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Disney's Platinum Edition DVDs: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs • Beauty and the Beast
The Lion King • Aladdin • Bambi • Cinderella • Lady and the Tramp • The Little Mermaid
Peter Pan • The Jungle Book • 101 Dalmatians • Sleeping Beauty • Pinocchio
Aladdin: Platinum Edition DVD Review
Theatrical Release: November 25, 1992 / Running Time: 90 Minutes / Rating: G
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
Voice Cast: Scott Weinger (Aladdin), Robin Williams (Genie), Linda Larkin (Jasmine), Jonathan Freeman (Jafar), Frank Welker (Abu), Gilbert Gottfried (Iago), Douglas Seale (Sultan)
Songs: "Arabian Nights", "One Jump Ahead", "Friend Like Me", "Prince Ali", "A Whole New World", "Prince Ali Reprise"
Awards: Academy Awards - Best Song ("A Whole New World"), Best Original Score (Alan Menken); Golden Globes - Best Original Score, Best Original Song ("A Whole New World"), Special Award for Vocal Work (Robin Williams)
DISC 2 BONUS FEATURES
Disc 2 is split into two sections: Games & Activities and Backstage Disney. For those who lamented the lack of one major bonus feature on The Lion King, "Diamond in the Rough: The Making of Aladdin" seems to provide a much-needed and dearly missing element from the last Platinum Edition. This is the first and most substantial entry in the Backstage Disney section of Disc 2.
As introduced by Leonard Maltin, there are three ways to enjoy the nearly two hours of content here: (1) watching just the "Making Of" special (about 40 minutes altogether) and choosing from the additional bonus segments in between, (2) playing everything in succession, or (3) individually choosing the portions that interest you from a text Index.
Altogether, with the "Play All" viewing mode, "Diamond in the Rough" runs 1 hour and 50 minutes. It's not exactly a straightforward linear documentary as much as it is a presentation of the various bonus features. Still, while broken into little sections, there is a better flow and (for the most part) a continuity to the piece. The documentary flows nicely through the various elements of production: animation, music, voices, comfortably shifting between footage of the night at the Hyperion, additional interview clips, and a bit of interview and on-set footage from 1992.
It opens with "An Evening with the Creators of Aladdin", hosted by Maltin and taped earlier this year at the Hyperion Theater in Disney's California Adventure theme park (the home of the Aladdin stage show, as Leonard points out). This event, in front of an audience including a number of CalArts animation students, makes up a significant portion of the entire "documentary", and nearly all of it if you select the first viewing option.
When the night is done, Maltin is joined onstage by directors John Musker and Ron Clements, co-producer Amy Pell, composer/co-songwriter Alan Menken, supervising character animators Andreas Deja (Jafar), Will Finn (Iago), Eric Goldberg (Genie), and Randy Cartwright (Magic Carpet), and voice cast members Scott Weinger (Aladdin) and Gilbert Gottfried (Iago). Getting there is quite the revealing and entertaining journey.
Directors John Musker and Ron Clements assert that songwriters Howard Ashman and Alan Menken are really the origins of Disney considering Aladdin as an animated film project. Following, as it did, the hugely successful Broadway-like musical The Little Mermaid (now considered animation's savior), and on the heels of Beauty and the Beast, one might have assumed a straight and sure path to get Aladdin from concept to screen, especially considering that Ashman and Menken were behind the music of both Beauty and Mermaid.
But, from this bonus material, one gets the impression that it was anything but an easy and stable production. Early on in this documentary, Musker and Clements recall "Black Friday", a tumultous day of production in the spring of 1991. Having compiled a full Aladdin story reel, Musker and Clements were asked to essentially start all over again when the reel did not delight then-chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg (who has since moved on to DreamWorks, where he gets rich mocking the Disney formula in crude fairy tale twists).
Just weeks before this "Black Friday", Howard Ashman, the man who had first presented the studio with a story treatment in the late '80s, had passed away. This point in production, even if it's mildly exaggerated for documentary drama (as it may or may not be), offered a clear low for Musker, Clements, Menken, and company.
