Animation Cel-ebration
March 25, 2024 posted by Michael Lyons

Celebrating Rankin/Bass “The Jackson 5ive Show”

The studio Rankin/Bass conjures up comfortable, Christmas images of Rudolph, Frosty and Santa, but many forget that the Studio also brought the Jackson 5 to Saturday Morning television, with a landmark animated series based on the iconic musical group during the heyday of their juggernaut popularity.

The Jackson 5ive show, which debuted on ABC on September 11th, 1971, celebrates an awkward Fifty-third anniversary later this year. For the original generation who grew up watching the show, to legions of Jackson 5 fans through the years, we are way overdue taking a look back and celebrating this landmark show.

The series came about from collaborate meetings between Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass with the Jackson Brothers and their management team. As author Rick Goldschmidt details in his book, The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass, an early champion of the show was none other than Michael Eisner. Before leading the Disney Company to great successes, Eisner was the head of children’s programming at ABC and help shepherd the show through production.

Noted artist Jack Davis, with his distinct style that was on display as a contributor to Mad Magazine and his numerous and very spot-on celebrity caricatures, created the character designs for the show. Davis had also collaborated with Rankin/Bass on their 1967 film Mad Monster Party?. His trademark look that he gave to these characters – large heads, skinny bodies and long feet (usually with shoe laces untied) – is all there in his conceptual art work for The Jackson 5ive show. Davis’ work gave the show a unique style that differentiates its slightly from other Rankin/Bass animation.

Each episode of The Jackson 5ive would open in an explosive and dynamic way that captured the energy of the group. Visuals of each brother’s picture would transition into their animated counterparts, as we would then see the animated group dancing. Over this was played a medley of the Jackson 5 hits ABC and I Want You Back.

The format of the show was very similar to that of Hanna-Barbera’s Josie and the Pussycats, where a music group finds themselves in a different adventure each week. On The Jackson 5ive show, the brothers were even given “pet sidekicks,” here it was a snake named Rosey and two mice named Ray and Charles (no prize if you guess who the mice were named after).

As this was the peak of the Jackson Five’s popularity, the brothers’ schedules didn’t allow them to record the voices of their animated counterparts. These were provided by sound-alike voice actors. Rankin/Bass’ stalwart actor Paul Frees provided the voice of their unnamed manager. The Jackson Five were even able to pull-out some true star power in the debut episode with none other than Diana Ross voicing an animated version of herself.

Each episode also featured one of the group’s hit songs played over the soundtrack (the songs were lifted directly from one of the Jackson Five’s albums).

The Jackson 5ive ran on ABC through October of 1972 and then ran in syndication for a number of years afterward. In 1984, when Michael Jackson’s solo career skyrocketed, the show was brought back to Saturday Morning. In 2013, the show was released on Blu-Ray and DVD.

The show is important, in that it is credited as being one of the first Saturday morning cartoon to feature a Black cast of characters. In the midst of Scooby-Doo and sugary cereals, let’s not forget that there was a lot of groundbreaking that happened, thanks to Rankin/Bass’ The Jackson 5ive show.

Many feel that essentially, if you were popular, getting a Saturday Morning show was as “easy as 1-2-3!” but The Jackson 5ive was much more.


  • I’d either forgotten or never knew that Rankin/Bass did these. How did they miss out on a Jackson holiday special? (It would be a joke now, knowing what we know about that fascinating family, but it would have been nice back then.) And it’s a shame Michael went so far off model.

    • Although the Jackson 5 released a best-selling Christmas album, the Jackson family themselves, as Jehovah’s Witnesses, did not celebrate most holidays. The idea of a TV special that showed them doing so would have been a bit much.

  • I’m always amused to hear Paul Frees perform the voice of Berry Gordy in this show, because Frees sounded nothing like Gordy.

  • I remember watching that show when it aired over ABC.

  • Animated at Halas & Batchelor in London. As a student, I knew Tom Halley. As well as working on The Beatles series and Yellow Submarine, he mentioned working on The J5, so I imagine many of the same personnel around the UK time shared the same projects.

  • As long as we are talking about a Black cast of characters, in the previous season, the Harlem Globetrotters’ cartoon premiered. Both cartoons turned me on to the groups’ existence and I thought it was cool that they were based on real people.
    About a year or so into the J5 show, a friend saw the real j5 on a Tv show:
    “Did you know The Jackson Five are real?!”

  • Wasn’t there a very similar Osmond Bros show at roughly the same time?

  • One of a few Rankin/Bass shows to utilize canned laughter. It’s an inferior addition in my book. But seeing the music videos were groovy!

  • While those concept art portraits bear all the hallmarks of Jack Davis’s distinctive style, the character designs that were ultimately used in the show do not. They were adapted by Argentina-born, London-based animation director Oscar Grillo into a more “animatable” style that would be easier to handle for the many animators who worked on the series. “I am not proud,” Grillo has commented elsewhere on this site. “I never liked the series, not then or now. It was just a job and then I needed it, that’s all.”

    • It’s clear the amazing Jack Davis was being sympathetic to making the character designs animatable. Gone is the hatching, washes and inking that makes his illustration so distinct. He loses his style from the get-go designs by reducing pencil mileage until the character is linear for animation. Same as on King Kong. Then, take those character designs and have them interpreted by the animator and his style is really lost. As a kid, I think I had a pretty good eye and never knew they were Davis’ design. Now Paul Coker Jr. I could recognize off the bat. Coker has a very liner cartoon style to begin with.

  • The Jackson 5ive (and its clone, The Osmonds) indeed looks nothing like other Rankin-Bass cel animation. Was there a reason why they didn’t use their usual Japanese studios?

    • The Jackson 5ive and The Osmonds were animated by Halas and Bachchlor in London (as was the previous TOMFOOLERY)- that might be why you detect a difference between those shows and the rest of their prior cel animated series.

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