'101 Dalmatians' Remains a Diamond in Disney's Crown

Featuring a story filled with wonderful characterizations, genuine excitement, and a perfectly earned ending, 101 Dalmatians is one of Disney's best.

101 Dalmatians

Director: Clyde Geronomi, Hamilton Luske, Wolfgang Reithman
Distributor: Disney/Buena Vista
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
US release date: 2015-02-10

Disney's 1961 animated film 101 Dalmatians is both groundbreaking and highly entertaining, which no easy achievement -- one not necessarily obvious from today's perspective. Based on Dodie Smith's 1956 book of the same name, the story follows two dogs and their human counterparts as they contend with a dognapping at the hands of the aptly named Cruella DeVil. The film marks a departure in terms of context for Disney, as it is wholly modern in tone and look, featuring a contemporary setting, with a less traditional animation style and a jazz score.

The story is narrated by Pongo, the dalmatian of bachelor songwriter Roger, who attempts to find a mate for his "pet". This sets off an iconic sequence of dogs and owners with uncanny resemblances, a trick that is used throughout the film. It's clever, amusing, and also an excellent way to set a playful tone, particularly so soon after the equally playful opening credits. Quickly, the plot is set in motion as Pongo and Roger head to the park and meet Perdita (dalmatian) and Anita (woman), fall in love (respectively), and become a family. It is when Perdita has a litter of 15 puppies that Cruella DeVil blows into the story, quickly shifting the narrative to one of adventure and suspense.

When it is revealed that Pongo and Perdita's puppies are only part of Cruella's larger litter, acquired solely for the purpose of turning them into fur coats, a real sense of fear and suspense is injected into the film. Cruella's henchmen, Jasper and Horace, are dimwitted and lazy, yet also very afraid of her and follow all her orders without question. Nevertheless, they allow the 99 puppies to escape. Their journey home is filled with close calls, near misses, and the help of other animals, creating a genuinely tense series of events that eventually leads to their reunion with Roger and Anita and the adoption of all the other rescued dalmatian puppies.

Cruella is as perfect a villain as any Disney has ever produced. She's immediately imposing, a sort of evil Auntie Mame presence who makes grand entrances and sweeping statements, completely stealing every scene. She's drawn as wild-eyed and manic, with hair that's half white and half black, instantly making an impression. Yet apart from her physical presence, she's unapologetically horrible. The scene in which she orders the puppies killed is shockingly unfiltered, not only for the time, but even for contemporary sensibilities. She says, "Poison them, drown them, bash them in the head. You got any chloroform? I don't care how you kill the little beasts, but do it and do it now!" It's a moment that shouldn't come as a surprise, as her intentions have been obvious all along, but hearing it voiced so plainly is still shocking.

Conversely, the film also includes many sweet moments that highlight the bond between humans and their pets, as well as the the bond between animals. Early on, when Perdita is giving birth to the litter, it appears as if one of the puppies hasn't survived. In a beautifully understated moment, Roger, with Pongo anxiously waiting beside him, warms up the puppy and brings him back. It's a tender and ultimately joyous moment that illustrates just how connected the characters are to one another. Similarly, there's a scene in which the dogs are gathered around the television set watching their favorite program starring Thunderbolt, the hero German Shepherd. It's a touching scene of familial happiness that also fleshes out the puppies' personalities, particularly as they interact with their parents and one another.

Perhaps one of the film's best sequences is known as "The Twilight Bark", a telephone-like communication system between dogs. It begins when Pongo and Perdita learn that the puppies have been kidnapped and they immediately enlist the help of other dogs in the surrounding areas. As the dogs are shown barking and listening, passing on the message of the missing puppies, there are even cameos of the dogs from Lady and the Tramp, among the many shown. The genuine worry they exhibit is communicated through the terrific animation; there's real feeling to the animals, and there's never any question of their concern.

Interestingly, though Roger is a songwriter, there are not many songs in the film. There's a wonderful jazz score by George Bruns that brings an energy and immediacy to the story, all the while creating a modern landscape and underscoring the more emotional scenes beautifully. As for traditional songs, there are only three, one of which is a jingle featured in a television commercial shown as the dogs are watching television. The other two are "Cruella DeVil" and "Dalmatian Plantation", though it is the former that is the standout. Catchy, clever, and memorable, it serves as Cruella's theme, and in some ways the theme of the film overall.

101 Dalmatians is a beautifully realized film that highlights the storytelling abilities of animation in the best ways possible, in a thoroughly contemporary way that still feels modern today. A story filled with wonderful characterizations, genuine excitement, and a perfectly earned ending, the film is one of Disney's best.

The release of the Diamond Edition Blu-ray contains all the original special features that were part of the earlier release, as well as a batch of all new extras. The featurettes include a great deal of behind-the-scenes information, both on the making of the film and the high stakes of its production. With regards to the latter, 101 Dalmatians was in danger of being the last animated Disney picture, as their previous release, Sleeping Beauty, had underperformed at the box office. Moreover, the animation involved would've been especially painstaking given the number of puppies required in so many group scenes. Each individual spot would've needed to be drawn by hand over ad over but the studio instituted the use of Xerox machines to aid in the process, and it was so successful that it would go on to be used in many films to come. Moreover, 101 Dalmatians was an instant hit and reaffirmed Walt Disney's faith in animation. The Diamond Edition is an excellent release that perfectly illustrates how brilliant a film 101 Dalmatians is, with an array of bonus features that adds even further to its enjoyment.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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