TV URBAN LEGEND: There was nearly 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 that people sometimes have forgotten about in the wake of all the weird stuff that went down 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, by 1987 and the release of his album, BadMichael Jackson was seen as weeeeeeeird.
It’s such an odd thought, since Jackson was still SO popular, but by the end of the 1980s, it was clear that the public saw Jackson as being a bit of an odd duck. This was a major shift from how Jackson was seen just a few years earlier. Jackson’s 1982 album, Thriller, wasn’t just one of the best-selling albums of all-time, it became a sort of year-long celebration. It debuted in November of 1982, but the singles from the album were still being released right up until the FOLLOWING November. For instance, “Thriller” was actually the final of SEVEN singles off of the album, and the iconic music video for the song wasn’t released until December 1983, so the video was still very popular well into 1984, as Jackson managed to work that one hit album into YEARS of being at the top of his game as a celebrity.
With his celebrity came many licensing opportunities and Jackson became a major commercial star, as well. By 1987, though, it was beginning to be clear that while everyone loved Michael Jackson as a SINGER, that wasn’t necessarily carrying over to other ventures. For instance, the 1986 “Magic Beat” line of cologne totally flopped, as no one actually seemed to want to SMELL like Michael Jackson…
A clothing line for kids also fell apart around that same time.
This, then, brings us to…Michael’s Pets.
WHAT WERE MICHAEL’S PETS?
Sometime around 1983/84, Michael Jackson acquired a chimpanzee that he named Bubbles…
Jackson also had a pet snake named Muscles, presumably acquired sometime around the time he wrote the hit 1982 song “Muscles” that he wrote as a duet for Diana Ross…
Jackson became a bit obsessed with Bubbles, and had the chimp travel around the world with him, and he even would bring him to recording sessions (there’s an infamous story about Freddie Mercury quitting a duet project with Jackson over Bubbles’ presence – “I’ m not performing with af**king chimp sitting next to me every night!”).
Bubbles was also the star of a line of plush toys in 1987 called Michael’s Pets…
Here’s the Los Angeles Times explaining these toys:
These toys, which sell for about $25, are stuffed representations of animals in Jackson’s private menagerie, and they also share characteristics of the singer’s friends and associates. Besides Bubbles, the pets include Cool Bear, the stand-in for Jackson, wearing dark glasses and a down-brimmed hat; Uncle Tookie, a frog that 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 athletic gear and is named for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bob Michaelson, the affable independent manufacturer behind the creation of these toys, says, “Kids love them, and we know that teen-age girls and young women love to cuddle up with plush toys.” He insists that none of Jackson’s friends and associates have taken offense at the stuffed-toy depiction of their characteristics. “There’s great competition among (Jackson’s friends) to see who’s going to sell the most,” Michaelson insists
Yes, that was the point we were at with Michael Jackson. He okayed a line of plush dolls based on animal versions of his friends as well as his pet chimp and pet snake. That was something that he thought made perfect sense.
HOW CLOSE DID MICHAEL’S PETS COME TO BECOMING A CARTOON?
However, getting back to the point of how Jackson’s image had shifted by 1987, that whole “He seems weird” attitude from the public really irritated Jackson, and he strove for a more “macho” and “adult” image with his 1987 album, Bad. Just check out the cover of the album…
So while he was fine being a cartoon star when he was a kid on the Jackson 5ive cartoon (and yes, along with a pet snake and pet mice on the show – I assume he insisted on his character having pets even back then) …
But he couldn’t maintain his current “Bad” image AND also play “Cool Bear” in a kid’s cartoon series about his pets…
So that led to an impasse. Jackson really wanted a cartoon series based on Michael’s Pets, but he couldn’t actually 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 back when the project was in development:
In 1987, I worked briefly on a proposed cartoon series called Michael’s Pets, which would have been based on a then-current line of plush toys. The plush toys were, in turn, based on…well, on Michael’s pets — the animals he had on the grounds of his mansion. The show never went anywhere largely because though Michael had once been the star of an animated series (The Jackson 5ive — that was how they spelled it), he now thought it would be detrimental to his image as a rock star if he appeared on a kid’s show. Since the network wouldn’t buy the series if Michael wasn’t going to appear in it, that pretty much ended that. (Michael did, however, make it clear that he loved Saturday morning cartoons. He just didn’t want to be one again. At one point, he noticed one credit on my résumé and said, “I really love Richie Rich.” I looked around at his house and said pretty much what you would have said. are Richie Rich!”)
So, you can question whether it was EVER “close” to happening, but I think bringing in a writer like Evanier is at least close enough for it count as “nearly happening,” so I’m going with the legend as…
By the way, without a cartoon to promote the toys, the toyline was a bust, as well, but the toys are quite popular as nostalgic collectibles online nowadays.
Be sure to check out my archive of TV Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of TV.
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My email address is email@example.com.
The Sitcom So Problematic That the Network Ceded Creative Control to the NAACP
About The Author