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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Aladdin: Special Edition
Aladdin: Special Edition
Disney // G // October 5, 2004
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted September 30, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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There's no doubt about it: Aladdin (1992) is truly one of Disney's best-loved animated films, and helped continue a successful string of hits for the long-running studio. After The Little Mermaid earned a credible amount of success as the 1980s drew to a close, Disney hit a home run with Beauty and the Beast: a financial and critical success that---in my humble opinion---is their finest animated feature of the last 20 years. With such a hard act to follow, Disney still managed to deliver the goods with Aladdin, a classic tale of a poor boy who uses his street smarts, exceptional luck, and a bit of magic to live "happily ever after" with the girl of his dreams (and no, that's not a spoiler...it's Disney's trademark). To get the job done, Disney employed an exceptional cast of voice talent and a fine team of award-winning animators and composers. While it's not quite up to the level of its predecessor (or The Lion King, another of Disney's best efforts), Aladdin is still a strong effort in every regard, and it's got the financial success and fan following of all ages to prove it.

For the most part, Aladdin does little to break the "Disney formula" that has become their trademark: romance, unwavering optimism, and a likeable cast of characters (which always includes at least one goofy animal sidekick). Of course, it's a double-edged sword in this case: while it's a fun ride, everything seems a little familiar by now...especially since it's been 12 years since the film's theatrical release. Still, I've seen and enjoyed the film countless times since then, as it really captured my imagination from the very first viewing (after all, I was but a 13 year-old boy who wasn't afraid to go to an animated movie with a princess in it).

The highlights of Aladdin are many: there's great characters, from the charismatic young Aladdin himself (voiced by Scott Weinger) to the villainous Jafar (Jonathan Freeman). Of course, there's also the obligatory batch of sidekicks, including the sarcastic bird Iago (Gilbert Gottfried) and thieving monkey Abu (Frank Welker). Another highlight is the Genie of the Lamp himself (Robin Williams), who brings his trademark brand of off-the-wall humor and improvisational ability to the film's biggest supporting role. Although his routine can be a little excessive at times, it adds a much-needed spark---but if you don't like Williams' style, his performance here isn't likely to change your mind.

Of course, there's also the top-notch artwork and music. There's not much doom and gloom to be found in Aladdin, as the colorful, smooth style of animation really adds a layer of detail to the story. Character animation is pitch-perfect, and the backgrounds are even better. Combined with the trademark Disney style of orchestral music, Aladdin is a well-rounded effort that holds up well. Even with a few faults in pacing---which are usually common in seemingly epic films that run under 90 minutes---the story goes by quickly and never drags. Basically, the only problem that holds Aladdin back is the somewhat uneven balance of comedy and drama. At times, the laughs really seem to fight for attention when they shouldn't, resulting in a substantially lower level of drama and danger. Sure, it makes for a fun, sweeping adventure, but it can lessen the emotional impact of the story a bit. While this doesn't truly hurt the film, it keeps Aladdin from reaching the level of Disney's best work. But it's still a great work of animation...and that's never a bad thing.

It's been a long road to DVD, but Disney has finally seen fit to add Aladdin to their lineup of Platinum Series releases. It's now the fourth inductee to the collection (which also includes Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King), and easily up to par in overall quality. From a great technical presentation to a decent mix of bonus features, this 2-disc set is sure to be another huge seller for Disney. While I could have done without a few of the supplements, it's hard to complain when Disney has seemingly thrown in everything but the kitchen sink. With that said, let's see how this one stacks up, shall we?

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality:

Make all the "Di$ney" jokes you want, but they're virtually second-to-none when it comes to stellar DVD presentation. It's hard to believe it's been over 12 years since Aladdin was first released, but you'd never know by the quality of this 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. Let's put it this way: the colors were so bold that I actually had to take a break from watching at least once. Image detail and contrast are superb, and really bring the colorful world of Aladdin to life. Only a few minor nitpicks kept this presentation from being perfect, namely a few instances of very mild edge enhancement and a few traces of interlacing. Otherwise, this visual presentation is up to the high standard of Disney's Platinum Collection, so fans of the film have nothing to worry about.

Another highlight of Aladdin is the terrific audio mix, available in several options: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, and Spanish) and an all-new Disney Enhanced 5.1 Home Theater mix. The latter option has been available on previous Platinum Collection releases, and it's a great example of a tastefully done remix of an already great-sounding film. I sampled both options during viewing, and found the Home Theater mix to have a clear edge in overall clarity, dynamic range, and overall ambience. While the rear speakers didn't get quite the workout I was hoping for, this was an awesome presentation that really does justice to the film's voice acting and original score. English subtitles and a THX audio/video optimizer have also been included.

Menu Design, Packaging & Presentation:

Another great aspect of this DVD presentation was the attention to detail in the menus and packaging. Colorful designs and animated backgrounds make the overall menu presentation a work of art in itself, and navigation is pretty simple too (although a few of the sub-menus are a bit clunky). The 90-minute film has been divided into 25 chapters, and a layer change was detected near the 70-minute mark. The bonus features (which will be covered shortly) are also nicely organized, and the sub-menus and packaging also offer several indexes for your convenience. The packaging is yet another highlight, and follows the standard style for Disney Platinum releases: a slim double keepcase with slipcover, including a nice insert and tons of advertisements. Overall, it's hard to complain with the effort Disney's put forth here.

