Saturday, March 30, 2013

Blu-Ray Review - Aladdin (1992)

The Film:

Released in November of 1992 (June of 1993 in Australian Cinemas, 7 months after the US release date) Aladdin was the first feature by Little Mermaid directors John Musker and Ron Clements since that hit film and concerned a young street boy (street rat as he's called) named Aladdin (voice of Scott Weinger) who wishes for a better life instead of the one he has running from the guards and stealing food to survive, Princess Jasmine meanwhile (voice of Linda Larkin) hates being a cooped up princess inside the palace, when these two meet their entire world will change, for good and for bad.

Aladdin is one of those films that for me is an inspiration, in which that its one of those films I saw at an early age and which inspired me to love movies as much as I do now, heck I can still remember the first time I saw it as if it was yesterday.

The film gets a lot right, the animation is fast and fluid, the songs are great (sadly this would be the last collaboration between Howard Ashman and Alan Menken as Ashman passed away during the early development stages of the film and a lot of his work had to be scrapped though some it survived) and it has a terrific villain in Jafar who almost comes close to stealing the show from Robin Williams as the Genie who's simply on fire here, showing a rapid fire comic energy rarely seen on screen.

But what really stuck out for me as I watched it on Blu was how it crossed the gender divide in a way that most Disney films rarely do, this one is as much for guys as it is gals and for the most part the Disney features are for girls more than they are boys due to them being fairy tales for the most part, this one doesn't do that and as a result it has a much broader audience than most of the company's back catalogue.

And lastly in terms of Jafar, if a live action film is considered, I sincerely hope Tom Hiddleston is cast in the role as some of his scenes in the Avengers last year felt a lot like scenes Jafar might do.

The Video:

Um, Wow.

That pretty much sums it up, this film looks terrific on Blu-Ray, the colors really pop out, the animation style is just glorious and the backgrounds now show off many details none of us ever saw during the film's long shelf life on Video and DVD.

Not much else to say after that so let's move on.

The Audio:

Presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1 sound, Aladdin shines on Blu-Ray in a very nicely balanced sound mix, as with the video transfer you're going to notice things you hadn't until now.

Some of those will be sound effects, the background score during scenes both dialogue and musical numbers and its all presented with a real clarity that makes sure no one element outdoes the other, this is simply a terrific mix that will like its video counterpart really make long standing fans of the film sit up and take notice all over again.

The Extras:

Here's where things get a little more mixed for my liking as while the extras are good, very good even, they're also a little bit of a missed opportunity given Disney's other Blu-Ray work.

All of the extras here are sourced from the excellent 2004 2-Disc DVD release which was widely seen as the best of the Platinum Edition releases next to Snow White so without further ado let's dig in.

Audio Commentary by John Musker, Ron Clements and Amy Pell: One of two commentaries recorded for the 04 DVD, this one is a more straightforward affair that goes into the production of the film, it's an okay commentary but I doubt you would listen to it more than once.

Music Videos: 3 Music Videos appear in this section, all of them also featured on the 04 DVD release.

The first and frankly, the only one you should bother with is the original 1992 "A Whole New World" music video with Regina Belle and Peabo Bryson and its actually my favorite version of the song recorded as it has a nice tone to it whereas the version sung in the film really grated me due to Brad Kane and Lea Salonga's high pitched voices, still it's nice to see this music video on here and its definitely worth checking out.

What isn't worth checking out is the version sung by Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson (pre-divorce days) and the deleted song "Proud of Your Boy" sung by Clay Aiken from American Idol, both are simply a waste of time and should not have been on this disc when much better extras were left off and should've taken their place instead.

Deleted Scenes: 2 Deleted Scenes appear here, both from an earlier version of the film.

The first is a variation of Aladdin and Jasmine's first meeting, this version has him hiding in the Palace Gardens talking to Jasmine below, another big difference is that Aladdin himself is much younger and more of a kid, something that had to be changed for the film itself.

The second is an alternate version of Aladdin enjoying himself in the palace as Prince Ali and in this version Iago is watching the whole thing from the roof whereas in the film he sneaks in when Ali is called away.

2 other big differences in this scene as compared to the one in the film is that the Genie has infinite wishes and Ali's mother is present, the mother was a key character in Ashman's initial conception of the film and had to be cut when his version was scrapped after his death, it's a very nice scene that acts as an alternative to the one in the film.

Deleted Songs: 4 Deleted Songs appear in this section, again from earlier versions of the film.

The first is "Proud of your Boy", a key song by Ashman and Menken that had to be deleted when the mother was removed from the story and the film had to be rethought virtually from scratch, it's a very nice song and Menken does a great rendition of it but it wouldn't have fit in the final film and most likely have slowed things down had it been included, still it's great to see it here and its definitely worth watching more than once.

