BLU-RAY REVIEW: DISNEY'S ALADDIN

THE SET-UP
A poor boy named Aladdin (voice of Scott Weinger) finds a new friend in a powerful Genie (voice of Robin Williams), who helps him woo a beautiful princess (voice of Linda Larkin). Also stars Jonathan Freeman and Gilbert Gottfried.
Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements.

THE DELIVERY
First released in 1992, Disney’s Aladdin has always lived in the shadow of its predecessors, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Compared to those two films, Aladdin has often been viewed as a lesser Disney movie because of its lighter tone, but personally, I’ve always found Aladdin to be more enjoyable and highly rewatchable. It’s an action-adventure wrapped in a musical, and with the added element of the genius of Robin Williams, Aladdin rightfully stands on its own as a great film, and with the passage of time, it is finally being viewed as such.

Aladdin is unadulterated fun, with an outstanding musical soundtrack (by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice) that is more than just the Oscar winning “A Whole New World.” “Arabian Knights” gets the movie going with a bang, and “Friend Like Me,” which was also Oscar-nominated, is a show stopper. Composer Alan Menken’s score for the film also won an Oscar.

Aladdin boasts some fantastic animation, a fine mix of traditional hand-drawn and computer-generated 3D animation that blends together far better than it should. Computer animation often appears lifeless, but here, Magic Carpet shows real personality and character that is rarely duplicated in CGI animation today. The color scheme is bold, and the underappreciated art direction is first rate, and is best appreciated in high definition.

If there is a weak point point in the film, it is parts of Robin Williams’ performance itself. Williams’ riffing often resulted in numerous pop culture references, many of which do not exactly age well - seriously, the Arsenio Hall reference was out of place even in 1992. Even so, that doesn’t detract from the overall brilliance of Williams’ performance, whose personality practically leaps off the screen.

The passing of Robin Williams gives viewers the opportunity to revisit the film and gain a new appreciation for this underrated gem. Aladdin is outrageous fun from start to finish, and now, nearly 23 years after it was released, it has only gotten better with age.

VIDEO AND AUDIO
Finally getting Aladdin in high definition is a treat, as viewers can appreciate the fantastic animation and art direction, which is among Disney’s finest in the modern era. The newly-restored video transfer looks superb, with nice sharpness and detail, yet it still retains the small imperfections of hand drawn animation. Colors are bright and bold, but haven’t been overcorrected into a muddled mess. Audio is a speaker-rattling 7.1 DTS-HDMA mix, with great low end and excellent clarity when the songs are featured.

SPECIAL FEATURES
The Blu-ray brings over a bevy of special features from the 2004 special edition DVD, which are fantastic and informative. The newer special features, with the exception of the Robin Williams outtakes, are less impressive, but the overall quality of the extras is quite satisfying.

“The Genie Outtakes” featurette. By far the best of the special features is this look at some of the outtakes from Robin Williams’ recording sessions. It’s great fun, and at times, even poignant, as co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements reflect on the loss of Williams and how he lives on through the Genie. Running time: 8:53.

“Aladdin: Creating Broadway Magic” featurette. Composer Alan Menken and members of the cast and crew of the Broadway production discuss the challenges they faced in adapting Aladdin to the stage. It’s pretty informative, and there are some candid discussions about the stumbling blocks the musical had early on. Even if you haven’t seen the musical, this featurette is worth taking in. Running time: 18:53.

“Unboxing Aladdin” featurette. Disney Channel star Joey Bragg presents some “behind-the-scenes” facts and “Easter Eggs” from the film. Running time: 4:40.

“Genie 101” featurette. Scott Weinger (the voice of Aladdin) hosts this look at all the impressions Robin Williams performs in the film. It’s kind of sad that someone has to explain this new generation who Groucho Marx is. Running time: 3:59.

“Ron & John” featurette. Aladdin co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements discuss their decades-long friendship, and their professional collaborations on multiple Disney classics including Aladdin. Running time: 5:35.

Digital Copy. A high definition digital copy of the film, compatible with Disney Movies Anywhere, Ultraviolet, and iTunes, is included.



