Aladdin: Platinum Edition Review
The early to mid 90s are often regarded as the Disney studio's second golden age: a period in which its new generation of animators achieved a high level of expertise with the medium and finally managed to shake off the mediocre box office takings and quality of films from which they suffered in the years following Walt Disney's death. Although short-lived, this period produced some of the corporation's most financially and critically successful films ever, including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Released in 1992, Aladdin began as a quirky little project helmed by John Musker and Ron Clements, the writing/directing team responsible for The Little Mermaid, the film regarded as sparking off a renewed public interest in Disney. Initially passed off as doomed to failure by the studio's management for a multitude of reasons, not least that fact that it was due to be released hot on the heels of Beauty and the Beast's phenomenal success, Aladdin went on to gross nearly $500 million worldwide and is regarded by many as Disney's greatest achievement to date.
There is much to appreciate about Aladdin. It has an extremely consistent design, thanks mostly to Eric Goldberg, the supervising animator brought on board specifically to design and animate the Genie. Goldberg was influenced strongly by the art of caricaturist Al Hirschfield, whose simplified shapes and curved, flowing lines were applied not only to the Genie but to all the other characters and backgrounds. This uniformal look is something that has been almost completely lost in the majority of Disney's recent animated films, most of which feature characters who look like they belong in completely different movies (the exception being Chris Sanders' mini-masterpiece Lilo & Stitch). The believability achieved by maintaining consistency cannot be undervalued and, more than anything, I think that this is why Aladdin feels so legitimate. Special mention must also go to the various supervising animators and their teams for bringing the varied cast to life with such skill. Glen Keane's Aladdin is a good deal more expressive and charismatic than previous Disney male heroes, and Andreas Deja's Jafar is delightfully twisted (assisted by a great voice performance by Jonathan Freeman). The stand-out for me, however, is Randy Cartwright's animation of the magic carpet. It is quite a feat that he was able to put so much personality into what is basically a rectangle with no face or voice.
This is also probably the only time that the inclusion of a celebrity personality as a voice actor has actually affected an animated movie in a positive way. The celebrity in question is Robin Williams, whose off-the-wall antics and ad-libs breathe a great deal of life into the Genie. Although frequently pointless and at times missing their mark, his random quips, jokes and impressions make Aladdin Disney's most comtemporary work to date, providing an interesting and surprisingly successful contrast to the age-old fable upon which the film is based. (Ironically, Williams' presence was indirectly responsible for ushering in an era of uninspired casting of famous actors as the voices of characters in the various movies that followed Aladdin. I mean, does anyone really care that Mel Gibson lent the voice to the thoroughly boring John Smith in Pocahontas, or that the shrill whines of Simba in The Lion King were emitted from the windpipe of Matthew Broderick?) The other voice actors do a decent job of assisting the animators in the task of bringing the characters to life, although Gilbert Gottfried threatens to be a little too overbearing in his role as the voice of Iago, Jafar's irate parrot.
Playing second fiddle to the comedy and visuals is the romance between Aladdin and Princess Jasmine, which is probably a good thing, as it's a relatively generic affair that has been visited in countless other Disney movies. The common theme throughout is that all the main characters are trapped in some way (the Genie in the lamp, Jasmine in the duties of being a princess, Aladdin by his social status), and it is far more interesting than the love story itself.
The weakest-looking aspect of Aladdin is its computer-generated animation. With the integration of CG within a 2D world still in its infancy in 1992, it often sticks out like a sore thumb. This is especially true of the talking tiger's head that is the guardian of the Cave of Wonders. Originally animated in 2D and then converted into 3D, there is a great deal of character in the animation, but it doesn't fit with the look of the rest of the film. The same is true of the magic carpet race through the cave 30 minutes into the film, which at times is so primitive in its use of 3D that it resembles a video game. Finally, the "skinning" of the pattern on the magic carpet, while frequently impressive, at times doesn't quite fit, creating an effect where the textures "swim about" as the carpet moves.