Enter Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott, the screenwriting team called in to help restructure the story. Of course, it's obvious that the Aladdin that these filmmakers would eventually submit turned out quite alright. (Just look at Disc 1.) But in the process, there were struggles. There was the challenge of making Aladdin both charming enough to woo Jasmine, and yet still an underdog that you can root for. And they faced difficulties with Aladdin's parents, who Rossio and Elliott recommended losing, and were cut.
Finally, the unlimited wishes in the original story were changed to comply with the cinematic rule of threes, as Genie would only be able to thrice grant Aladdin's requests. Dr. Ali Behdad, an English professor at UCLA, briefly details this and other changes that were made for Disney's loose adaptation, providing some scholarly context to the original "Arabian Nights" basis.
There are two recurring elements to this documentary. "Rough Stuff", composed of four production reels scattered throughout, examines the film's visual development with a progression reel, views of various stages of animation and clean-up, and lastly (and maybe most interestingly), live action reference footage which synchs up nearly perfectly with the final "One Jump Ahead" sequence. The second recurring element is footage from backstage of the Hyperion event, in the "Green Room." These four clips featuring the filmmakers of Aladdin make for lighthearted interludes in each section of the documentary. Gilbert Gottfried (voice of Iago) shows up to be acceptably obnoxious
From story, the documentary proceeds to music, as Alan Menken is called on stage. Later on in this portion, we get a look at the original recording session for "A Whole New World" featuring Brad Kane and Lea Salonga as the singing voices of Aladdin and Jasmine. Salonga appears in new interview material to reflect on her experience and supplement the interesting studio footage.
The next section deals with the animation of the film, and it does so in a way that is both less dry and more comprehensive than any other Disney DVD that I can recall. Here, Maltin talks with Andreas Deja, Will Finn, Eric Goldberg, and Randy Cartwright about the challenges and joys of animating they experienced animating their various characters. Glen Keane, supervising animator for Aladdin, doesn't show up at the Hyperion. But Keane, a man responsible for some of the most memorable and demanding motion-filled sequences of Disney films over the past 25 years, does appear in a 4½-minute segment earlier on discussing his development of the protagonist, as the crew shuffled through a number of different looks and ages for Aladdin.
In addition to the on-stage interviews with Maltin, Deja and Goldberg discuss bringing to life Jafar and Genie, respectively, in separate little segments. Goldberg notes his personal inspiration by famed caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, whose artwork essentially influenced the entire look of Aladdin. In a profile of the recently deceased "Line King", Goldberg also discusses how for Fantasia 2000, Hirschfeld worked directly with production as a consultant for the memorable "Rhapsody in Blue" sequence.
You really come to know and appreciate the animators of Aladdin here. In a segment on animating Jasmine, supervising animator Mark Henn talks about his inspiration: his younger sister. She appears to reflect on what it's like having a Disney princess modeled after you. These kind of earnest and personal reflections gratefully contrast with the mostly-promotional tone taken in The Lion King's scant extras.
In an entertaining and loosely related interlude, Jonathan Freeman, the voice of the loathsome Jafar, stops by 33rd & Bird and tries to overcome his fear of aves (birds). Freeman has his animated parrot sidekick in mind as he looks at the feathered inhabitants of this Manhattan pet store.
The next substantial portion of the documentary tackles another thing sorely missing from The Lion King DVD: the voice cast. There are interviews new and old here, as well as a good amount of footage from recording sessions. Altogether, with nearly 30 minutes devoted to the topic, you won't, as with the last Platinum Edition, forget the actors who gave these memorable characters their voices.
Scott Weinger stops by to chat with Maltin and company about his experience voicing such a crucial leading role with a limited television background.
A terrific 10-minute piece on the cast relies a great deal on voice recordings, and here we get a good number of glimpses at the manic Robin Williams let loose behind the microphone. The piece neither shies from covering Williams nor overly emphasizes his participation. The casual viewer who doesn't know about the complexities and frustrations that Aladdin sparked in the Williams/Disney relationship will not learn about it here, but they also won't feel as if Williams is a sore subject that can't be discussed. Not surprisingly, but still a bit disappointingly, Williams does not show up in any interview footage, old or new.
