Aladdin, Disney's 1992 hit, sits squarely in the middle of a period known as the 'Disney renaissance'; a time when the company returned from a creative malaise with a strong suite of animated films, which encompasses The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. The last decade and a half has not been so kind to the company, but the films of the Disney renaissance stand alone - continuing to enthrall the same audience that grew up with these films and their introduction to the next generation. I recently had the chance to catch Aladdin and was really gratified to see an audience split rather evenly between children and adults. It was clear that all enjoyed seeing the film again, whether it be again - or for the first time.
Jafar (voice of Jonathan Freeman), adviser to the Sultan of Agrabah is desperately seeking a mysterious oil lamp and frustrated by his attempts to procure it, seeks the assistance of Aladdin (voice of Scott Weinger), a young 'street rat' and his monkey Abu, in order to retrieve it. When Jafar double crosses Aladdin, trapping Aladdin in a collapsed cave, the true nature of the lamp is revealed when Aladdin accidentally rubs it. The Genie (voice of Robin Williams) which emanates grants him three, near unconditional wishes. Soon his wildest dreams are coming true, but such power does not have consequences, nor will Jafar forget his quest so easily.
Animated with a more whimsical style, and punctuated by numerous toe-tapping songs, Aladdin breezes along with panache and style that doesn't constrict itself to a young audience. Many single out the strength of William's vocal performance as the key to the film (which earned him a Picasso as well as a substantial fee), the truth is that sometimes lightning does strike twice. Or in the case of the Disney renaissance, four times.
Aladdin is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1, a slight deviation from the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1, encoded with AVC MPEG-4 compression.
Disney has a great reputation for looking after the prize jewels of their collection and I'm happy to report that Aladdin is no different, granting the film a near flawless presentation - a diamond that is far from rough.
The animation style, with clearly delineated edges and thick strokes is presented well, with vibrant and heavily contrasted tones. A generous bitrate along with a short run time means that there is nary a video artifact to be found, along with a complete absence of film artifacts - the film having received a digital overhaul prior to the DVD release in 2004. Having been animated with the digital CAPS system has also assisted the pristine quality of the original elements.
The only digital aberration I noticed is actually inherent in the film itself; a horribly pixilated wall during the escape from the Cave of Wonders sequence. This has been obvious before, but the added resolution on Blu-ray makes it even more noticeable.
Overall, a pretty amazing transfer that lived up to my very high expectations - no mean feat, I assure you.
Aladdin is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, at 24 bits.
Whilst the previous DVD release featured two 5.1 audio tracks; the rather limp original six channel mix from the film's theatrical release, along with a Disney Home Theater enhanced track which featured a more aggressive 5.1 mix. The Blu-ray release has eschewed the original mix which may upset purists, but most viewers will be completely unawares.
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The films dialogue is unsurprisingly presented well, although some may struggle to keep up with Robin William's fast talking wisecracks. Audio sync is about as good as expected from animation.
The surrounds are used rather aggressively, with significant action in the rear, which places the viewer smack in the middle. There is a lot of ambience, especially in sequences such as the marketplace. The subwoofer is frequently called upon to add emphasis throughout.
The highlight of the soundtrack for many will be the immensely memorable songs, composed by Alan Menken and lyricist Tim Rice for which the film won an Academy Award, along with the signature track "A Whole New World", which also won an Academy Award for best song.
In isolation, Aladdin features a solid collection of extra features, however sadly Disney have not included the complete suite of extra features from the 2004 Diamond Edition two disc DVD. Dropped from this Blu-ray is an audio commentary, a subtitle fact tract and numerous featurettes - a truly disappointing decision that means that fans will have to seek out, or retain the old DVD to get the whole story. Still, let's take a look at what we did get.
The Audio Commentary featuring Directors John Musker, Ron Clements and co-producer Amy Pell is a worthwhile investment for animation fans and historians. At a decade old, the track doesn't benefit from recent movements in the industry, but it is an interesting and informative track full of trivia and other tidbits.
The centerpiece of the supplements is the 90 minute long A Diamond In The Rough: The Making of Aladdin Documentary, which although missing some 10 minutes from the previous DVD release, is still a worthy, if somewhat disjointed entry, which reveals a significant amount of production detail. The highlight for me is the footage of the voice artists at work in the recording booths, but sadly this is one of the rarest insights in the entire feature.
Next up are a collection of two Deleted Scenes and four Deleted Songs, the most interesting which relate to the wisely excised character of Aladdin's mother, the inclusion of which would fundamentally have changed the story. None of these are fully animated and are presented in rough storyboard format.
Finally, we have three music videos, including the most important; the original 1991 music clip to 'A Whole New World', by Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle. The other contributions, by Jessica Simpson with Nick Lachey and American Idol winner Clay Aiken aren't much to get excited about.