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|Kevin Krock, editor|
Since its debut in November of 1992, Disney's take on the Arabian Nights fairy tale has been a massive hit. It is one of those titles, like Beauty and the Beast and Little Mermaid, which signaled the renaissance of the Disney animated feature in the late '80s and early '90s. The movie strikes a classic balance of multi-level humor, adventure, fiendish evil, and heart, and it does that along with a memorable soundtrack and great animation. As icing on the cake, comedian Robin Williams voices Genie, probably one of the more memorable Disney characters of the recent past, and his rapid fire ad-libs provided the perfect inspiration for Eric Goldberg's wonderful shape-shifting animation. Altogether, it is one of my personal favorite Disney films from the last 20 or so years, and I am sure it is probably on most of your top 10 lists.
Since it has been about 10 years since it was last released on home video, here is a brief refresher on the storyline. The story follows Aladdin, a street-smart orphan, and his mischievous pet monkey, Abu, through the streets of Agrabah. By chance, he meets and falls in love with the free-spirited Princess Jasmine. However, Aladdin does not have a chance with her, since the law of the land states that the princess can only marry a prince, and the evil vizier, Jafar, has his sights set on Jasmine so he can take over the kingdom.
Through a twist of fate, Aladdin is sent by Jafar to fetch a magic lamp from the Cave of Wonders, and while searching for it, Aladdin unleashes the powerful, blue, and hilarious Genie, who grants him three wishes. With that, Aladdin's luck starts to turn around, but Genie can only do so much to bring Aladdin and Jasmine together before the meddling Jafar takes over the kingdom and gets rid of the young couple. It is a fun adventure story with plenty of action, heart, and humor to keep the whole family interested.
This is the fourth Disney Platinum Edition release, and the previous three have all been amazing collections. Given the popularity of Aladdin, I was expecting nothing less for this set, and I am happy to report that I was not disappointed. While some of the bonus material is undoubtedly ported over from the old laserdisc special edition set, it all looks fresh and is a treat to finally have on DVD.
Disc 1 primarily contains the movie, but there is a pleasant amount of bonus material to keep you absorbed for a while. There is a selection of deleted songs, including the much-ballyhooed song, Proud of Your Boy, that was the last song written by Howard Ashman. The song comes from a storyline that was dropped early in the production, and it is presented three different ways: sung by Alan Menken along with storyboards, sung by pop star Clay Aiken with the storyboards, and as a music video staring Aiken.
I am not a big fan of Disney's pop music videos, so I preferred watching the storyboards with Menken's original demo vocals. Oh, then there is that other pop music video with Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey. I tried to watch it, but no thanks. I'll stick with the original version of A Whole New World for a bit longer.
Fortunately, to offset the pop music videos, there is also a series of four deleted scenes from the aforementioned original story treatment, including a couple with Aladdin and his mother. The scenes are interesting to watch, but given the dramatic change in the story during the production, it is obvious why they did not fit.
The best bonus parts of the first disc are the two commentaries. The Filmmakers' Audio Commentary features John Musker (Producer/Director), Ron Clements (Producer/Director), and Amy Pell (Co-Producer), and it is an interesting look at how the film changed and developed during production. However, I found the Animator Audio Commentary more fascinating and engaging. The commentary features animators Andreas Deja (Jafar), Will Finn (Iago), Eric Goldberg (Genie), and Glen Keane (Aladdin) discussing not only their personal inspirations for their characters but also several humorous behind-the-scenes stories. Short of stepping back in time and listening to Walt and his Nine Old Men talk about their movies, I can't think of a better and more distinguished group of lead Disney animators to listen to for 90 minutes.
Turning to Disc 2, it is simply packed with additional bonus material. Among the smaller items, there are a few fun items that my two young boys thoroughly enjoyed. There is a fun look into the Genie's lamp, staring Iago and hosted by Robin Leach (host of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous), and it takes you through a 3-D tour of Genie's home. You can also take a self-guided tour of the lamp.
The disc also contains a brief segment of animation created by Eric Goldberg showing what Genie did after he was freed, and my boys particularly enjoyed seeing Genie in all sorts of funny poses in a variety of settings. The most popular item for my boys, though, is Aladdin's Magic Carpet Adventure. This is part game and part virtual ride, much like the virtual safaris on the Lion King DVDs. Their favorite part was the surprise host of the adventure and a couple of the cameos that periodically occur in the game. Even though it is rather linear, I have lost count of the number of times they have played it.
My favorite part of the second disc, but not my children's, is the documentary feature, A Diamond In The Rough: The Making of Aladdin, which you can watch either in a linear fashion for about 1 hour and 45 minutes or in self-guided sections. This behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film features a unique combination of documentary film clips taken during the production and segments of a production team reunion discussion for Cal Arts students at the Hyperion Theater in Disney's California Adventure. The documentary is broken into several sections, including an introduction, the music, the animators, and the voice talent. After each of the video sections, a variety of work-in-progress animation, storyboards, animator demonstrations, recording sessions, or interviews are either automatically played or presented in a menu for your selection. It is a wonderful collection of information, stories, and artwork, and it is a perfect addition to this set.
Overall, this is an impressive collection of bonus material for both animation loving adults and families with younger viewers.
Video, Audio, and Interface
Even though this movie is not all that old, it underwent an extensive digital restoration and enhancement to ensure the video and audio took full advantage of the DVD format. The THX-certified anamorphic widescreen video transfer looks fabulous, with solid and vibrant colors, excellent detail, and no visibly distracting digital compression artifacts. In fact, in some cases characters and backgrounds were redrawn to add more detail. The movie just looks great, and it will sparkle on just about any family home theater system.
The audio is equally fantastic. Besides the standard Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack, which is virtually identical to the theatrical mix, Disney has started to re-mix certain soundtracks, like Aladdin, to heighten the surround effects specifically for home theater systems. The 5.1 Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix is pretty impressive, especially if you have a surround sound setup, and it is noticeably different from the standard surround mix. Things really kick in during scenes like the Cave of Wonders and the climactic final confrontation between Jafar and Aladdin. It is pretty fun stuff, and it will sound good on any system from headphones to a full 5.1 sound system.
My one complaint is that the layer change on the movie disc happens right as Jafar makes his last wish. The switch was seamless on my laptop, but on my new Sony DVD player, Jafar says, I wish to be an all-powerful and the next thing I hear is music. I thought to myself, What happened to ' Genie!', the last word in Jafar's climactic pronouncement? But after checking a couple of times, the problem looked terminal. I know layer changes have been a challenge since the inception of the format, but in many cases, the switch is disguised by a scene change or placed in a lull. This switch just happens to occur during the climactic conclusion of the movie, and the audio gap is very disruptive at that point. So, if you are very sensitive about these kinds of things, just be aware that this may occur on your DVD player. Unfortunately, there is no way to predict whether it will happen with your player.
Finally, the interface is well themed but not particularly spectacular. Most of the effort and disc capacity has been used up by the content, so the interface is relatively lean. It is cleanly laid out, and several of the screens feature enough animation and music to maintain the feel and environment of the feature. Even though it is simple, it maintains the nice polish of this set and is easy enough for even the youngest of family members to navigate.
The Final Evaluation
Quite simply, Disney is now four for four on the Platinum Editions, and this set will make a very nice addition to your home video collection. Next up, Bambi in March 2005 and Cinderella in October 2005, so start saving your pennies.
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Kevin here.
Kevin Doc Krock is been a long-time animation buff and home theater fan. He's been following the rise of the DVD format in the home market since its introduction, and he hopes to help you make the most of your family's home theater viewing time and video collections.
You can contact Kevin here.
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