Not everyone had the opportunity to grow up during the peak of Disney animation. "Bambi" was likely ancient by the time most of us were born. That doesn't mean it's any less enjoyable, but every generation should have one to remember their childhood by. For a lot of us, that movie is "Aladdin."
The city of Agrabah is a tough place for young Aladdin (Scott Weinger). Forced to steal food in order to eat, he lives off the land until he unknowingly runs into Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin). Unable to marry her because he is not a prince, Aladdin is almost forced to deal with his fate until he comes across a magic lamp. The Genie (Robin Williams) inside changes everything until he is taken away from his new master by the sorcerer Jafar (Jonathan Freeman). Now Aladdin must not only end the reign of Jafar, but save the Genie and Jasmine at the same time.
"Aladdin" is a fairly routine adventure with the usual round of songs and wacky animal characters. The story is hardly deep or involving and if you have ever seen an animated film in this vein, you can pretty much guess the outcome. What makes the film a classic inside the Disney vault is the combination of splendid animation and Robin Williams.
There is absolutely no one alive who could have played the character of the Genie other than Williams. Yes, someone else COULD have, but it never would have been the same movie. He brings with him such energy just through his voice, that it gives the film an energetic spark that lasts until the final frame. He also plays a small role in the beginning as a merchant peddling merchandise and gives the movie a perfect opening.
Though there is some CG work (including most of the magic carpet), this is mostly a beautifully drawn piece of art, featuring flawless use of color and motion. Yet again the Genie is the focus, morphing into hundreds of other forms in rapid fashion. Jafar's red and black color scheme is a perfect contrast to the film's generally bright tone, setting him up as the villain quickly and effectively. Most of the CGI doesn't hold up as well 12 years later (especially with the clarity of the restoration on this DVD) but its use is mostly brief and non-intrusive.
Toss in some very memorable music to enhance those strong points and "Aladdin" easily became a classic for a new generation of Disney fans. It has that special something that just seems to be missing from the last few efforts like "Brother Bear" and "Home on the Range." It may not break new ground, but most importantly, it's just fun to watch regardless of your age. (***** out of *****)
A new digital restoration powers this 2-disc edition and it's one of the best from the studio yet. There are some problems, notably some annoying edge enhancement and occasionally (rare) out of control compression issues, but for the most part, they nailed it. Every frame of animation comes through in gorgeous detail with this 1.66:1 widescreen transfer. There are no problems with the print, not even a small speck. It has obviously been kept well preserved. Kudos to Disney for what is probably their best non-CG transfer yet. (****)
"Aladdin" contains another one of the studio's "enhanced surround" mixes ("Lion King" had one as well). I'll have to admit I'm not very familiar with the technology, but it sounds great. It can be a bit obvious that the sounds coming from the rear channels are a bit forced and have some added emphasis put on them, but it creates a much more impressive sound field. Those speakers never get drowned out in the action. Bass is strong were it should be (the escape from the cave will likely get plenty of play time from audio buffs) and none of the dialogue is lost. The standard 5.1 mix sounds just about the same, though the rear speakers won't get as much work. (*****)
Though you can purchase this set by itself, die-hards will want to look at the collectors set. Not only does it come with a hard bound book explaining the restoration process, interviews with the creators, and the movie's storyline, you'll also get a nice packet of matted sketches. Everything comes in a thick box that could probably take quite a bit of punishment in case the kids got a hold of it. That's the way the movies should be presented.
But that's getting too far ahead. Disc one contains a surprising amount of features. First is a deleted song, "Proud of Your Boy," performed by American Idol winner Clay Aiken. You can watch it with the original storyboards to get an idea of how the song would have played out. There is also a full music video for the song with Clay recording the song. "Music and More" contains some information on that song along with behind the scenes footage. You'll also hear a new version of "A Whole New World" performed by the "were-on-TV-way-too-much-these-days" duo of Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey.
Nearly six minutes of deleted scenes continue the onslaught on disc one along with two audio commentaries, one from the animation crew, the other from the director and some of his staff. The option is also there to watch the film with pop-up trivia facts.
Disc two is headed by "Diamond on the Rough," a nearly two hour documentary that covers almost every single aspect of the film, from the false start to the clean-up animation. Disney does a great job with this documentary, allowing you to watch it all at once, or pick it apart and watch any of 30+ segments individually. A separate featurette is "Alan Menken: Musical Renaissance Man." This is a 20-minute look at, well, Alan Menken and his music for the film.
Splitting off from that huge pack of features is another section on the art of the film. "Art Review" looks at some of the concepts and finished work for about 8-minutes and the still gallery is self-explanatory. Publicity features trailers and posters, including some for the two sequels, "Return of Jafar" and "King of Thieves." Kids can have some fun with the various games like "3 Wishes" which tells their fortune or take a trip through the Genie's lamp. Though it doesn't seem like that much here, this is a truly exhaustive look at the making of animated feature, one that will likely overwhelm you when the discs enter your player. (*****)
There has yet to be a dud in this Platinum line of DVD's. If you have any interest at all in the Disney films, each one of these four discs (Beauty and Beast, Lion King, Snow White, Aladdin) is a benchmark. It's not just the special features either. Hearing "Snow White" with a fully remixed soundtrack is something to behold. Things will likely only get better with "Bambi" next year.