontario with a narrow passage called "Fat Man's Misery".
As they reach the room Muffy squeals and points out a colony of bat's roosting absolutely still no less than 30 ft. above them. Despite this Ratburn and Francine are suddenly motivated to panic hysterically and began to scream and gibber. This disturbs the bats which panic as well, making a hasty exit.
Brain reminds Ratburn that bats are harmless. Francine asks what about Vampire bats? They aren't harmless. Well, true, Brain reluctantly concedes, but these aren't Vampire bats. Francine wants to know how he knows. Brain's brain apparently stalls at that point and the guide takes over with a not-very-reassuring "Trust me, I know." He suggests everyone calm down and he will lead them all back out.
Arthur, watching a drop of water falling from the roof of the cave envisions his dad's face telling his childhood tale. Arthur suggests they all whistle a comforting tune to asure themselves.
The only thing that would have made this even more heartwarming and precious would have been if Arthur envisioned his Dad's face in someone's falling tear. Bleck.
They all begin to whistle "Row Row Your Boat" and start moving again.
Apparently it's pretty hard to draw a normally lipless aardvark whistling. The result is pretty funny looking.
- * *
Once outside Ratburn apologizes to the guide for his behavior and thanks Arthur for his whistling idea. Francine on the other hand denies having been that frightened. Surprise! Binky has photographic evidence to the contrary. He shows Polaroids of Francine in particularly stupid looking moments.
Everyone laughs at Francine.
Guess we didn't learn anything after all...
Francine asserts she will pulverize Binky for this and the two of them go chasing off.
That will be some bus ride home for the class, I imagine. Given that the show tends to move with the times, Binky goes home and posts the pictures on the WWW.
This episode was inevitable. Caves are one of those things that it seems the educational powers to be believe every child must learn about. However, the inexpertly handled educational baggage in this episode was frustrating. This is Arthur, not the Magic School Bus. Educational content should be woven into the story line and information not connected to the plot should be left out. I guess I should at least be happy they didn't go into the difference between stalagmites and stalactites.
It's hard to imagine Mr. Ratburn being prone to panic attacks, nor is the behavior he exhibits really consistent with panic attack behavior. Panic attacks can be brought on in normally non-prone people during periods of extreme stress but are more often the result of post-traumatic stress disorder. To really explain Mr. Ratburn's shocking behavior we must postulate that he is either currently going through some sort of serious personal problems off screen or suffered some childhood event such as being locked in a closet or falling down a storm drain.
Given that he's a rat, you might expect he'd be used to the dark, caves, etc. Oops, sorry, that was species-ist. Sorry for being insensitive.
It would have made sense to have Ratburn's fear come up in discussion in #20702 - "Night Fright", where the topic was fears... Binky was afraid of the dark in that episode, but I guess he's over that now.
Myself, I would have liked to have seen more time spent in the cave itself. My jr. high school (that did lots of foolhardy things with us) took us into a very undeveloped cave and kept us there for 48 hours. It was pretty rough, we spent the entire time wet, cold and many times bruised. Flashlight batteries were about gone in 12 hours and we had only carbide headlamps. We had to pack all our supplies in ourselves and alternately climb/rapel. Most of the bats we saw were dead. Imagine Arthur and crew in this situation. It would have been a lot more interesting than visiting the land of "it's not nice to tease". And even a lot more educational.
For an episode entitled "The Cave", about only 1/6th of the episode was actually spent there. By time the writers had set up the scene and unloaded all the educational information they were obligated to impart, there was no time left for a satisfying story.
This has become something of a syndrome in season 5. As a result the stories are becoming shallower and shallower. The quality of character development and interaction degraded.
My suggestion would be to abandon the 12 minute timeframe in order to produce longer, more well developed stories with more meaningful character interaction. It might not quite make up for only getting ten new episodes a season, but it could be a start.
Quick, when was the last time Francine was going to "pulverize" someone specifically? Fairly sure it's #11601 - "Arthur and the Crunch Cereal Contest". Someone must have had Season 1 lying around when they were brainstorming this episode.