Kids' DVDs: June 2007

Flushed Away

Given that babies and young children love nothing more than repetition, repetition, and... um.... repetition, I can't understand why even the pointiest of heads would think children between the ages of six months and three years could possible need 23 different Baby Einstein DVDs.

Flushed Away

Director: David Bowers
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Bill Nighy, Shane Richie, Geoffrey Palmer, Simon Callow, Jean Reno
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: DreamWorks Animation
Display Artist: Sam Fell, David Bowers
First date: 2006
US DVD Release Date: 2007-02-20

Happy Feet

Director: George Miller
Cast: Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Brittany Murphy, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving, Anthony LaPaglia
Distributor: Warner Brothers Video
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
US DVD Release Date: 2007-03-27
First date: 2006

Charlotte's Web

Director: Gary Winick
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Julia Roberts, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Oprah Winfrey, Cedric the Entertainer, André Benjamin, Thomas Haden Church, Robert Redford, Reba McEntire, Kathy Bates
MPAA rating: G
Studio: Paramount Pictures
US DVD Release Date: 2007-04-03
First date: 2006

It's been a while since our last traipse through the highlights and lowlights of children's entertainment. Having spent more time than usual enjoying and enduring such offerings, I've developed some pretty firm views on what works, what doesn't work, and what there really ought to be laws against.

For example, the Baby Einstein shtick no longer works for me. I've always accepted that DVDs and a Sony widescreen won't turn my little drool-monster into the next Alicia Witt, let alone a second Mozart. But I've also understood that all Real Parents need to use TV as a pacifier from time to time, and that a series that offers cultural stimulation has rather more parent-appeal than those pastel-coloured spawns of Satan, the Teletubbies). But given that babies and young children love nothing more than repetition, repetition, and... um.... repetition, I can't understand why even the pointiest of heads would think children between the ages of six months and three years could possible need 23 different Baby Einstein DVDs. Let's be honest, shall we? The horse they're flogging dragged itself to the glue factory years ago.

Even if that wasn't so, Baby Einstein: My First Signs [Rating: 3] offers only 27 minutes of American Sign Language (ASL) and Conceptually Accurate Signed English (CASE) for a recommended price of $20, and compares very poorly with the established and independent Signing Time and Baby Signing Time series. However, the expensively wrapped Baby Einstein product does come complete with The L Word's Marlee Matlin, the Oscar-winning star of Children of a Lesser God, and definitely the hottest deaf MILF on Disney's payroll.

To be fair to Uncle Albert Einstein -- who apparently earns more than $20M per year for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem thanks to his royalties from Apple, Nikon, and Disney -- the Little Einstein DVDs offer better value and entertainment than the Baby Einstein products. One of this superior TV series' unrivalled strengths is its focus on the wonders of geography, and Little Einsteins -- Legend Of The Golden Pyramid [Rating: 7] takes the diverse but relentlessly middle class Leo, Annie, June, and Quincy on enjoyable adventures through Egypt, China, and San Francisco. Out on the West Coast, they visit the Coit Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge while somehow managing to miss out on the Castro. Perhaps Leo and Quincy aren't all that diverse after all.

Disney's other recent animated releases have included Mickey's Great Clubhouse Hunt [Rating: 5] and two new volumes in each of the company's Funny Factory [Vol. 3 - Rating: 3] [Vol. 4 - Rating: 5] and It's A Small World of Fun [Vol.3 - Rating: 4] [Vol. 4 - Rating: 3] DVD series. We could talk for hours about the ethics of Disney's never-ending exploitation of its heritage, but we'll be talking about marketing later, so let's just say that Funny Factory With Huey, Dewey, and Louie - Volume Four is the pick of the retro-releases and that the latest bright and bouncy Clubhouse DVD has a thoroughly Easter theme despite portraying itself as a "Springtime Special". Pagans, heretics, non-believers, Muslims, and the Children of Israel might consider themselves warned.

After The Mouse, a cat. He may be the star of the world’s most widely syndicated comic strip, but Garfield has almost always left me entirely cold, and the insipid Garfield and Friends - Behind the Scenes [Rating: 4] does nothing to reverse that trend. I recommend that Jon take his cat to Washington DC and abandon him on the corner of Sixth and Constitution.

Like Garfield, the Backyardigans and Bratz are two of the more successful non-Disney animations around. But that's all they have in common. As evinced by The Legend of the Volcano Sisters, [Rating: 7] Backyardigans Tyrone, Tasha, Uniqua, Pablo, and Austin have a winning formula based on a mixture of wild imagination and musical variety. The Bratz, however, have achieved their billion dollar success by stealing Mattel's plans for Crack Ho Barbie and encouraging six years old to dress like dyslexic sluts.

My sister-in-law once bought my daughter a Brat (that's the singular, right?), so I ate her liver, barbecue-style with a nice six-pack of Shinerbock. If anyone offers your child Bratz Fashion Pixiez [Rating: 1], you should assume he's grooming said child and report him to the FBI. And if you ever allow your own little princess to watch this nonsense (the eighth DVD in the series!), you should be prepared to see her making homemade sex tapes and serving 45 days in jail before she reaches 25.

I would have liked to contrast Bratz Fashion Pixiez with Christy - The Complete Series [Rating: 4] starring Kellie Martin and Tyne Daly. But Christy is something of a disappointment. She's thoroughly wholesome, of course, in an L. M. Montgomery meets Michael Landon kinda way. But she's neither very compelling nor entertaining, although the Appalachian scenery is seldom less than breathtaking.

