When a singer or a band gets popular enough, there's going to be plenty of exposure for them--that's a given. If album sales, sold-out concerts and talk show guest spots aren't enough to sate audiences and fans, there's all sorts of merchandise and media tie-ins ready to be deployed: t-shirts, lunchboxes, dolls, even (in some cases) video games based on their music. And then, there's this: if you're a big enough singer or group, you know you've reached your peak when you get your own animated cartoon series. With this little retrospective medley, I'll be bringing you the skinny on the most famous 'cartoons-based-on-a-real-singer-or-band', while examining a core theme present in most of these particular shows. The theme in question? The singer or group gets into misadventures while touring. A pretty common theme (aside from having different actors portray the singers) found in the four shows brought to your consideration today, spanning four decades:
The Jackson 5ive
New Kids on the Block
Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi
The only criteria I have in place is that these are cartoons starring animated versions of the bands, not the bands guest-starring in a show (like on The Simpsons). Shall we begin? *Testing, testing, Check. Check 1. Sibilance. Sibilance. Check. Check 2. Sibilance. Sibilance.*
We'll start off where it really began, in the swingin' sixties, specifically a year after a Fab Four-some came over from Liverpool, England, and changed the world (while giving a generation of teen girls their first bout with laryngitis). Of course, I refer to The Beatles.
Airing from 1965 to 1967 on ABC (plus reruns from '67-'69, '86-'87 on MTV, and '89 on the Disney Channel), and with an art style almost between the works of Jay Ward and Hanna-Barbera, the series (made up of two shorts per episode, in a span of 39 episodes) saw John, Paul, George and Ringo get into all sorts of hi-jinks as they toured around the world. All the shorts were named after one of their songs (with a plot even inspired by said song), and featured sing-alongs in between shorts.
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In terms of historical significance, it's the first weekly animated TV show featuring animated takes on real-life figures. It's also the first where said real-life figures are portrayed by regular voice actors; in this case, American Paul Frees voiced John and George, while Brit Lance Percival (who'd later lend his voice to the animated Beatles film Yellow Submarine) took on Paul and Ringo. All four Beatles were depicted in their mop top and suit looks throughout the series, even as the real-life band went through its own stylistic changes. In terms of characterization, John was the sarcastic, laid-back leader of the band; Paul the more posh, stylish second-in-command; George the one succumbing to peer pressure the most; and Ringo the naive, misfortunate one. Among the situations the fictionalized Fab Four found themselves in, some that stick out include the following: -"Please Mr. Postman"--Ringo loses all 15 of the rings he bought with the band's spendings, and now they must await a telegram from Brian Epstein for more money. -"You've Really Got a Hold on Me"--When the band's jeep gets a flat tire while on safari in Africa, Ringo, in looking for a jack, asks a medicine man named Jack to help them; he then turns a worm into a snake who lusts after Ringo. -"Don't Bother Me"--Two spies try to steal the group's songbook, labeled 'Top Secret'. -"Help"--Paul and Ringo visit a Parisian fashion show, where the Spring Collection designs get stolen by Jaque Le Zipper, leading to a chase up the Eiffel Tower (where Paul has trouble with heights). The real-life Beatles, at first, weren't the biggest fans of the cartoon, but as time went by, they grew to appreciate it. These days, thanks to the internet (especially YouTube), the show's gained a 'so bad it's good' reputation.
Now we'll jump forward to the sensational seventies, with a collaboration between Motown Records and Rankin/Bass: The Jackson 5ive.
Originally airing from 1971 to 1972 for 23 episodes (and in 1984-85, when Michael Jackson was becoming a solo superstar), the series saw the titular 5ive Jackson brothers--Michael (Donald Fullilove), Marlon (Edmund Sylvers), Jermaine (Joel Cooper), Tito (Mike Martinez), and Jackie (Craig Grandy)--in adventures similar to Alvin and the Chipmunks, Josie and the Pussycats, or The Monkees, with Berry Gordy (Paul Frees) coming up with a publicity idea that starts them. A few of the pets that Michael Jackson owned in real life were added to the show's cast, mainly two rats named Ray and Charles, and a snake named Rosey aka 'The Crusher'. Diana Ross even guest-starred as herself in the first episode. Some of these notable bits of hi-jinks included: -"Drafted"--when the 5ive are set to give a USO concert at Fort Paratrooper, Michael and Marlon get mistaken for new recruits and the other brothers must do odd jobs in order to rescue them. -"The Tiny Five"--A mad scientist shrinks the 5ive down to tiny size and must avoid large household-based dangers. -"Farmer Jacksons"--The boys make a bet with a crook that they can run a farm (while taking a break from fame), leading to a series of mishaps. Amusingly, one episode of the show shares a similar plot with a Beatles episode: in the Beatles episode "Tell Me Why", Ringo winds up the jockey of a donkey who runs like a racehorse when it hears music, while in the 5ive episode "The Winner's Circle", Michael ends up the jockey of an unmotivated horse who runs at incredible speeds when it hears the boys' music. The series is notable for it being a part of Rankin/Bass' experiments with creating their own laugh tracks, and wouldn't be released on DVD until 2013.
