Pop music + cartoon animation + pubescent audiences + sugary breakfast cereal ads = hit entertainment.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, that equation briefly produced a string of clever, endearing animated feature films and Saturday morning TV serials that still give today’s frenetic, hyper-edited animated flicks a run for their money.
Some were instant classics, like “Yellow Submarine,” with the Fab Four’s music set to Heinz Edelmann’s memorable designs.
Others, like the Jackson 5 cartoon serial that originally ran on Saturday mornings on ABC from September 1971 to October 1972, slowly sank into the post-syndication ether, leaving barely a trace.
But on Tuesday, the cartoon avatars of Michael, Jackie, Jermaine, Tito and Marlon are being resurrected, thanks to a DreamWorks Classics issuing of a new DVD/Blu-ray package, “Jackson 5ive: The Complete Animated Series.” The collection’s 23 full-length episodes include 46 Jackson songs, including bubble-gummy Motown essentials like “I Want You Back,” “I’ll Be There” and “ABC.”
In between musical numbers, the Jackson siblings tangle with typical American adolescent problems: how to save Diana Ross (in a cartoon cameo) from the boys’ pet snake; what to do if you accidentally get drafted into the Army and are about to have your Afro shaved; how to behave if you crash-land on a desert island and encounter a gang of evil pirates.
The series was developed by Motown Productions; the British animation company Halas and Batchelor; and Rankin/Bass Productions, the group behind stop-motion animated TV seasonal specials including “Rudolph,” “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Frosty the Snowman.”
In a phone interview with Pop & Hiss, Bob Balser, who served as the “Jackson 5ive” supervising animation director (he also headed the “Yellow Submarine” animation team), said the series was one of several animated shows at the time based on pop music groups -- both real ones, like the Osmonds, and made-up studio concoctions, like the Archies.
Before “Yellow Submarine,” there’d also been a whimsical cartoon series, “The Beatles,” which John, Paul, George and Ringo reportedly loathed.
“The Beatles hated it because they used voice actors, they did fake English accents for an American public,” Balser said.
Balser said the actual members of the Jackson 5 were not involved in making their cartoon homage. Their only real presence was in the songs themselves.
“I had nothing to do with the Jackson 5. We never met them. The voices were all actors,” Balser said.
Asked if he was fan of the Motown quintet’s music, Balser replied: “Not really.” At the time the series was made, Balser said, he was working in Spain, where the group hadn’t made much of a dent yet.
“But I also wasn’t that much of a Beatle fan.”
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