For the first time ever, the complete animated series of the Jackson 5ive (or Jackson Five, if you prefer, but says “5ive”) is available on DVD and, more importantly, Blu-ray from Dreamworks Classics. Rankin/Bass, yes the Rankin/Bass of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer fame, originally produced the series for ABC during the height of the group’s popularity from 1971 to 1973. The series boasts 46 original Jackson 5ive songs, remastered for this release, with two numbers featured in each of the 23 episodes. The songs are accompanied in the series by high-concept visual sequences in styles wholly different from the series proper and realized in pretty much every medium imaginable, from standard animation acrylics to water color, live action, and even crayon! Some of the most interesting of these visual accompaniments are animated in a style clearly drawing on the aesthetic sensibilities of 1968’s Yellow Submarine. Thus, the inspiration behind the series is made crystal clear by Rankin/Bass.
Far more than simply a musical showcase, however, Jackson 5ive finds the eponymous brothers bouncing from one madcap adventure to another as they tour the country in their rundown jalopy, quipping, singing and generally stirring up trouble wherever they go. In the typical fashion of the era’s cartoons, the central narrative conceit from episode to episode is fashioned with seemingly no rhyme or reason. One episode, they’re trying to prevent deforestation, the next they’re running a farm with an uncomfortably stereotypical Native American character. These scenarios are so absurdly random that you’ll be totally, jaw-droppingly flabbergasted by their song choices for these stories at least once throughout the series. They would shoehorn in any song anywhere! They just didn’t give a damn. That said, the series does open with a sort-of origin story in which the Jacksons meet Diana Ross, and that at least makes some sense.
The animation is nothing special really, standard ‘70s TV stuff, but it looks great in the Blu-ray transfer. Of course, some of the material from which they produced the HD transfer looked a bit rough to begin with given its age, but it’s an all-around crisp, vibrant release. One thing I feel compelled to mention about the animation itself, however, is that because the Jacksons, as cultural icons, had to be presented in the best light possible, they actually look quite creepy at times. They’re always smiling, and that can be unnerving, especially when one of them (usually one of the older ones) is standing motionlessly in the background with a maniacal grin plastered across his face for no reason. Still, it’s interesting to see the Jacksons realized as animated characters and I couldn’t help but wonder what the same animators would have made of Michael Jackson at the end of his life if they’d rendered him in the same style.
I should note before wrapping up here, though, that the series is not quite politically correct, by which I mean that I audibly scoffed at the series’ depictions of non-whites far more than once. In addition to Native Americans, African Americans are presented in ways that are, well, exceedingly stereotypical. At one point, one of the Jacksons even refers to the forest as the woodland critters’ “projects,” which gives you some idea of the general tone of the series. With that in mind, I wouldn’t recommend the series for your children, lest you’re there to contextualize these representations, I suppose. Even still, my little one, who’s only a year old, enjoyed dancing around to the music, but I really don’t know that I’d let him watch it once his cognitive skills develop further. I’d be too worried that those depictions would leave an impression on him, so I’d say you’re probably better off enjoying it yourself for its historic/cultural importance rather than buying it for the kiddies.
The series is colorfully packaged in a terrific 4-disc, Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, which sadly features no bonus content. I yearned for a documentary about the production of the series or about the Jackson 5ive themselves, but sadly, nothing. Still, to have the series at all is quite the treat!