URBAN LEGEND TV: There Was Almost An Animated Series Starring Michael Jackson’s… Pets
There are two, almost contradictory, things that are true about Michael Jackson in the 1980s that I think people have sometimes forgotten in the wake of all the weird things that happened with the singer later in his life. , and they are this – Michael Jackson was by far the biggest pop star of the 1980s and also, in 1987 and the release of his album, EvilMichael Jackson was seen as weeeeeeeird.
It’s such a strange thought, since Jackson was still so popular, but by the late 1980s it was clear that the public viewed Jackson as a bit of an odd duck. It was a major departure from how Jackson was seen a few years earlier. Jackson’s 1982 album, Polar, was not only one of the best-selling albums of all time, it became something of a year-round celebration. It debuted in November 1982, but singles from the album were still released until NEXT November. For example, “Thriller” was actually the last of seven singles from the album, and the song’s iconic music video wasn’t released until December 1983, so the video was still hugely popular until 1984, because Jackson managed to work that hit album into YEARS of being at the top of his game as a celebrity.
Along with his stardom came numerous licensing opportunities, and Jackson also became a major commercial star. By 1987, however, it was beginning to become clear that while everyone loved Michael Jackson as a SINGER, that didn’t necessarily carry over to other companies. For example, the 1986 “Magic Beat” cologne line totally failed because no one really seemed to want to SMELL like Michael Jackson…
A children’s clothing line also collapsed around the same time.
This then brings us to…Michael’s Animals.
WHAT WERE MICHAEL’S PETS?
Around 1983/84, Michael Jackson acquired a chimpanzee he named Bubbles…
Jackson also had a pet snake named Muscles, presumably acquired around the time he wrote the 1982 hit song “Muscles” which he wrote as a duet for Diana Ross…
Jackson became a bit obsessed with Bubbles, and took the chimp around the world with him, and he even brought him to recording sessions (there’s an infamous story about Freddie Mercury leaving a duet project with Jackson on Bubbles’ presence – “I’m not playing with a goddamn chimpanzee sitting next to me every night!”).
Bubbles was also the star of a line of plush toys in 1987 called Michael’s Pets…
Here is the Los Angeles Times explaining these toys:
These toys, which retail for around $25, are plush representations of animals from Jackson’s private menagerie, and they also share characteristics of the singer’s friends and associates. Besides Bubbles, pets include Cool Bear, Jackson’s replacement, wearing dark glasses and a down-brimmed hat; Uncle Tookie, a frog who resembles Jackson’s bull-necked manager Frank Dileo; a guard dog named Bill; a llama named Louie; Muscles the snake, who sports a bow tie, and Jabbar, a giraffe who wears sports clothes and goes by the name of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bob Michaelson, the affable independent manufacturer behind the creation of these toys, says: And we know that teenage girls and young women love to snuggle up with plush toys. He insists that none of Jackson’s friends and associates took offense to the plush portrayal of their features. “There’s a lot of competition between (Jackson’s friends) to see who’s going to sell the most,” insists Michaelson
Yeah, that was where we were with Michael Jackson. He endorsed a line of plush dolls based on animal versions of his friends as well as his pet chimpanzee and snake. It was something he thought made perfect sense.
HOW DID MICHAEL’S PETS COME TO BECOME A CARTOON?
However, going back to how Jackson’s image had changed in 1987, all this “He looks weird” attitude from the public really irritated Jackson, and he strove to have a more “macho” image and “adult” with his 1987 album, Evil. Just look at the album cover…
So while he was fine being a cartoon star as a kid on the Jackson 5ive cartoon (and yes, with a pet snake and pet mice on the show – I guess he insisted his character have pets even back then)…
But he couldn’t maintain his current “Bad” image AND also play “Cool Bear” in a children’s cartoon series about his pets…
So this led to a stalemate. Jackson really wanted a cartoon series based on Michael’s Pets, but he couldn’t quite be in it and the only reason a network would want the cartoon in the first place would be if Jackson would be in it. The great Mark Evanier explained the Catch-22 on his blog where he talked about meeting Jackson when the project was in development:
In 1987, I worked briefly on a cartoon series project called Michael’s animals, which would have been based on a then-current line of plush toys. The plush toys were, in turn, based on… well, Michael’s pets – the animals he had on the grounds of his mansion. The show never went anywhere largely because although Michael had previously starred in an animated series (The Jackson 5ive – that’s how they spelled it), he now thought it would hurt his rock star image if he appeared on a children’s show. Since the network wouldn’t buy the show if Michael wasn’t on it, that pretty much ended it. (Michael did make it clear, though, that he liked Saturday morning cartoons. He just didn’t want to be one again. At one point, he noticed a credit on my resume and said, “I really like Richie Rich.” I looked at his house and said pretty much what you would have said. I said, “Michael, you are Richie Rich!”)
So you may wonder if this was EVER “close” to happening, but I think bringing in a writer like Evanier is at least close enough for it to count as “close to happening” so I’m going with the legend like…
By the way, without a cartoon to promote the toys, the toyline was also a failure, but the toys are very popular as nostalgic collectibles online these days.
Be sure to check out my TV Legends Revealed archive for more urban legends from the world of TV.
Feel free to (hell, please!) write in with your suggestions for future installments! My email address is [email protected]
The sitcom is so problematic that the network ceded creative control to the NAACP
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