The following features were originally included in a previous DVD release, and most are not in high definition.

Deleted Songs. Four songs are featured: “Proud of Your Boy” (Original Demo Recording), “You Can Count On Me,” “Humiliate the Boy,” and “Why Me.” Members of the film’s musical team and crew discuss each song prior to the song being played to original storyboards.

Deleted Scenes. Two deleted scenes are included, set to original storyboards: “Aladdin and Jasmine’s First Meeting” and “Aladdin In The Lap of Luxury.” Co-directors Musker and Clements introduce each clip.

Music Videos. “Proud of Your Boy,” the more notable of the film’s deleted songs, is given new life thanks to former American Idol contestant Clay Aiken, who performs the song in a music video (running time: 2:20). A short “behind-the-scenes” video discusses the song and the making of the Clay AIken music video (running time: 3:20). The song is also presented against the original storyboards (running time: 2:13).

“A Whole New World” gets an update from Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey (don’t laugh - this was done in 2004, when they were still a thing). The song doesn’t differ much from the original, but Simpson and Lachey actually sounds really good in a duet in an otherwise bland music video (Running time: 4:14)   A “making of” video features Simpson and Lachey talking about how much they love the song. Running time: 3:45.

A music video of the original 1992 R&B version of “A Whole New World” with Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle is also included. It’s still the best version of the song outside of the film. Running time: 4:07.

Disney Song Selection. This feature allows viewers to go directly to each song in the film. On-screen lyrics are optional.

“Inside the Genie’s Lamp: A Guided Tour” featurette. Gilbert Gottfried (Iago) lends his voice to a 3D animated tour of the inside of the Genie’s lamp. It’s a bit pointless, but it is what it is. Running time: 6:13

“The Genie World Tour” featurette. Iago and Jafar narrate this animated short which follows the Genie as he travels around the world. Running time: 3:14.



“A Diamond in the Rough: The Making of Aladdin” featurette. This well-done documentary not only covers the production of the film, but the original “Arabian Knights” tale as well. There is also come candid reflection on the many early problems the film encountered. It’s a rare look that few studios allow. The animators also get the chance to discuss their work, something I always love seeing in Disney films. Running time: 1:10:52.

“Alan Menken: Musical Renaissance Man” featurette. Alan Menken is honored in this fantastic featurette that highlights his amazing work. There’s also a look at his rarely-seen personal life. Running time: 19:55.

“The Art of Aladdin: Art Review with Filmmakers’ Commentary” featurette. Co-directors Musker and Clements showcase concept paintings and drawings for the film, and discuss how they influenced the final animation and art direction. Running time: 8:45.

Trailers. The original theatrical trailer, as well as trailers for The Return of Jafar and Aladdin and the King of Thieves are included.

Audio Commentaries. A commentary with co-directors/producers John Musker and Ron Clements and co-producer Amy Pell is informative and entertaining, as is a second commentary with supervising animators Andreas Deja, Will Finn, Eric Goldberg, and Glen Keane.

THE BOTTOM LINE: 20-plus years later, Aladdin gets better with age
Aladdin is finally getting its due respect as one of Disney’s better modern classics. Robin Williams’ fantastic performance is a highlight, of course, but Aladdin is also an outstanding adventure wrapped in a musical. The blu-ray is a bit light on substantial new special features, but that doesn’t detract from an outstanding video transfer and audio presentation.

BLU-RAY SPECS
Release Date: October 13, 2015
Rating: G
Running Time: 91 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 7.1 DTS-HDMA, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital.
Subtitles: English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, Spanish.
Audio Commentaries: Two commentaries, one with co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements and co-producer Amy Pell, and a second with animators Andreas Deja, Will Finn, Eric Goldberg, and Glen Keane.
Label: Walt Disney Home Entertainment


Victor Medina is a freelance writer based in Dallas. He is the editor of several websites, and his writing credits include The Dallas Morning News, Yahoo News, Cinelinx.com and SportsIllustrated.com. He has served as a Dallas County election judge and on the Board of Directors of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. You can follow him on his blog, VictorMedina.com or on Twitter at @mrvictormedina. He can be reached by email at vic@victormedina.com.

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