TV

Footnotes in the Great Book of Gummi

Still cute, funny and entertaining, Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears holds up remarkably well on every level.

Every morning before catching the bus to middle school, my friend Mike and I would hang out in my living room and talk about gettin’ laid and droppin’ acid and wildin’ out to the thrash-metal anthems of Suicidal Tendencies, Exodus and Slayer.

We’d also talk about Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears.

Understand: This was 1990. Nirvana had yet to christen our generation’s revolution with Nevermind, and Beck had yet to offer that most counterintuitive of calls to arms: “I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me?” In other words, the youth culture in the United States had yet to choose those great gods Irony and Sarcasm as its golden calves. Mike and I fancied ourselves double-tough muhfuggas, and yet our passion for the goddamn Gummi Bears cartoon was 100 percent earnest.

I remember that Mike seemed shaken one day as he summarized the plot of that morning’s episode, which I’d inexplicably neglected to watch. When he told me that the evil Duke Igthorn had located and even pillaged that sacred gummi bear sanctuary Gummi Glen, I was more upset at missing that morning’s episode than I was when Rosie Graziano later refused to go out with me. (Perhaps Rosie only opted not to love me on accounta my having missed such a pivotal entry in the Gummi Bears canon.)

What qualities could this cartoon have possibly boasted to have inspired such sober loyalty from two junior high school stoners? I’d been a Gummi Bears fan since fourth grade, so perhaps habit and nostalgia partly accounted for my affection. But on the other hand, I wasn’t still clinging to other aging animated series, like Kissyfur or Muppet Babies. Was the writing in Gummi Bears so uniquely deep and challenging? Did its dialogue crackle with wit and energy uncommon in children’s animated fare of the late ‘80s? Or were our expectations merely… low?

Eager to determine whether Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears was a timeless animated classic or merely another embarrassing cultural relic of the better-forgotten ‘80s, I bumped disc one of Gummi Bears Volume One to the top of my Netflix queue and invited my five-year-old daughter to watch with me, so that I could later claim to have rented it for her.

I ultimately chose to undermine my own alibi by watching the pilot episode by myself while my daughter slept, before I’d even notified her that the disc had arrived. I didn’t want to be distracted by her inevitable barrage of questions, you see; I am as earnest as ever in my Gummi Bears fandom. And guess what? The dialogue in Gummi Bears cartoons is energetic, even today. Indeed, while I am not going to suggest that Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears is challenging or deep, it holds up remarkably well on every level.

I knew back in fourth grade that, regardless of its quality, Gummi Bears was special just because it marked the first time that Disney had ever produced an animated television series. (Various internet sources suggest that The Wuzzles aired at the same time, or perhaps even predated The Gummi Bears; I maintain that I knew more as a fourth grader in 1986 than the internet knows in 2009.)

What I didn’t realize was that Gummi Bears represented an unprecedented commitment on Disney’s part; TV Tropes is just one of many sites that notes that the animation budget for Gummi Bears was considerably larger than that of any other animated series of the ‘80s. And 20-some years later, you can tell; the characters move in a very fluid manner, and human, ogre and bear cub faces are all incredibly expressive.

The series also offers many quiet moments of inspired slapstick silliness. In my favorite example, a group of towering, dimwitted ogres watches, utterly baffled, as an invading Gruffi Gummi runs through their camp, popping in and out of visibility thanks to a half-assed spell from senile gummi sorcerer Zummi.

The energetic dialogue in Gummi Bears would perhaps be merely serviceable in any other series, but the talented cast keeps every exchange engaging; one of the ogres eventually captures Gruffi in the camp, and marvels, “Never see nothing like you. What is you?”

Meanwhile, gummi glutton Tummi is voiced by Lorenzo Music, who admittedly used the exact same Zen/stoner tones in his portrayals of Garfield and Ghostbuster Peter Venkman, but since he was so endearing in each role, we won’t hold it against him. (A curious bit of trivia: Lorenzo Music voiced Garfield and Peter Venkman in their respective animated TV series, and Bill Murray portrayed both characters in their respective live-action movies.)

Gummi nemesis Duke Igthorn seems to have inspired Gaston from Beauty and the Beast; both characters are barrel-chested, self-aggrandizing, egomaniacal and hilarious. Igthorn marvels in the pilot’s opening scene, “How did I get so brilliant? It hardly seems fair to the rest of the world.”

Later, having received a power-up after downing a vial of gummi berry juice, he wastes the opportunity to conquer Dunwin Castle by choosing instead to start monologuing, but somehow, we find ourselves rolling our eyes with Igthorn, not at him.

Ah, gummy berry juice; only the ‘80s could have produced a concept so delightfully nonsensical. If a gummi bear drinks the juice, his entire body becomes bouncy, which affords a cute little bear more offensive heft than you might expect. If a human drinks the juice, he enjoys a brief jolt of super-strength. (Is Gummi Berry juice MonaVie?) Alas, the juice only works on humans once a day; one is reminded of the rule that one must never feed a Gremlin after midnight.

Meanwhile, Igthorn was not the only source of inspiration for Beauty and the Beast. I always liked that Beauty and the Beast’s Belle is such a bookworm, and a subtle highlight of the Oscar-nominated classic is when she sings (to an attentive but politely indifferent goat) a loving plot synopsis of her favorite tome: “Here’s where she meets prince charming. But she won't discover that it's him ‘till chapter three.”

Earlier, she describes the book thusly: “Far off places, daring swordfights, magic spells, a prince in disguise!” Belle is clearly describing her own story, and this in 1991, before self-aware metafiction became all the rage along with irony and sarcasm. (Aladdin’s Genie was of course nothing but such postmodern playfulness, albeit in a much less subtle fashion.)

But Gummi Bears was there first; in “The Sinister Sculptor”, the titular artist uses a magic powder to turn animals into statues, which he then sells as “amazingly lifelike” works of art. In his opening scene, this sculptor places a freshly frozen rabbit on a shelf in his cart, alongside blink-and-miss-it statues of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.

TV Tropes also rightfully points out that Gummi Bears contained unusual feminist idealism for the time period (“the female characters avoid The Smurfette Principle sexism, with multiple characters with strong, well-defined personalities who bow to no one.”) Princess Calla introduces herself not by brushing her hair or pining for a prince, but by leaping dangerously from a castle tower into a pile of hay.

In a later episode (“Girl's Knight Out”), her father King Gregor learns the value of equality when Calla, whom he’d denied a chance to participate in a test of physical strength and skill, enters the contest incognito and proceeds to win. (Ironically, the contest was meant to determine who would have the duty and honor of protecting the girl who eventually won the contest.)

Little surprise, then, that the gummis proved equally enchanting to my daughter; while she failed to grasp the subtler jokes, and while she insists that the opening theme’s lyrics are not “high adventure that’s beyond compare” but rather “high adventure that’s beyond their hair,” and while her entire critical justification for citing wee Cubby Gummi as her favorite character is, and I quote, “He’s pink,” she has spent this entire week practicing her bouncing skills with all the grim focus of an aspiring Olympic athlete.

Still, do any of its postmodern gags or feminist plots make Gummi Bears a transcendent work of art? Hardly. But they prove that the Gummi Bears animators, writers and voice actors were all willing to try a bit harder than their competitors, and that they were clearly having fun at their jobs, with the result that, two decades later, Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears is still cute, funny and entertaining, which is more than one can say about most shows from the ‘80s.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

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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