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Aladdin: Diamond Edition

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // G // October 13, 2015
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Randy Miller III | posted October 6, 2015 | E-mail the Author

There's no doubt about it: Aladdin (1992) is truly one of Disney's best-loved animated films, continuing a successful string of hits that's now known as the studio's "Renaissance" from 1989-99. After The Little Mermaid earned strong returns as the 1980s drew to a close, Disney hit a home run with Beauty and the Beast: another financial and critical success that, in my opinion, still stands as the studio's greatest achievement. With such a tough act to follow, Disney still managed to deliver the goods with Aladdin, the 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. 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 one of Disney's better efforts), Aladdin is still a strong production in every regard...and it's got the financial success and staying power to prove it.

Overall, Aladdin does little to break the "Disney formula" that has become their trademark: romance, unwavering optimism, and a likable cast of characters (which usually includes at least one goofy animal sidekick) are all front and center; for the most part, only the scenery has changed. But it's a double-edged sword in this case: while Aladdin is still a fun ride, the song-and-dance formula was starting to feel a little familiar after the one-two punch of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Still, I've seen and enjoyed the film countless times since then; it 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) and still does. I've also got a little one to share it with now, which helps.

Aladdin has aged very well for obvious reasons: the studio's mixture of hand-drawn animation---which is all but a relic in this day and age, but may be due for a comeback in the near future---and fledgling CGI blend together perfectly, thanks to the talented young artists at Pixar who would jump ship to develop Toy Story just a few years later. Aladdin's memorable "Cave of Wonders" sequence is the real standout here, from the introduction of a friendly magic carpet (incidentally, the studio's first character partially animated with CGI) to a thrilling escape and, of course, the cave's intimidating visage. Still, most people are drawn towards Aladdin for its colorful characters, and Robin Williams' performance as the Genie remains one of the late actor's most iconic roles: he creates such a massive and magnetic presence that it's hard to believe his screen time only amounts to less than 60 minutes.

From a technical sense, Aladdin is Disney near the top of their game: character animation is pitch-perfect, and the backgrounds are even better. Combined with a full orchestral score composed by Alan Menken, as well as songs by Tim Rice and the late Howard Ashman (who died during production), Aladdin is a well-rounded effort that looks and sounds like a million bucks. Even with a few faults in pacing (common in epic films less than 90 minutes long), the story zips by without dragging. Basically, the only problem that holds Aladdin back is a somewhat uneven balance of comedy and drama: at times, the laughs 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 also lessens the emotional impact of the story. While this never truly hurts the film, it keeps Aladdin from reaching the level of Disney's very best. But it's still a fantastic slice of animation, crafted with extreme care and loaded with memorable moments.

Believe it or not, it's been more than a decade since Aladdin's last home video release, a two-disc Platinum Edition DVD that earned high marks from yours truly. Disney's new "Diamond Edition" Blu-ray feels like it's a few years late to the party but continues to play to the film's strengths, serving up a top-notch A/V presentation and a collection of new and classic bonus features that firmly bolsters Aladdin's legacy while introducing it to a new generation of fans. Sure, the opening song is still altered, but the film doesn't appear to fall victim any further revisions (unlike The Lion King)...aside from the front cover font looking suspiciously less "Arabic", but that's small potatoes.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio (as opposed to a few other Disney releases that have been opened up to 1.78:1), Aladdin leaps off the screen at every turn. The film's robust color palette often favors warmth, but the image never feels over-saturated: this is simply a vivid, jaw-dropping effort that easily stands with the studio's best-looking Blu-rays. Black levels are solid from start to finish, digital problems are virtually non-existent (aside from minor source material issues, like trace amounts of banding), and the film's crisp character designs are rendered in fine detail. I'll give credit to the Platinum Edition DVD for being a fantastic effort for its time, but the improvements in line quality, texture, and color reproduction are obvious from start to finish. Die-hard fans have every reason to be excited about this release, because there probably won't be a better-looking animated Blu-Ray this year.

NOTE: The screen captures and images featured in this review are decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p resolution.