These are minor problems, though. While Aladdin is not the greatest film the Disney studio has ever come up with, it is arguably its wildest and least pretentious. The broadness of the animation and inventiveness of the gags is something not normally witnessed in Disney animation, which has a habit of trying painfully hard to mimic real life. Aladdin, therefore, belongs in everyone's collection, young or old, animation fanatic or not.
Aladdin is presented anamorphically in the CAPS native aspect ratio of 1.66:1 (theatrical presentations were slightly matted to 1.85:1, and the laserdisc release was unmatted a little to approximately 1.5:1). This is an decent quality transfer for the most part, marred only by occasional mosquito noise and a slight softness. Mercifully, Disney have not treated Aladdin to the inane vandalism inflicted on last year's appalling release of The Lion King. As far as I can tell, none of the animation this time round has been modified, and the colours have been transferred faithfully (The Lion King's colour timing was completely knocked out). Furthermore, the original Walt Disney Pictures logo and scrolling end credits have been maintained (although some additional credits have been added for the DVD restoration and remix). Perhaps, now that Disney have done such a good job with this release of Aladdin, they can re-release The Lion King with their meddling corrected.
Aladdin features two English Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, one of which is labelled as the original, with the other touted as a remix "Disney Enhanced Home Theatre Mix". The closing credits feature a Dolby Stereo logo, but I am informed that the original mix was indeed 5.1. As a result, I have focused on the former track in this review and ignored the latter.
Since Aladdin was created relatively early on during the surround sound revolution, it is rather subdued in its multi-channel audio activity, but this is no bad thing - it just means that it lacks the excessiveness of mixes such as those created for Atlantis: The Lost Empire and many of Pixar's movies. Everything is perfectly clear throughout, with no distortion, and there are no obvious problems with synchronization.
Note that one slight change has been made to the film's audio: Aladdin's muttered off-screen line "Good kitty, take off! Scat! Go!", which certain Christian convervatives decided was actually "Good teenagers take off their clothes", has been altered so that the final few syllables are muted. Personally I don't think that this modification was necessary, but if it stops the moral minority from whining, then it will at least have achieved some good.
English and English HoH subtitles are provided for the feature itself, but not for the extras. (The disc 2 bonus features include Spanish, Portuguese and Icelandic subtitles.) There is also an option to play the film with subtitles for the song lyrics only, accessed from the Music menu in the bonus features section. An audio descriptive track for the blind is also included.
Like most of Disney's recent releases, each disc is packed to the brim with overly long transitions featuring masses of embarassing pieces of 3D animation. Thankfully, most of these transitions are skippable, but personally I yearn for the days when each menu was simply a static screen that would appear immediately without having to constantly hit the "Skip" button. A whole bunch of trailers for various Disney movies, DVDs and products also appear at the start of disc 1.
There are a total of 25 chapter stops for the film.
Disney's Platinum Edition line-up was originally advertized as being designed to give animation enthusiasts the best possible versions of a select few titles, backed up with insightful bonus materials. Sadly, although this range has only recently got off the ground, some of the more objectionable elements from Disney's regular releases are already creeping in. With The Lion King last year, this was exemplified by the discs being loaded to the gills with worthless children's games and uninspired educational materials, with a selection of sporadic featurettes covering the film rather than a lengthier documentary (as was included on Disney's excellent 2-disc special edition of Atlantis: The Lost Empire, which remains my benchmark in terms of bonus material for an animated film). With Aladdin, the puerile games remain, and a number of the documentary features are still rather short, but at least this time a "Play All" function has been included for disc 2's extras, and the content itself is rather more in-depth in nature.
Deleted songs - Story reel versions of four deleted scenes are included, along with introductions by various members of the creative team.
Deleted scenes - Story reel versions are provided for two early variations on key scenes, along with introductions by John Musker and Ron Clements.
Music videos - Newly recorded music videos are featured for the deleted song "Proud of your Boy" and for "A Whole New World", as well as the original 1992 music video for "A Whole New World". There is also a story reel for "Pround of your Boy" and behind the scenes featurette for the new music videos. Unfortunately, the new "A Whole New World" music video, featuring Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey, had me on the floor howling with laughter after only a few seconds.
