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Coming To Terms with Disney: Aladdin on DVD

Thinking about the Platinum line of DVDs from Disney still brings up the sting of old wounds for me. I've been burned by these guys before - in this case, the Platinum Edition of The Lion King was a sincere disappointment in the department of additional materials. The film was as brilliant as ever, but the second disc was riddled with a terrible menu process, individual clips about certain artists only lasting a minute or so in length, and no play-all feature. And, of course, the whole thing was done up in a way to put the focus on practically everything about TLK except the film, like the big-name music stars involved and the stage production. You can only play a guy like a fiddle for so long before he realizes he has strings stretched across his body. My expectations for the Platinum Edition for TLK's immediate forebear, Aladdin, were therefore really low.
In response to those expectations, one half of me wants to nod solemnly. There are elements to this DVD that one could've predicted well before they were announced. Cheesy DVD games. Flash-in-the-pan musical talents of today redoing the film's songs like pop anthems. Plenty of other cutesy stuff. But you know what? I never even had to care about it this time. Because Disney has finally hit the right stride with their Platinum releases. Instead of the abysmal treatment of The Lion King, Disney's DVD department makes a simple and respectable silent statement with this release: this DVD is meant to appease two entirely different audiences. In this recognition, the Aladdin DVD does not try and pretend that the features meant for one audience are in any way desired by the other, and has thusly kept them separate in what almost feels like two different slates of extras.


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The approach is akin to the Monsters, Inc. DVD. Nearly all of the stuff that a shameless geek like myself - and probably more than a few of you out there - has any interest in examining are housed within a sub-menu per disc entitled "Backstage Disney". On the first disc, this is where you'll find the commentaries. On the second disc, this is where you'll find the documentaries (yes, plural). Everything you find in Backstage Disney is pure gold. First off, the film has TWO all-new commentaries, recorded quite recently (the proof is in the pudding; Eric Goldberg makes reference to Tony DeRosa's Annie nomination for Looney Tunes: Back in Action). What a refreshing change from the TLK track - a fine commentary on its own, but ripped straight from the 1995 laserdisc release! The first track has Ron Clements, John Musker, and co-producer Amy Pell, and the second has four huge talents in the animation industry: Glen Keane, Will Finn, Eric Goldberg, and Andreas Deja. The latter is the more colorful and fun of the commentary tracks, but both are entertaining and well worth a hear.
The second disc is even better, with a documentary on Aladdin based around a Leonard Maltin-hosted reunion affair, with Gilbert Gottfried spreading his hilarious bitterness backstage. That's just the framing material, though, for all sorts of clips and insights into the filmmaking process for this modern-day classic. And not all just the sunshine-and-lollipops isn't-everything-at-Disney-magical? sort of extras. "Black Friday", the day where Jeffrey Katzenberg told Clements and Musker that their practically finished-via-storyboards film needed to be completely redone, is discussed with absolute frankness. A scholar on Arabian lore tells it like it is in regards to the Disneyification of the Aladdin tale. There's more surprises, and a couple more documentaries, but saying any more would ruin the fun of discovery. The one missing element is Robin Williams, who probably couldn't be pinned down for an interview, but I'm of two minds about his absence. While it would've been awesome to hear his feelings on the film and its making, his presence could have turned the whole thing into the Robin Williams Show, and there are a hell of a lot more people responsible for the greatness of Aladdin than just Williams (as brilliant as his performance definitely is).
The set's not perfect. The colors are really saturated in the video, which makes some scenes look incredible, but other scenes difficult to watch. (The color scheme for the film is often purposefully very monochromatic, and characters like the Genie who are blue on a predominantly blue background can sometimes be tough in determining their movement.) And, of course, there's all that other stuff I mentioned before - the stuff that I was never interested in seeing in the first place. I didn't even open those sections up. Why not? Because I'm not the audience for those features, and if you are, then you're far more likely to make up your mind about them without my input. The blessing of this Aladdin Platinum Edition, though, is that it's concocted with that truth in mind. The nine-year-olds in the house can enjoy the games, but fogeys like us 21-year-olds and older are just a hop, skip, and a click away from juicy tidbits of knowledge about the world of animation and Aladdin. Would that Disney would head back to The Lion King and try again.


A review by Alex Weitzman
First Published on October 10, 2004

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