Motown Magic accomplishes the most difficult of tasks: It’s a children’s show that doesn’t make adults want to pull their ears off. It deserves all the credit in the world.
Created and produced by Josh Wakely, Motown Magic, an animated kids’ show that debuted on Netflix today, accomplishes a task previously thought impossible. By informing its narrative with re-recorded Motown classics performed by a who’s-who of contemporary artists, it manages to be the only kids’ show I’m aware of that isn’t torture for the ears of parents. On the contrary, it has the best soundtrack one can possibly imagine. And that’s the point.
As I’m always learning, the world of TV and film is endlessly surprising, but there’s a special kind of double-take you do when you discover that the executive music producer of a kiddie animation is none other than Smokey Robinson. That should give you some idea of the energy, enthusiasm and authenticity of Motown Magic, which has the mission statement of introducing an entirely new generation to the endless pleasures of the music that in many ways defined the 1960s.
The story focuses on Ben, a young African-American boy who discovers that, thanks to a magical paintbrush, he can disappear inside the street murals of Motown. Yes, that would be a black boy in America bringing graffiti to life, a statement that isn’t lost on me and presumably won’t be on anyone else, but it’s far from the point of Motown Magic, which is explicitly a celebration of a culture-defining genre of music that has been smartly repackaged for a new audience.
Wakely is no stranger to this kind of thing – his other musically-influenced Netflix animated series, Beat Bugs, won a Daytime Emmy in 2017 for its writing. What he has managed to latch onto is how music works best when it’s allowed to seep into hearts and minds organically, and what better way to allow for that than to distract kids with colourful slapstick in the meantime? Most of us are parents, and we’ve all had to endure the horrendous torture of our toddlers ceaselessly reciting insufferable pop anthems or grating theme tunes. They’ll never stop doing that. But now, thanks to Motown Magic, they’ll be bopping along to “ABC” and “I Heard It through the Grapevine”. If that isn’t an achievement then I don’t know what is.