If you're in the mood for a four-disc box set for a teenage girl, you'd do better to invest in Sabrina The Teenage Witch - The First Season [Rating: 7]. I'd thought i>Sabrina was a spin-off from the marvelous Bewitched, she's based on a comic that predates Bewitched. While Sabrina The Teenage Witch lacks the timeless charm of my favourite domestic magic show, it's actually far better than I'd expected, based on my unremitting loathing for the stupid fake cat Salem. The writing is clever, the cast members hold their own, and Jenna Leigh Green is an absolute joy as the series' Plastic Heather. Fans of the almost pretty Melissa Joan Hart will be happy to hear that the second season of Sabrina will be coming out this summer. I, however, am hoping to see Green in Wicked.

Next to the Bratz, the stars of the latest Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM), Jump In [Rating: 5], are all utterly inoffensive, even the school bully. But if these kids are supposed to be role models for future generations then Allah help us all. Briefly, Jump In's a 10-cent High School Musical knock-off staring Corbin Bleu (Chad from High School Musical) as the world's least likely boxer. Following his star, Bleu abandons boxing and instead finds himself in Double-Fricking-Dutch. Yeah, right. Self-realisation is all very well, but from the sweet science of Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali to competitive skipping? I don't think so. That's a Saul/Tarsus moment to inspire any boy right there.

And don't talk to me about concussion, brain damage, and cauliflower ears, -- not when the alternative is tripping over a rope and cracking your head open on the blacktop. Okay, I sense some parents may prefer that mommy's little soldier plays with ropes rather than learn the noble art of self-defence. That, of course, is their absolute right. Just as they have the right to dress their sons in girls' clothing and call them Susan. And just as the residents of Chester in the UK have the right to kill any Welshmen found within the city walls after midnight, providing they use a bow and arrow. Either way, there have been many far better movies released this year than Jump In.

Sadly, Read It and Weep: Zapped Edition [Rating: 4] isn't one of them. Based on Julie DeVillers' teen novel, How My Private, Personal Journal Became A Bestseller, this DCOM offers little more than a familiar plot, apparently avoiding any interesting themes and ideas from the book.

My favourite animated movie DVD so far this year is Aardman Studios' Flushed Away [Rating: 8]. Highlights of this excellent movie include The Toad (Sir Ian McKellan as a cross between a Bond villain and Noel Coward in The Italian Job), Le Frog (Jean Reno), and Le Frog's hench-frogs. But the true joy of Flushed Away lies in its good-hearted wit and invention, its unrestrained use of slapstick, and the way it manages to retain Nick Park' marvelous claymation style of animation despite being made in CGI.

Warner Brothers' Happy Feet [Rating: 7] is a movie that seems to have divided opinion. Critics have complained about its political message, its use of '80s pop standards, and its take on organised religion to the extent that I'm not at all sure which annoyed them most. Personally, I think parents should be glad of an opportunity to talk with their children about the environment, the politics of religion, and the relative merits of Queen, Prince, and The King. And give me Brittany Murphy singing "Somebody to Love" over a faxed-in performance by Phil Collins any month of the millennium. On the big screen, I loved Happy Feet despite its somewhat awkward plotting. On the smaller screen in the living room, however, it seems diminished.

Cinderella III - A Twist in Time [Rating: 5] is yet another direct-to-DVD Disney sequel with a plot Helen Keller could see from space. However, it's still a substantial improvement on Cinderella II - Dreams Come True. Where that first sequel was actually three short stories strung together into a piece of low quality Disney Princess (TM) merchandising, A Twist In Time is a respectable movie with decent production values that transforms the previously paper-thin Cinderella and her Prince into more engaging characters.

The original Hanna-Barbera movie of Charlotte's Web [Rating: 6] was a faithful animated rendition of the E.B. White text with impressive voice talent (including Debbie Reynolds, Agnes Moorehead, and Paul Lynde). The big-budget version from Paramount dropped the songs and animation for a mix of CGI and live-action. Think Babe crossed with... Babe II. Highlights in voice casting include Julia Roberts, Steve Buscemi, and Andre 3000 and Thomas Haden Church as a pair of scene-stealing cows. Robert Redford, Oprah Winfrey, and John Cleese do less well. And, unfortunately Dakota Fanning plays Fern. The way Hollywood continues to throw roles at La Fanning, you'd think it'd never heard of AnnaSophia Robb. Still, Charlotte's Web is can be enjoyed by all but the most rabid Fanning-phobes.

Which is considerably more than can be said for Air Buddies [Rating: 3], a case of Disney franchise madness that reverses the plot of 101 Dalmatians (the puppies rescue their kidnapped parents) in an utterly predictable yawn-fest.

In That's So Suite Life of Hannah Montana: Mashed Up Edition [Rating: 4], the set piece sees Raven-Simone (That's So Raven) and then Hannah Montana check into the Tipton to ruin the surprisingly entertaining Suite Life of Zack and Cody.

As for SpongeBob SquarePants - Friend Or Foe [Rating: 8], I won't hear a word said against SpongeBob, Patrick, Mr. Krabs, Plankton, or (most especially) Squidward Tentacles. But the persistent hype leading up to the launch of Friend or Foe and Nickelodeon's Foedown special event surpassed even the previous SpongeBob extravaganza, The Best Day Ever. The DVD release of Friend or Foe came just four days after the Foedown and its Nicktoons premiere, and includes the double episode title piece and six other previously unavailable episodes from the fifth season of SpongeBob. "Friend or Foe" itself is bracketed by an unfortunate attempt at pirate-based live-action humour that falls short of The Hasselhof, but otherwise admirably unveils the secret behind Krabs and Plankton's enmity. The best of the other episodes are "Spy Buddies" (in which SpongeBob and Patrick spoof both Bond, Batman, and Mission Impossible) and "Waiting". This is about the only episode I've ever seen where Squidward (who is clearly Eeyore for the New Attention Span Kids) is actually nice to SpongeBob.


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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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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