Blu-ray Review: The Jackson 5ive - The Complete Animated Series

This series is a blast of fun, with effective voice actors (not the Jacksons themselves) and great music.

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Classic Media has revived a true gem for fans of The Jackson Five.

Now available on Blu-ray is The Jackson 5ive, an animated series produced by Rankin/Bass (best known for their stop-motion holiday specials) that ran for two seasons in 1971-72. All 23 episodes (17 from season one, the remaining six from season two) are included on two discs. The set also includes the episodes on a pair of standard DVDs. Keep in mind, participation by the actual Jacksons was nil. Professional actors provided their voices, but two Jackson 5 songs are featured per episode. The template for this type of animated series based on a real band was set by King Features in the ‘60s with the animated series The Beatles. The overall approach was continued in the early ‘70s by Rankin/Bass with The Osmonds.

The plotlines are all rooted in the depiction of The Jackson Five as a working singing group. They aren’t a team of superheroes or anything like that. While some episodes send the boys off on fantastical adventures, others are grounded in more or less realistic scenarios. “It All Started With…” kicks off the series with Michael (voiced by Donald Fullilove) quickly introducing his brothers Marlon (Edmund Sylvers), Jermaine (Joel Cooper), Tito (Mike Martinez), and Jackie (Craig Grandy). As it happens, Michael’s pet snake Rosie has gone missing and wound up in none other than Diana Ross’ dressing room. Miss Ross is in town for a concert and is quite taken by Michael and his brothers when they go to rescue Rosie. The episode perpetuates the real-life, Motown-created myth that Ross discovered the group. Berry Gordy (Paul Frees) signs the boys to a recording contract at the episodes’ conclusion.

Jackson 5ive with Gordy (350x256).jpg

In addition to Rosie the snake, Michael also has a pair of pet rats (it should be noted, the earliest episodes actually precede his number one hit, “Ben,” an ode to a pet rat) named Ray and Charles. While the pets are prominently featured on a regular basis, Ray and Charles’ involvement peaks with episode 11, “Ray & Charles: Superstars,” when a producer seeks to make matinee idols out of the rats. Some of the more outrageous plots include “The Wizard of Soul,” a spoof on The Wizard of Oz, and “Michael in Wonderland,” which borrows liberally from Alice in Wonderland. Maybe cleverest of all is “Rasho-Jackson,” a creative take on Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon in which the group has broken up, resulting in five new groups “all called The Jackson One.” They all recount conflicting versions of why the split occurred. With the shorter second season came a title change, the final six episodes are called The New Jackson 5ive Show.

The highlights of each episode are, quite understandably, the songs. Not just because the tunes themselves are such a kick, but the accompanying animation is endlessly creative. Each number functions as a music video, with inventive, kinetic, often psychedelic visuals that are a real pleasure to watch. One of my favorites is the “(Come ‘Round Here) I’m the One You Need” segment from episode 11, which has some fun deconstructing the animation process itself as it shows an artist bringing storyboards to life.

Jackson 5ive outside (350x233).jpg

Even though the songs are all pulled from the earliest J5 albums (naturally, given the years in which the show was produced), with 46 songs total, the choices obviously go well beyond the group’s biggest hits. Of course we hear “ABC,” ”I’ll Be There,” and “I Want You Back” (within the first three episodes in fact), but lesser known gems such as “The Young Folks,” “Nobody,” and the stellar “2-4-6-8” might be new to those who don’t own those early albums. Even a few early Michael Jackson solo tunes (“Rockin’ Robin,” “Got to Be There,”) find their way into the series.

Visually the vintage animation actually looks really good on Blu-ray. Aside from occasional imperfections in the source material (white and black specs, minor print damage), the transfers are reasonably clean. Where the visual presentation really shines is in its ultra-bold colors. After doing some spot checking against the included standard DVDs, it’s rather obvious that the high definition format definitely makes the most of the hyper-colorful animation.

Jackson 5ive cloud (350x262).jpg

Now for a sobering disappointment, the audio is not lossless. The only option here is 2.0 Dolby Digital. While I would’ve loved a full 5.1 remix, even the original broadcast mono would’ve been fine so long as it was presented in a lossless format. The Blu-ray cover boasts “46 Remastered Songs!” and while that may be, the lossy soundtrack is a distinct letdown. That said the audio is basically acceptable and never less than listenable. The dialogue and effects (including an ever-present laugh track) are clean. The music is fine too. I just know I speak for the majority of J5 fans when I say that the high definition capabilities of Blu-ray should’ve been employed for this release.

There are no extras included here, which doesn’t really come as a surprise (though it's too bad nothing could be dug up, promos or something perhaps). With almost eight and half hours of content, this release offers a good value. The Jackson 5ive - The Complete Animated Series is available in a DVD-only configuration too. Given the audio situation, it’s up to the buyer whether the extra few bucks is worth it for the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. Either way, this set will almost certainly be on any Jackson 5 fan’s must-have list.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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