Next, we jump TWO decades, when the early boyband craze was at its peak, thanks in no part to five Boston-born boys known as The New Kids on the Block.
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Airing for one 14-episode season in 1990 on ABC, the show saw the boys in the band--Donnie Wahlberg (David 'Captain Planet' Coburn), Jordan Knight (Loren "BTAS Robin" Lester), Jonathan Knight (Matt Mixer), Joey McIntyre (Scott Menville), and Danny Wood (Brian Stokes Mitchell)--get into all sorts of misadventures with their real-life managers Maurice Starr (Dorian Harewood), Dick Scott (Dave Fennoy), and Biz-Cut (J.D. Hall), and their dog Nikko. Some of the more notable of those 'misadventures'? -"Sheik of my Dreams"--Jordan meets a girl who likes him for who he is, and not just his fame; bad news is, their flirtation leads to an international incident. -"New Kid in Class"--Joey wants, for one day, to just be a normal high school student, and gets his wish; unfortunately, the high school he attends is in the middle of 'Crazy Concert Day'. -"New Heroes on the Block"--a long bus ride leads to the boys dreaming themselves into different fantasies: Donnie as Robin Hood, Jordan as a Zorro-type, Joey in a Star Wars-like story, and Danny as an Incredible Hulk-like character. Interestingly, I see a parallel to another Beatles episode, "Paperback Writer", where the Fab Four, come up with fantastic stories of how they met, with Ringo a master thespian, Paul a scientist, George a secret agent, and John a fighter pilot. NKOTB's last episode was a Christmas special, titled, believe it or not, "Christmas Special", where Donnie meets a homeless kid who wants to show them the shelter he lives at with his mom. The boys end up giving a bit of Christmas cheer to the less fortunate residents of New York while Biz-Cut tries to find them and get them back to Boston. A tie-in comic from Harvey Comics--home of Casper the Friendly Ghost, Little Dot, Ritchie Rich, and others--was published and lasted 8 issues, along with a number of other tie-in comics.
The show was another one-season wonder, with a decent crop of well-known voice talent. One wonders why it was cancelled--maybe it was because of "Weird Al" Yankovic's parody?
Now we've come to the last set in our show, where we'll jump four years into the new millennium and look at a duo from the land of the rising sun, the stars of Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi.
Airing from 2004-06 on Cartoon Network for three seasons, the show is about the fictionalized exploits of J-Pop duo Puffy AmiYumi, made up of cute and upbeat Ami Onuki (Janice Kawaye) and sarcastic punk Yumi Yoshimura (Grey DeLisle), as they toured across the world with their money-grubbing Mr. Krabs-like manager Kaz Harada (Keone Young). If you're unfamiliar with the duo, you may recognize their vocals, since they're behind the theme tune to the 2003 Teen Titans cartoon series.
In fact, they're the ones behind some of the catchy pop songs you'd occasionally hear in a Teen Titans episode, many of which were recycled for Hi Hi. Among the highlights of the duo's escapades, these include: -"Collect All 5"--Ami becomes obsessed with collecting prizes from a cereal box. -"Taffy Trouble"--The girls are evicted from their tour bus, and get jobs at a candy factory, where they wind up in a very "I Love Lucy" situation. -"Chow Down"--Yumi decides to join Ami and Kaz in the trophy-winners circle by entering a tofu dog-eating contest. -"Puffy B.C."--cave-dwelling versions of Ami and Yumi start making their own music, and cave Kaz tries to get them together as a band. I personally have determined that Hi Hi might just be the true spiritual successor to The Beatles, based on similar senses of humor and globe-trotting exploits. Don't believe me? I found a small group of episodes from each show share similar plotlines: -Running into vampires ("Baby's in Black/Misery" for The Beatles, "Talent Suckers" for Hi Hi) -Being possessed by cursed objects ("Long Tall Sally" and haunted suits of armor vs. "Ami Goes Bad" and haunted drum sticks) -Getting roped into becoming matadors ("Please Please Me" vs. "Ole!") -Being abducted by space aliens ("Day Tripper" vs. "Spaced Out") -Competing in a surfing contest ("From Me to You" vs. "Surf's Up") -Hand injury leads to worse consequences ("I'll Cry Instead" vs. "Helping Hand") *There's plenty more I could find, but that's another article...* The show, in its run, was nominated for three Annie Awards between 2005 and 2006. Of the episodes aired, there are only five that remain unseen by U.S. audiences.
Looking back at these four acts, one thing's for sure--whoever makes it as the next big music act for the young'uns has four pairs of big shoes to fill if they get their own cartoon......
Thank you, thank you, hope you enjoyed the show! As a wise man once said, "It's wonderful to be here, it's certainly a thrill; you're such a lovely audience; we'd like to take you home with us--we'd love to take you home!"