Gone is the DVD's more theatrically accurate Dolby Digital 5.1 track (although lossy French and Spanish 5.1 dubs are still here), but that's no complaint: this all-new DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix absolutely delivers the goods. The film's occasional action sequences and memorable music cues burst to life from all directions, while the subwoofer is given plenty to do as well. Channel separation is very well defined (and, as a whole, significantly more expansive than the DVD's audio mix), dialogue is extremely crisp, and the film's dense but inviting atmosphere is preserved perfectly. From start to finish, this crystal-clear audio presentation is an equal match to the reference-quality visuals. Optional English, SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles have been included during the film and most of the extras.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

Disney's standard menu interface is gradually getting more user-friendly: trailers and other ads now include a pop-up option to jump to the main menu or access the film immediately. As for the menu itself, it's smartly designed and easy to use with separate options for playback, audio/subtitle setup, chapter selections, and bonus features. This two-disc release (one Blu-ray, one DVD) is housed in a lightweight dual-hubbed keepcase with minimal inserts, a Digital Copy redemption code, and a matching prismatic slipcover. Disney's cover template still stinks, though.

Bonus Features

There's plenty to dig through here, and most of it has been recycled from the terrific Platinum Edition DVD.

New to this release (and advertised prominently) are two Genie-related bonus features, leading off with a selection of Audio Outtakes (9 minutes) featuring the late Robin Williams and intermittent words from co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements, and animator Eric Goldberg. This is much shorter and less in-depth than expected (hours upon hours of outtakes were apparently recorded, and most of them probably aren't G-rated), but this one's worth a look for more than just the audio: new sketches and original storyboards are presented between clips from the film to put the jokes in context, and the tributes from Musker and company are a nice touch. On a related note is "Genie 101" (5 minutes), a brief history lesson hosted by voice actor Scott "Aladdin" Weinger, who likewise pays tribute while clarifying a handful of Williams' celebrity impressions that might go over the heads of younger viewers.

The new stuff continues with "Ron & Jon: You Ain't Never Had a Friend Like Me" (5 minutes), a chat with co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements as they revisit their working experiences together, from the early days to taking the lead on The Little Mermaid. It's a fine inclusion made better by the fact that these two play off each other nicely. In contrast, "Unboxing Aladdin" (5 minutes) is a short Easter egg hunt hosted by Disney Channel caricature Joey Bragg; you might learn something new, but it's aimed squarely at kids in the most obvious ways possible.

The best of the new extras (and one I didn't think I'd like at all) is "Aladdin: Creating Broadway Magic" (20 minutes), an overview of the well-received Broadway adaptation and its troubled beginnings, from adapting the difficult source material to filling the Genie's massive shoes. It's hosted by actor Darren Criss and includes words from Disney Theatrical Group president Thomas Schumacher, along with lead actors Adam Jacobs (Aladdin), Jonathan Freeman (Jafar), and Courtney Reed (Jasmine). Plenty of interesting stories and behind-the-scenes footage here.

Recycled extras (listed as "Classic Bonus Features") are given their own section, and it looks as if everything from the Platinum Edition DVD has been carried over, aside from a few still galleries and on-screen games. These mostly terrific supplements include a pair of Audio Commentaries (one featuring producers/directors John Musker, Ron Clements, and co-producer Amy Pell; the other with supervising animators Andreas Deja, Will Finn, Eric Goldberg, and Glean Keane), the excellent documentary "A Diamond in the Rough: The Making of Aladdin" (110 minutes total), six Deleted Scenes and Songs (20 minutes total). a Musical Documentary featuring Alan Menken (20 minutes), three Music Videos with accompanying featurettes, a few Art Featurettes, a Promotional Gallery with trailers, and more. For a more detailed explanation of any or all of these recycled extras, click the DVD review link above.

Final Thoughts

Disney's Aladdin remains an impressive production more than 20 years after its original release, thanks to the same care and polish that made The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast the first steps in the studio's "Renaissance" from 1989-99. Featuring terrific hand-drawn animation (flanked by touches of early Pixar greatness), a memorable score and soundtrack, plenty of laughs, and an extremely quick pace, it's still a family favorite ready to be enjoyed by a new generation. Only the recent loss of Robin Williams spoils the party somewhat, but his massive and magnetic performance as the Genie remains one of Aladdin's most enduring highlights. Disney's new Diamond Edition Blu-ray feels several years late to the party, but it's certainly worth the wait: we're treated to a top-notch A/V presentation and a collection of new and classic bonus features, many of which have been carried over from their Platinum Edition DVD. Overall, it's a fantastic release that's deserving of our highest rating: DVD Talk Collector Series.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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