Reader, Nigel Ratburn on the show Arthur married his sweetheart, a chocolatier named Patrick. What’s more, he and Patrick end the episode dancing together in pure bliss. They are together. As Francine Frensky says, “It’s a new world.”
I saw the episode. At least, I saw bits and pieces of it. Then I shook my head with a bit of joy. But the animation. Oh God, the animation.
Mr. Ratburn’s Origins
Marc Brown wrote the Arthur picture books, which is where we first meet Mr. Ratburn in Arthur’s Teacher Trouble. The kids complain how he makes them leaves class in an orderly line and assigns them hours of homework, but he’s truly proud of Arthur and Brain when they qualify for the school spelling bee. Arthur also gets a pretty fun assignment — making a clay replica of a continent. Mr. Ratburn after the spelling bee announces that next year he’ll be teaching kindergarten — coincidentally, D.W.’s class. She obviously isn’t thrilled after hearing Arthur complain about all the homework he has.
We don’t get much characterization of Mr. Ratburn, apart from him believing Muffy when she claims she didn’t cheat on a math test in The True Francine. Brown writes that Muffy is his favorite until she has to confess. He obviously loses the favoritism after she confesses and reminds her that she has to serve detention for cheating and framing Francine for the deed. The chapter books based on the show reveal him as stern but reasonable.
Mr. Ratburn Deserves the Best
In his debut episode, Arthur and his friends hear that their new teacher is a vampire, and puts failing students on death row. Naturally, they are terrified, especially when he starts their first day with quizzes. At one point, Arthur and Buster are convinced he needs “boys’ heads”. They and Francine spy on Mr. Ratburn and learn he works on the school newspaper, coaches the school basketball team, and hosts puppet shows at the carnivals. Much later, he makes excuses to keep trying Mr. Read’s cakes because they are delicious.
Mr. Nigel “Emil” Ratburn has been teaching Arthur’s third-grade class and other third grade classes since the 1990s. He gives them quizzes and tests on a regular basis, educates them on history and vocabulary, and grades on high standards. Arthur calls him “the toughest teacher this side of Neptune”. When it’s time for them to host a school play, Mr. Ratburn overrides Sue Ellen’s idea of a horror monster story and Brain wanting to replicate a space launch to do a performance about Thomas Alva Edison. He does have a point when no one in the class even knows what Edison invented. Arthur in one episode says there is no tougher teacher, and even on field trips, Mr. Ratburn stresses out his students by quizzing them on their activities.
In the show, Mr. Ratburn doesn’t play favorites. All of his students get the same treatment, being told how to improve and praising their successes. Mr. Ratburn also truly cares about teaching his students, and about his community. When Arthur tries to duck out of competing in a school spelling contest because he didn’t study, Mr. Ratburn tells him he knows Arthur can put in the work and win. When Sue Ellen buys a magic trick from a shop where he’s working for the summer, Mr. Ratburn encourages her to try a deck of cards and surprise him. She rises to the challenge.
The episode that best clinches Ratburn’s compassion overriding his stern nature is “Return of the King”. He takes the kids to a Renaissance fair, where they find out that Ratburn’s old third-grade teacher is competing against them. Mr. Price-Jones is well-meaning but arrogant. His class, drilled to major in any Renaissance-related facts and physics, kicks Arthur and his friends’ butts. While Mr. Ratburn is ashamed of losing, he blames himself rather than his kids and tells them he is proud of their hard work.
The kids also want Mr. Ratburn to not feel ashamed, because they like him despite the tough standards. They do their best to compete for the Golden Griffin, especially when they fear he’ll be replaced. When they put their all in to win a castle contest and lose, Mr. Ratburn says he’ll display the castle in their classroom. Even when he mentions assigning homework after the field trip, they accept it with relief that he’s still their teacher.
Mr. Ratburn’s Wedding Episode Wasn’t For Me
I am picky about my animation. And I am picky about Arthur. I was a kid when I first saw the show, and I watched faithfully up until my teens. Homework and realizing they were running out of ideas meant that I was outgrowing it. The most recent episode I saw before “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone” was with Neil Gaiman guest-starring and talking about writing. That episode aired before they switched to flash animation. You can see the difference between the traditional and flash.
“Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone” features a misunderstanding plot; the kids see Mr. Ratburn talking with a woman micromanaging all the details of his wedding. Jane Lynch plays her, because of course. Arthur and the kids mistake “Patty” for being Mr. Ratburn’s future partner and scheme to separate them. It doesn’t work, but fortunately, Patty is just his sister, officiant, and wedding planner. Patrick the chocolatier is more reasonable and the actual fiance. He happily walks down the aisle and winks at the kids.
The good about this episode was we saw Arthur and his friends accepting Patrick into Mr. Ratburn’s life and theirs. Jane Lynch has loads of fun as Mr. Ratburn’s micromanaging older sister, and we see their little sister Rodentia after nearly twenty years! That has been too long since we saw Rodentia after she bored their class with kindergarten lessons.
I wish this episode had aired in 2000, circa season four or five. That was when the show held my attention. Mr. Ratburn was in his element, balancing teaching with a love of cake and community service. He would hand-carve his puppets, coach basketball, and give giant assignments. The writers would know how to rehash the tired story of kids trying to break up a couple over a misunderstanding.
We Needed This Episode
This episode is for the next generation of kids. It will normalize LGBTQ relationships and show children that their cool teachers deserve happiness regardless of who they love. And that is why it’s so important that this episode stays strong.
No matter who bans it, who protests, Mr. Ratburn is married. He has a loving husband who will make chocolate and share Pablo Neruda poetry in the evening. Nigel and Patrick have years of wedded bliss ahead of them. I hope they have them forever.