The second is one of two initial attempts at a song for Jafar when he gets the lamp, the first is "Humiliate the Boy" written by Ashman and Menken and it's a very interesting with some surprisingly dark lyrics at times but it also distracts very heavily from the on screen action though it must be said Jonathan Freeman does a great job with the song and it will definitely excite fans.

The second attempt is "Why Me?" written by Menken and Tim Rice and more closely resembles the final version of the story, it's a good song but like Humiliate the Boy it slows everything down and makes Jafar less menacing and more campy, happily both songs were junked in favor of the reprise of Prince Ali seen in the film and boy does that trump both songs by a fair margin.

The fourth and final one is "You Can Count on Me", the first song Menken wrote for the film after Ashman's death and it shows in the lyrics, it's almost as if Menken was writing it about Ashman, it's probably my favorite of the deleted songs seen here and its definitely worth checking out.

A Diamond in the Rough - The Making of Aladdin: The centerpiece extra from the 04 DVD release, this doco covers almost everything you could want to know about the making of the film.

And it was a ride far from certain, for instance a lot of the early work Ashman had done had to be scrapped save for a couple of his songs already written, the design of Aladdin himself had to be changed completely, the film had to be rethought virtually from scratch and it all had to be done in a year and a half to make its release date, talk about down to the wire and full speed ahead.

And yet as some of the animators say in the doco, it doesn't show in the film at all and they're right, the final film feels effortless despite the long hard journey it went through in production.

What's Missing Here:

Sadly some of the key extras from the DVD release are missing on this Blu-Ray release notably:

- A second commentary track by animators Andreas Deja, Will Finn, Glen Keane and Eric Goldberg
- A "You Talking to Me: The Voices of Aladdin" featurette from the doco
- A featurette on Alan Menken
- A featurette on some of the art designs for the film
- Theatrical Trailer

And I really wish they were here instead of the Lachey/Simpson and Clay Aiken music videos as they help to complete the package of extras created for the film's DVD release from 04.

But what I really wish was here on this Blu-Ray release along with those missing extras mentioned above were some new extras as Disney have always done this with the Blu-Ray releases of their animated movies for the most part as well as porting over the DVD extras already created.

Some of those would be the additional songs Ashman and Menken wrote in their initial score for the film that were later scrapped but then released on a CD box set in 94 and were:

- High Adventure: A terrific song that was scrapped when the story was rewritten and when I first heard it I couldn't get it out of my head, this song was released on the Special Edition CD soundtrack but shamefully not on DVD or Blu-Ray and boy does that make me sad as its one of my favorite songs ever written by Ashman and Menken.

- Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim: A jumpy tune that helped to inspire "One Jump Ahead" in the final film, this deals with Aladdin and his three friends working the streets of Baghdad (I'm not joking, its mentioned in the lyrics), it's a nice breezy tune but am not surprised it was scrapped.

- Call me a Princess: Wow is this something and not necessarily in a good way, it's a song for Jasmine who never got one of her own in the film and its all wrong for her character as she comes across as a real brat instead of the headstrong take no crap character we got, frankly I'm glad it was deleted.

- How Quick they Forget: An interesting song about the breakup of the 4 friends mentioned above, the lyrics in the song are interesting and it's a good song but it's also a somewhat lengthy one at about 4 minutes and would've probably slowed the film down had it remained.

- Arabian Nights Reprises: As mentioned in the Musker and Clements commentary track, the opening song Arabian Nights was initially broken up into stanza's.

The first reprise like the others were fairly short and intended to be sung by the narrator who opens the final film, the first reprise is interesting in that it reveals the name of the Sultan while the second and third sort of try to move the story along at key points though given what they reveal it shows a very different sequence of events to the one shown in the final film.

The fourth and final reprise was later used for the 1996 DTV sequel The King of Thieves, the reprise would've worked much better here and would've served as a better ending to the film instead of the reprise of "A Whole New World" we got instead plus it would've brought the narrator back into the film as he disappears after opening it which is a shame but these things happen.

In terms of how these reprises might have worked in the film well as I said the final reprise would've worked just fine but the others were scrapped for a reason as like a lot of these songs initially written, they would've slowed the film down and put in a song moment simply for the sake of having one there.

What would've also been great is an interview with Robin Williams talking about his experiences of making the film given that he's opened up about it a bit more since the DVD release in 04 as well as a more detailed featurette about the initial version Ashman helped write which had the mother in it as well as Al's three buddies mentioned above.

Then again, with Disney in the US planning to do a Blu-Ray release sometime next year (they were going to do a Diamond Edition release this year but decided to do Peter Pan instead) maybe those complaints will be wished away but in that regard we'll just have to wait and see.

The Verdict:

Aladdin gets a great Blu-Ray release with terrific A/V quality and very good extras despite some setbacks in that department, this is absolutely worth the money and fans shouldn't hesitate to go out and grab it.

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