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1970s Jackson 5ive cartoon series arrives on Blu-ray and DVD
In the early 1970’s, five brothers from Gary, Indiana burst onto the music scene with such U.S. number one hits as “The Love You Save”, “I Want You Back”, and “I’ll Be There”. The siblings were the Jackson 5ive, and their popularity was so big then that a television cartoon show loosely based on their lives debuted in 1971.
But, the show was rarely seen on television after its two year run. Now, for the first time, the 1971-1973 “Jackson 5ive: The Complete Animated Series” has been released on Blu-ray and DVD.
Produced by Rankin/Bass and Motown Productions, “The Jackson 5ive” show was the second musical cartoon series based on real people, with the first being the 1965-1969 ABC-TV Beatles show. Rankin Bass, known for their stop motion animated Christmas specials, would follow-up the Jackson 5ive series, also on ABC, with one based on The Osmonds.
The formula was simple Two Jackson 5ive songs would be heard in each episode, to go along with a mini adventure featuring the brothers.The Jacksons would find themselves accidentally drafted into the army, mistaken for bandits in a wild west town, running a farm, or touring London . The Michael Jackson character was given a pet, pink snake named Rosey and mice Ray and Charles to interact with. Unfortunately, there’s no cartoon in the set for “Ben”, Michael Jackson’s number one U.S. hit from the film about a killer rat.
The first episode, “It All Started With…” details a fictional account of how the Jackson 5ive were discovered by Diana Ross. In the episode, Ross is in Gary for a concert. At the same time, Rosey the snake has escaped the Jackson family home, and just happens to find his way to Ross’s dressing room. The brothers end up tracking down Rosey, which leads to them meeting Ross. Surprisingly, Ross did provide her character’s voice in the episode. She brings the brothers to the cartoon version of Detroit’s Motown Records studios, where they cross paths with an animated version of the label’s founder Berry Gordy. And the rest is cartoon musical history.
In another notable episode,“The Wizard of Soul”, The Jacksons are traveling by car to perform at a Las Vegas hotel. In the Nevada desert, Michael dreams he’s entered The Land of Soul, a more groovy version of Oz . The cartoon pre-dates Michael Jackson’s appearance in”The Wiz” by seven years. Here, the other Jacksons play the Tin Man, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and the Wizard. There’s an evil Wicked Witch of the East, and a group of munchkins who are more Lilliputian in size.
I Want You Back from The Jackson 5 cartoon "Drafted"
What’s very striking is how psychedelic and colorful the animation is during the show’s song segments. These scenes look great in the Blu-ray video format. The Jackson Five program was directed by Robert Balser, who had also worked on The Beatles “Yellow Submarine. So, there are bits of “Yellow Submarine” style animation or Peter Max type artwork in the Jackson 5ive’s song sequences. For example,in “The Love You Save” and “How Funky is Your Chicken” song sequences, from “The Winners’s Circle” episode, you have in the background changing color stripes, strobe/black light effects, and live action shots of the real Jackson 5ive on stage. But the Jacksons are shown only in silhouette form. These pop art type song sequences are really something to see.
Got To Be There from Jackson 5 cartoon "Michael in Wonderland"
The Jacksons didn’t supply the voices for their characters in the series, as was the case with The Beatles when their cartoon program aired six years earlier. There is a link between the two shows, though, as legendary voice-over actor Paul Frees (Boris Badenov, Pillsbury Doughboy, Host Ghost at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion) was heard in both shows. He provided the voices for all the characters but The Jackson 5ive in their series. Frees had also been the voice for John Lennon and George Harrison in the Beatles cartoon show. A trivia note is that Edmund Sylvers, of The Sylvers (“Boogie Fever”) family group fame, was the voice of Marlon Jackson in the Jackson 5ive show. The Jackson 5ive series was produced mostly in London by Halas and Bachelor Studios.
The “Jackson 5ive-The Complete Animated Series”, on the Classic Media label, consists of 23 episodes on two Blu-ray discs or two DVD’s. The individual discs are made to look like old 45’s. The Blu-ray edition is housed in a nice looking slip case, with embossed images of the cartoon Jackson 5ive on the front. A very short booklet, with the titles of the toons and music, is found inside. There are no bonus features on the discs. It would have been nice to have an interview with Balser and the surviving Jackson brothers, a few of the Jackson 5ive Alpha Bits commercials originally aired during the initial broadcasts, or perhaps a couple of network promos and a documentary on the making of the series.The colors look very good and the picture is sharp in the Blu-ray edition.
Kudos to Classic Media (now owned by DreamWorks Animation) for releasing the Jackson 5ive TV series on DVD and Blu-ray. The licensing for the songs must have been a difficult process. These Jackson 5ive episodes aren't laugh out loud funny, but, they’re very enjoyable to watch.The Jackson 5ive songs in the shows still sound great forty years later. If only The Beatles cartoon series could be released like this, but that’s another story.
Jackson 5 Alpha Bits Commercials (two)
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