But Weinger appears a good deal, and Linda Larkin (voice of Jasmine) appears in clips from 1992 as well as newly-recorded material. Jonathan Freeman (Jafar) and Douglas Seale (the now-deceased voice of the Sultan) are also given profiles. Gilbert Gottfried gets his own extended featurette, as well, in addition to his many appearances at the Hyperion. The cast's eagerness to talk about their characters, their experiences, and the film is much appreciated, and it adds a whole dimension to the making-of materials that went ignored on The Lion King and is an impossibility for most of the films from Walt's era.
Wrapping up the entire documentary is a 4-minute segment called "Made You Look!" in which just about everyone who turned up at some point offers some general thoughts on this film they contributed to. This portion was pretty much the entire extent of last Platinum Edition, and here, it takes on greater meaning, having just spent nearly two hours looking at the film's production and getting to know these people.
"Diamond in the Rough" provides a real history for the film, elucidating where it stands in Disney's canon, and revealing a number of the many people who collaborated to make such a great work. Covering the various aspects of the work in an appropriately thorough manner, and maintaining a great pace, I can't think of any areas in which this massive bonus feature fails me. As mentioned earlier, it is not too far from segmented extras on other less satisfying DVD releases. But in its organization and breadth, this compilation of production footage and new reflection with most of Aladdin's principle filmmakers seems rather unparalleled.
The second section is a new 20-minute featurette entitled Alan Menken: Musical Renaissance Man. Endearing and perfectly paced, this piece offers a profile of the man behind the music of so many Disney films of the past fifteen years. Literally starting with his birth, this featurette proceeds to cover his youth, his studies at NYU, and Little Shop of Horrors, his first Broadway collaboration with Howard Ashman. The team of Ashman, and Menken would see through the Disney Renaissance kicked off by their first pairing for the studio, The Little Mermaid. Appropriate coverage is given to the young death of Ashman, Menken's close friend and fellow songwriter.
The featurette gathers insight from Menken's parents, producer Don Hahn, directors John Musker and Ron Clements, Aladdin co-songwriter Tim Rice, Paige O'Hara, and Menken himself filmed amid some scenic autumn foliage. There's great footage from over the years of Menken playing the piano and singing the memorable lyrics from prominent Disney fare. The piece makes wonderful use of Menken songs from films like Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Home on the Range, and of course, Aladdin.
I find featurettes that cover a number of films usually provide an enjoyable experience and more interesting perspective. When it's a number of Disney films, as it is here, that makes it even better. That said, this piece lives up to those high expectations. I really liked it. Menken is earnest and his good nature saves this piece from being overly congratulatory or reverential. It's perfectly paced, and it covers territory that really has not been treaded in other DVDs. Fans of Menken's catchy contributions to the Disney song canon will find it particularly rewarding.
The third section is The Art of Aladdin, which provides an Art Review and Still Frame Galleries.
The "Art Review" is quickly becoming a standard alternative to basic art galleries on DVDs. Here, artwork from various stages are shown fullscreen, with directors/writers John Musker
The Still Frame Galleries aren't 3-dimensional tours as they were on Snow White and Beauty and the Beast, but they make fairly good use of thumbnails (though these just provide a glimpse), and are easy to navigate. The artwork is separated into four galleries, including Visual Development (34 stills), Story Development (18 stills), and Backgrounds & Color Keys (15 stills).
The last gallery, Character Development, offers individual galleries for 11 primary characters (Aladdin, Jasmine, Genie, Jafar, Iago, Abu, Sultan, Rajah, The Lamp, Narrator, and Carpet), sections for 2 sets of background characters (Guards & Thieves, Marketplace), 2 deleted character sections (Aladdin's Parents, Executioner), and model sheets (focusing mostly on Jasmine). Each character gallery contains anywhere from 5 to about 30, with the average being somewhere in the middle. It's particularly interesting to see how many different directions the filmmakers considered going in for Genie, and even the numerous variations of Aladdin, Jasmine, and Jafar.