Song selection - This menu provides chapter stops for the six musical numbers in the film, along with the option to play all six one after the other, and to enable lyric subtitles.
Filmmakers' commentary - Featuring co-writers/producers/directors John Musker and Ron Clements and co-producer Amy Pell, this track covers several aspects of the production process, including story problems, technical difficulties and various miscellaneous anecdotes. Like the majority of commentaries on Disney films, the speakers have an unfortunate habit of "name-checking", whereby they announce who worked on which scene or character, which is a nice idea, but ultimately becomes a little annoying, since much of this information can be garnered by reading the credits anyway.
Animators' commentary - Featuring four of the film's supervising animators, Glen Keane (Aladdin), Eric Goldberg (Genie), Andreas Deja (Jafar) and Will Finn (Iago), this track is essentially more of the same, with a lot of name-checking and anecdotes. The two largest personalities in the room, Keane and Goldberg tend to hog the track, with the other two saying very little, especially Deja, whose rather distinctive voice is rarely heard at all. Still, this is an interesting track overall.
Pop up fun facts - This subtitle stream displays trivia anecdotes of various levels of interest throughout the film.
Games and activities - There seems little point in reviewing this section, since it is comprised purely of tedious children's games which I suspect will be of no interest to the majority of viewers. It is a crying shame that features like these are filling up valuable space on what is supposed to be a collector's edition. Featured are a virtual magic carpet ride, a 3D tour of the Genie's lamp, a game that supposedly reveals your fortune, and a completely pointless "world tour", which features drawings of the Genie visiting various locations around the world.
A Diamond in the Rough: the making of Aladdin - With a total running time of slightly under two hours, this section is a behind the scenes look at the production of the film, combining demonstrations of the production process with interviews with many of the main participants, some recorded back in 1992 and others in 2004, specifically for this DVD release. The framework of this documentary is a retrospective discussion featuring co-writers/producers/directors John Musker and Ron Clements, co-producer Amy Pell, composer Alan Menken, supervising animators Eric Goldberg, Andreas Deja, Will Finn and Randy Cartwright, and voice actors Scott Weinger and Gilbert Gottfried. After the disjointed and rather shallow featurettes that were included on disc 2 of The Lion King, this comes as a breath of fresh air. It's refreshing to hear the crew talking frankly about the problems they faced during the production, including then-chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg's demand that they start the whole process again with less than 18 months to go before the release date. Although far too much time ends up being devoted to the voice actors, it's pleasing to see the animators actually receiving some of the spotlight for once. This documentary is hosted by Leonard Maltin, who also presents the Walt Disney Treasures series of DVDs, and who has made something of a reputation for himself as a Disney apologist, hyping and praising even their poorest quality efforts. Still, his presence thankfully doesn't affect the DVD in too adverse a manner.
Alan Menken: musical renaissance man - This 20-minute documentary charts the career of composer Alan Menken, including his contributions to all of the Disney projects with which he was involved, as well as discussing the work of his late partner Howard Ashman, who was HIV-positive and died during the early stages of Aladdin's production.
The art of Aladdin - This section is split into two segments, the first being comprised of a 9-minute "art review", looking at some key art from the film with commentary by John Musker and Ron Clements, and the second being a large image gallery featuring artwork from various stages of the film's production, including visual development, story development, backgrounds and colour keys, and character development. Personally I'm very glad to see both sections included, since on a couple of Disney's recent releases the art review has completely replaced the image galleries.
Publicity - The original theatrical trailer is included, along with three poster designs, and trailers for the horrible direct-to-video cheapquels Aladdin and the King of Thieves and The Return of Jafar.
This Platinum Edition release of Aladdin is a massive improvement on that of The Lion King, preserving the integrity of the original release and backing it up with superior bonus materials, and overall comes highly recommended.
Aladdin is released on the 4th of October 2004.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 11:59:07