Andre Benjamin -- Andre 3000 from the hip-hop group OutKast -- has an almost animated presence on stage, thanks to some wild dance moves, costumes, and hats. So it seems natural to see him, or a character resembling him named Sunny Bridges, in a cartoon called "Class of 3000." Like Benjamin, Sunny is a wiry music star from Atlanta who can rock a stadium of fans despite his low-key personality.
Unlike Benjamin, though, Sunny drops out of fame and fortune and returns to Atlanta to teach music at a performing-arts school for kids. And that's the premise of "Class of 3000," which premieres tonight at 8 on Cartoon Network.
The show, co-created by Benjamin, is a slight but appealing mix of old-school Saturday morning cartoons from the early 1970s along with happy hip-hop tunes. It looks like "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids" or "The Jackson 5ive," with the same types of groovy characters in front of a flat background; but then it has the pace (and Oprah jokes) of something made after MTV. "Class of 3000" is both sweetly innocent and urban contemporary.
Sunny returns to Atlanta because he feels he's lost control of his life. He's bitter and depressed, until a kid named Li'l D lures him into teaching. Each episode will include music written for the show by Benjamin, including one number tonight that inspires a joyous psychedelic sequence that could've been shown behind Jefferson Airplane in the '60s. Sunny's big message to his students, a multicultural group, is "follow the music," and indeed, every bad thing that happens to the kids on the show is solved by song and dance.
Is "Class of 3000" a ploy for Benjamin to promote his music to kids? Probably, but it also offers music as something spiritual and celebratory and not to be made just for money. So at least the little ones will know why they're buying.