Publicity, a section painfully absent from The Lion King DVD, provides Aladdin's original 3-minute theatrical trailer, which correctly saw the film as the third entry into Disney's late '80s/early '90s Renaissance. While this, the only trailer for the film, is presented in fullscreen and thin mono, it's still a joy to see, even if it's only one of many previews that have been made and could have been included.
This section also includes a Publicity Gallery, which includes Theatrical Posters (oddly just two American posters and an International one), Unused Concepts (ten abandoned poster designs), and Theme Parks (22 photographs of Aladdin-themed attractions at Disney's parks in America and abroad).
Video trailers for direct-to-video follow-ups Aladdin and the King of Thieves (all-out promoting the return of Robin Williams) and The Return of Jafar are also included, running 2 minutes.
Games and Activities
The other section you can choose from the start of Disc 2 is Games & Activities, the interactive fun intended for "family" audiences that has become a staple of Disney DVDs. As with past Platinum Editions, much effort went into these activities, and they offer quite a bit more than some of the simple and basic games that show up on other discs.
Aladdin's Magic Carpet Adventure is quite a fun game. Essentially offering a twist on the spirited Timon & Pumbaa's Virtual Safaris, this one provides some rather impressive 3-D computer graphics and fine use of 5.1 surround sound. With Aladdin (who is voiced by the one and only Scott Weinger), you swoop and soar above Agrabah and a number of other locales around the world, in this interactive adventure, choosing the next location. Along the way, there are a number of little games to earn clues and a couple of cameos from characters from other Disney films, most notably a sarcastic meerkat who figures prominently.
The game doesn't ask you to do much, but the fast action from a first-person point-of-view makes you feel like you are controlling more than you are. Though gameplay is mostly fluid, it's pretty easy to lose sight of the point, which is to save Jasmine, who's trapped inside an hourglass somewhere.
Inside the Genie's Lamp is another 3-dimensional computer-animated tour. This time, rather than travelling around the world, as Iago, you get to explore, well I'm sure you can gather from the unambiguous title. "Itty bitty living space?" Not at all! Robin Leach ("Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous") narrates the glorious world inside the lamp. You can navigate the premises by yourself, selecting various items in the five different sections. Or you can take the guided tour (6:10), which removes the interactive element, adds more camera movement, and works as a fairly amusing short. Each version is quite different, so you may want to check out both. There are some more references to other things Disney as well.
The 3 Wishes Game calls to mind the Tom Hanks film Big. Like the Zoltar machine in that '80s classic, this game provides an opportunity for you to make any wish of your choice, and if the silver ball lands in Zoltar's...or rather, Jafar's mouth, he'll let you know that your wish is granted. If the ball doesn't get in there, you keep trying until it does. It's very simple, and I don't think your wish really gets granted, but I may wake up tomorrow and find otherwise. Even the creepy music is reminiscent of Big.
Last under Games & Activities is The Genie World Tour, a 3-minute short which details Genie's adventures around the globe, recounted as postcards received by Jafar and Iago, voiced by Jonathan Freeman and Gilbert Gottfried. This short provides more amusement, in the way of additional lampoons and a few more Disney references, and as with the other bonus features, it fares pretty well in the absence of Robin Williams.
What's as satisfying as the substantial bonus feature included here is what is not. Unlike The Lion King's DVD, there's no material designed to explicity promote Disney parks or Broadway shows. There's also not the tough-to-navigate and redundant "continents of the world" menu and organization. The DVD balances interactive fun and comprehensive "making-of" material just wonderfully, with the latter fortunately comprising the bulk of the bonus disc content.
Disc 2's 4x3 menus take you within the Cave of Wonders, with Jafar and Iago trapped in the lamp providing witty fight banter. (Though, as with anything involving Gilbert Gottfried, small doses are best.) As with the first disc, a text list billed as "Index" provides simply the headings that are presented in the bonus feature submenus. Here, you'll find Credits for the DVD; impressively, many of the original cast members lent their voices to the games. While there's a lot of material here on Disc 2, fortunately there isn't the rampant and repetitive menu design that marked The Lion King's bonus disc.
