Disney's Aladdin was my favorite animated film growing up, and it remains near the top of my list. I was enthralled when I saw the film in theaters back in 1992, screened my family's VHS copy hundreds of times, bought the soundtrack to blast on my stereo, and played the 1993 videogame for hours on my Sega Genesis console. This is the animated film of my generation; a perfect mix of music, drama, action and comedy, with one gigantically memorable performance from the late Robin Williams. It has been a few years since I watched Aladdin, so I was happy to receive Disney's new 4K Ultra HD release of the film, timed with the home-video release of the recent live-action remake, and give it a spin. The movie definitely holds up, and it is refreshingly rough-and-tumble for a children's movie. While there are certain cultural representations that border on caricature (and certainly were cleaned up for the remake), Aladdin gives its protagonist real danger and a notable villain to overcome. The film is decidedly less sanitized than the animated films of 2019, and likely would not have made it to theaters without some judicious editing in today's market. Most importantly, Aladdin remains as entertaining as ever, and looks fantastic on this new release.
A New York Times article from July 14, 1993, titled "It's Racist, but Hey, It's Disney," discusses the parallels between some of Aladdin's less politically correct references and turbulence in the Arab-American community thanks to the ubiquitous Saddam Hussein standing in as the world's villain, terrorist threats to New York City landmarks, and stories about Iranian women being imprisoned for revealing their hair that received global attention. This was one of many articles that decried the film's alleged cultural appropriation, and much criticism was targeted at lyrics like, "Oh, I come from a land, from a faraway place, where the caravan camels roam. Where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face. It's barbaric, but hey, it's home." Disney subsequently cut parts of that line from home-video releases, but left the city's characterization as "barbaric." I only mention this because I acknowledge there are some questionable moments in Aladdin - sword eating, cobra dancing, the physical characteristics of certain characters, etc. - that do not represent modern Disney. Aladdin is illustrated filmmaking history, and, unlike Disney property Song of the South, its occasional flaws are easily accessible.
Turning to the narrative, which is no doubt familiar to the majority of people reading this article, Aladdin keeps things relatively straightforward. Our hero Aladdin (Scott Weinger for dialogue, Brad Kane for singing) lives in the fictional city of Agrabah, near the Jordan River, with his pet monkey, Abu (Frank Welker), and must steal from street vendors to survive. One day, he meets a disguised Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin) in the market and falls in love. Jasmine dreads her impending arranged marriage to a prince, despite reassurance from her kindly father, the Sultan (Douglas Seale). The sultan's power-obsessed Grand Vizier Jafar (Jonathan Freeman) seeks a powerful lamp hidden underground in the Cave of Wonders, and discovers Aladdin is the only man worthy of entry into the cave. He tricks Aladdin into retrieving the lamp, which houses an affable Genie (Williams), who offers to grant his new master three wishes. Jafar becomes obsessed with claiming the lamp's power and begins a nefarious campaign to manipulate the Sultan, marry Jasmine and kill Aladdin.
The music and lyrics of Aladdin by the famed Alan Menken are instantly memorable, particularly cuts like "One Jump Ahead," "Friend Like Me," and "A Whole New World." Aladdin is an animated musical but it never goes overboard with songs. In fact, much of Aladdin is more traditional action and dialogue. The narrative is forward-moving and involving, and directors Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid) effortlessly blend the action, musical numbers and drama. The voice acting is excellent, with Williams of course being the standout. This performance is a perfect representation of the zany comedian, and he keeps the Genie's quips fast and frequent. Weinger may sound a bit too much like a California teenager, but his Aladdin is endearing, and Larkin's performance is a nice complement.
This movie is a notable part of the Disney Renaissance that included The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, among others, and is indicative of the increasingly complex and rewarding narratives of this era. Disney also displays its first computer-assisted animation in the Magic Carpet character. The traditional animation is beautifully drawn and rendered here; backgrounds are complex; and several sequences, including the escape from the Cave of Wonders and the marketplace scuffle, are incredibly complex and look fantastic in motion. Aladdin has a few warts due to its early ‘90s roots, but is one of Disney's finest achievements. I could gush about Williams's performance for paragraphs, but there is no need; his Genie is a household name. At 27 years old, Aladdin is timeless, universal entertainment.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
Aladdin unspools on 4K Ultra HD with a 1.66:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer with HDR10 that preserves the theatrical aspect ratio. The previous 2015 Diamond Edition Blu-ray offers a solid picture, and, while this 4K image is not wildly different, it does provide what I feel is the film's best presentation on home media ever. The biggest difference I noticed between the 2015 Blu-ray transfer, the included 2019 Blu-ray transfer and the 4K image is the increased color depth and range. The image is overall darker on the 4K, but it appears more true to the theatrical exhibition, with inky blanks; bold, beautifully saturated reds and oranges; and twinkling blues and greens. Sharpness is relatively similar to the HD image given the source material, but the 4K certainly provides excellent, artifact-free compression and the image is totally absent of source flaws. Depth and clarity are slightly improved, too, and the image looks great in motion.
The Dolby Atmos mix, which I sampled as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix, is solid, but is mastered at a lower volume level than typical, which is a recurring problem for Disney releases. Cranked up a few notches, the mix is impressive, with excellent element separation, reasonably immersive effects and a weighty score. Effects pans are appropriate, dialogue is clear and free of distortion, and I noticed no element crowding. French, Spanish and Japanese 5.1 Dolby mixes are included, as are English SDH, French, Spanish and Japanese subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the 4K Ultra HD disc, a Blu-ray with the movie and bonus features, and a digital copy code. The discs are packed in a standard black case that is wrapped in an attractive slipcover. All extras are found in the digital realm or on the Blu-ray disc: You get a Sing-Along mode; Aladdin on Aladdin (30:27/HD), a new featurette that follows Weinger as he reunites with castmates; Let's Not Be Too Hasty: The Voices of Aladdin (2:58/HD), a new montage of voice recording sessions; newly released Alternate Endings (2:05/HD); and a Classic Bonus Preview (0:59/HD). Those classic features include Genie Outtakes (8:53/HD); Aladdin: Creating Broadway Magic (18:52/HD); Genie 101 (4:00/HD); Ron & John: You Ain't Never Had a Friend Like Me (5:36/HD); a Song Selection menu; an Audio Commentary by Producers/Directors Musker and Clements and Co-Producer Amy Pell; and an Audio Commentary by Supervising Animators Andreas Deja, Will Finn, Eric Goldberg and Glen Keane. A few extras from the Diamond Edition do not appear here, but the included digital copy code does allow access to numerous digital-only vintage extras.
This new 4K Ultra HD release of Aladdin offers excellent picture and sound and some solid bonus material. Aladdin remains an engaging film from the Disney Renaissance of the early 1990s, and offers exciting, universal entertainment 27 years on. Highly Recommended.