Starring Michael Jackson as Himself

Last night's MTV VMAs concluded with the first preview of This is It, a concert film documenting the rehearsals of Michael Jackson's planned 2009 tour. It was worth staying up until 11:30 for: In the footage he's energetic, focused, charming and dances like quicksilver, just like the MJ of our childhoods.

Of course, this isn't the first time Michael Jackson will be playing himself in the movies. Remember 1998's Moonwalker? It wasn't released in theaters in the U.S., but you probably had it on a dusty VHS tape, and it still airs frequently on cable TV. It's less of a movie than a collection of videos, kicking off with "Man in the Mirror" (you remember, the one where your parents had to explain who Gandhi was). Then there's "Leave Me Alone" (Michael dances with the Elephant Man!) and a really trippy Claymation segment where Michael is played by a leather-clad rabbit on a bicycle.

But the part of Moonwalker that has no doubt lodged itself in your subconscious is "Smooth Criminal," the short film in which Michael must save three towheaded youngsters from an evil mob, controlled by Joe Pesci and hellbent on getting the world's children addicted to drugs. The Michael Jackson of "Smooth Criminal" is a benevolent savior with magical powers, including the ability to metamorphose into a giant laser-shooting robot, a la Transformers. Naturally, he saves the world, then immediately runs onstage to do a show, flanked by adoring children. In a weird way, the "Smooth Criminal" film may be the most personal thing MJ ever let us see – a private fantasy in which he is Peter Pan, keeping childhood alive the only way he knew how: through performance.

Here's hoping that This Is It captures that same magic.

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