Aladdin's packaging perfectly matches the previous two Platinum Edition releases Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Its cardboard slipcover opens up to reveal a brief overview of some bonus features and the digital picture and sound.
Inside the case, there is a nice "DVD Guide" which extends to sixteen pages altogether. This insert colorfully provides a chapter listing for the film, a layout to all the many bonus features on both discs, and write-ups about the extras deemed most substantial by Disney and the updated general information about the "Platinum Edition" line.
There is also a thicker-than-normal coupon booklet, which contains a form for Disney's yearly fall Buy 3 Get 1 Free offer, plus other Aladdin and Disney products. Most notable among the assortment of ads are pages devoted to the Aladdin sequels (coming January 18th), plus next year's Platinum DVD debuts Bambi (March) and Cinderella (October). The last 12 pages of the booklet, when flipped over, offer a comic-like mini-storybook which summarizes the stories of direct-to-video sequels The Return of Jafar and Aladdin and the King of Thieves.
Finally, there is an entry form for an Aladdin DVD/Video sweepstakes which offers the chance to win one of ten vacations to the Disneyland Resort or one of ten other smaller prizes.
COLLECTOR'S GIFT SET
Aladdin is also available in a Collector's Gift Set, which contains this very same Platinum Edition DVD in a larger box with some more physical goodies, including signed animators' sketches, a film cel, and a hardcover companion book. This gift set carries a suggested retail price of $49.99. Thanks to a low print number and the passing of time, it has become rather hard to obtain in stores, but you can still find one at Amazon Marketplace at a reasonable price. On the following page, Jake Lipson goes into great detail on just how good these Gift Set extras are.
Aladdin's long-awaited DVD release is unique and great. The film is one of Disney's finest, its audio/video presentation is flawless, and the bountiful collection of DVD extras offer something for everyone, from genuinely insightful making-of materials to some fun-spirited activities for young audiences. This improves upon last year's Lion King Platinum Edition DVD release in just about any area where there was room for improvement. There are better menus, no repetition, much more substance, and much less promotion. "Diamond in the Rough" proves to be a well-edited and terrific collection of bonus features that will undoubtedly please film enthusiasts who are often left wanting more. Disney hasn't put out another DVD set this thoroughly satisfying in 2004, and maybe ever. On the unlikely chance you were thinking about passing on this DVD, you'll definitely want to reconsider.
|Page 1: Disc 1 - The Movie, Video and Audio, Changes to the Film, Bonus Features, Menus
Page 2: Disc 2 - Bonus Features, Menus, Packaging, Collector's Gift Set, Closing Thoughts
Page 3: Collector's Gift Set in Detail
Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3
|Other Platinum Editions:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Platinum Edition
Beauty and the Beast: Platinum Edition
The Lion King: Platinum Edition
Bambi: Platinum Edition
Cinderella: Platinum Edition
Lady and the Tramp: Platinum Edition
The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition
Peter Pan: Platinum Edition
The Jungle Book: Platinum Edition
101 Dalmatians: Platinum Edition
Sleeping Beauty: Platinum Edition
Pinocchio: Platinum Edition
|Sequels and DVDs Featuring Episodes of "Aladdin" TV Series:
The Return of Jafar & Aladdin and the King of Thieves (Aladdin II & III Collection)
Disney Princess Stories: Volume 1 - A Gift from The Heart
Disney Princess Stories: Volume 2 - Tales of Friendship
Disney Princess Stories: Volume 3 - Beauty Shines From Within
Disney Princess Party: Volume 2
UltimateDisney.com's Interview with Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, the writers of Aladdin and Pirates of the Caribbean
UltimateDisney.com Spring 2004 Countdown: The Top 100 Disney Songs
UltimateDisney.com Fall 2003 Countdown: The Top 25 Disney Animated Classics
UltimateDisney.com Fall 2004 Countdown: The Top 30 Disney Villains
UltimateDisney.com Spring 2005 Countdown: The Top 50 Disney Heroes & Heroines
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Reviewed September 28, 2004.