Bonus Features:

Perhaps the only slight disappointment with this release is the lineup of extras. That's not to say it's a bad mix of stuff at all...but it seems like for every terrific bonus feature, there was a not-so-terrific bonus feature. Sure, your 8-year old may squeal with delight over a guided tour of the Genie's luxurious lamp estate. Naturally, your 13-year old daughter will likely swoon over the Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey (and Clay Aiken OMG!!!1) music videos. And of course, for the rest of us, there's a handful of genuinely interesting featurettes about the actual making of the movie. Still, the whole set---like the bulk of Disney's other Platinum releases (namely Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King)---occasionally seems too bloated and watered-down for its own good. You have to give Disney credit for trying, though...there really is something for everyone in this package, and that's nothing to complain about. Anyway, there are a few diamonds in the rough, so let's get started:

Disc One starts things off right with a pair of Audio Commentaries with the filmmakers and animators (surprisingly, this didn't seem to be mentioned anywhere on the packaging). The first track, featuring producers/directors John Musker, Ron Clements, and co-producer Amy Pell, was a decent listen, as the trio sheds a modest amount of light on the film's production and troubled history. More interesting was the animator's track, featuring Andreas Deja, Will Finn, Eric Goldberg, and Glean Keane (supervising animators for Jafar, Iago, Genie, and Aladdin respectively). As a fan of cartoons and animation, it's nice to hear about their experiences firsthand, as these four participants seem laid-back and comfortable about a project that must have been quite a burden at times.

Moving on, we're treated to a series of Deleted Scenes and Songs (about 20 minutes total). These are modestly interesting little artifacts from the early stages of Aladdin, and are presented in rough storyboard form with basic musical accompaniment. Next up, we're given a sampling of past and present Music Videos (also 20 minutes total), including work from the aforementioned Simpson, Lachey, and Aiken, as well as the original "A Whole New World" video with Regina Belle and Peabo Bryson. Continuing the musical theme, there's also a handy option to Jump to a Song (as well as another option to play the film with onscreen song lyrics). Closing off this first disc, we're also given a Pop-Up Fun Facts subtitle option...it's a little repetitive, but a nice inclusion anyway.

Disc Two starts off with the "Virtual Babysitter" "Games & Activities" section, including The Magic Carpet Adventure, an all-new interactive animation short that features guest stars from other Disney releases. Also here is a Virtual Tour of the Genie's Lamp (hosted by Robin Leach), which is available as a guided tour (6 minutes) or a self-guided tour. Here, you can get inside the Genie's pad...and with a posh setup like this, it's a mystery why he ever wanted to leave. There's also the Three Wishes Game (similar to the magic machine that made Tom Hanks, well, Big), as well as the Genie World Tour (3 minutes), a series of postcards that show what the Genie's been up to lately. Anyway, that wraps up the first half of this second disc...and as cute as some of these extras were, most of them are only worth one look. Luckily, things get a little better in the next section, "Backstage Disney"...

The centerpiece of this second disc is undoubtedly A Diamond in the Rough: The Making of Aladdin (110 minutes total), a movie-length series of featurettes that gives a nice overview of the creation, production, and execution of the film. It's more or less hosted by noted film historian Leonard Maltin, and available in several viewing options: "Your Wish is Our Command" (a branching choose-your-own featurette option), "Play All" (my personal favorite), and a standard "Index" that lets you pick each segment individually. Among other aspects of the film's production, there's a look at the film's soundtrack, the excellent voice talent involved, and---especially interesting---the film's rocky road to success hinted at during the audio commentaries. While this series seems a little disjointed at times, it really does a decent job of covering all the bases and is worth a look. Next up, there's a short Musical Documentary featuring Alan Menken (20 minutes), the wizard responsible for some of Disney's award-winning songs and musical numbers. Although I wish they'd have paid more tribute to late lyricist Howard Ashman (as Aladdin would be his final work), it's a nice overview of the film's great music.

As the second disc winds down, we're treated to one of my favorite sections: a look at The Art of Aladdin. The first little featurette is an Art Review (6 minutes) with commentary by some of the supervising animators, and it gives a nice retrospective of the fantastic work done for the film. Even better---though a little clumsily presented---is a series of Still Frame Galleries that provide an interesting visual history of the film's characters (check out the Genie above!). Next up is a look at the film's promotional material, which includes a rough full-frame Theatrical Trailer, a skimpy Poster Gallery, and an interesting series of Unused Conceptual Artwork Samples. That wraps it up...and although this lineup did seem a little bloated, there's still enough meaty behind-the-scenes material to satisfy any film lover. And hey, let's look on the bright side of things...that Jessica Simpson & Nick Lachey music video will be worth a laugh a few years down the road.

Final Thoughts

Well, Aladdin has finally made it to the Platinum Series Collection, and it doesn't disappoint. While the film isn't Disney's crowning achievement, there's more than enough magic here to please the whole family. The DVD presentation, once again, is top-notch and will really please fans of the film. And of course, the extras follow the same Disney pattern as we've grown accustomed to: sure, the self-promotion is a little excessive, but it's great to see such a complete behind-the-scenes presentation (not to mention a decent pair of commentaries). All in all, it's another great release from the House of Mouse, and truly deserves a spot on your shelf. Aladdin proves to be a fine addition to the DVD Talk Collector Series, and it's worth every penny...so track this one down and enjoy!

Other Disney DVD Reviews:

Beauty and the Beast
The Lion King
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Randy Miller III is a cartooning instructor hailing from Harrisburg, PA. To fund his DVD viewing habits, he also works on freelance graphic design and illustration projects. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.
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