Blu-ray Review: Aladdin (Diamond Edition)

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Disney's animated classic Aladdin took the holiday box office by storm in late-November of 1992 when it first hit theaters. In some ways, you simply had to be there to fully appreciate the impact. The late Robin Williams practically revolutionized the animated feature film voice-over industry with his performance as the Genie. His brilliant, manic, inventive work marked the real start of Disney's (and, subsequently, all other major studios producing animated features) use of A-list celebrities to voice characters. Nowadays, it's so commonplace to play "name the celebrity voice" while watching Inside Out (or whatever's the latest and greatest), younger viewers watching Aladdin for the first time might not be able to understand what a surprising blast of energy it was.

That doesn't mean the long-awaited Diamond Edition Blu-ray of Aladdin (its high definition debut; the package includes standard DVD and Digital HD) isn't a thoroughly entertaining experience. It just doesn't have quite the same freshness it did 20-plus years ago. Of course, the passing of Robin Williams has left a bittersweet glow to the proceedings—much more likely to affect older viewers than younger kids. And yes, Williams' riffing is dotted with dated pop culture references (remember Arsenio Hall's "dog pound"?) but that doesn't detract much overall. Once young Aladdin (voiced by Scott Weinger) releases the Genie from the lamp, Williams so thoroughly steals every scene he's in that the rest of the film almost feels routine by comparison. 
 
Aladdin BD (327x380).jpg Luckily the songs (by Alan Menken, Tim Rice, and the late Howard Ashman) are reliably tuneful and funny. Frequent charges of cultural exploitation levied against Aladdin over the years are not entirely without merit, though it's worth emphasizing that this is an out-and-out fantasy. Everything from the monstrous Cave of Wonders (from which the magic lamp is retrieved) to the shape-shifting villain Jafar (voiced to scary perfection by Jonathan Freeman) to the Genie himself, nearly every element of the adventure is informed to some degree by supernaturalism. Yes, there are some insensitive Arab-based stereotypes laced throughout, not to mention the fact that both Aladdin and Princess Jasmine (voiced by Linda Larkin) sound as Caucasian as Pat Boone. There's some understandable concern that the parodical broad-swipes taken at a "foreign" civilization, however unrealistic, could plant the seeds of xenophobia in youngsters. But when compared to say, the Native American characters in Disney's Peter Pan, the studio comes off relatively unscathed here.

Aladdin remains a splendidly entertaining tale of breaking free from the confines of societal expectations as Aladdin proves himself worthy, Jasmine finds life beyond royalty, and the Genie freed from the prison of his lamp. Jafar's parrot sidekick Iago (voiced by Gilbert Gottfried) is the film's "other" comic relief, so overshadowed by Williams' Genie that it's easy to forget that Gottfried's voice work is also quite endearing. Speaking again of Williams, something many viewers might have missed back in the day—he also voices the street merchant in the film's opening. And Frank Welker (the longtime voice of Scooby-Doo) does triple duty as Aladdin's monkey Abu, the Cave of Wonders, and Jasmine's unlikely pet tiger Rajah.

Disney's Diamond Edition Blu-ray offers a dazzling 1080p transfer and lossless DTS-HD MA 7.1 surround sound. Disney fans have demanded this title on Blu-ray for a long time and the studio has definitely delivered. Colors burst from the screen in a presentation that looks so vivid, the film's 23 years vanish. Lots of sonic surprises—primarily stemming from the creative placement of Williams' various outbursts—keep the surround mix regularly engaging. This is a full rehabilitation of Aladdin that Disney almost certainly delight any fan while also keeping young kids from even realizing the film is more than two decades old.

Of the numerous new bonus features, the go-to featurette for many viewers will definitely be "The Genie Outtakes." Here we're treated to several minutes of outtakes from Robin Williams' improvised voice-over sessions, set against a backdrop of storyboards (rather than any finished animation). "Creating the Broadway Magic" is a 20-minute video piece about how the film was adapted to the stage. There are a few other new tidbits (a trio of five-minute mini-featurettes about different aspects of the production), but the meat of the special features is found under the "Classic Bonus Features" banner. Including the excellent 70-minute "Diamond in the Rough" making-of documentary, there are a couple hours worth of older material ported over from the previous DVD special edition.

For better or worse, big-budget, studio-produced animated features were never the same after Aladdin's Genie was loosed from the lamp. We've had to endure lots of less-than-funny celebrity vocal showboating in the years since, but Aladdin remains a perennial winner.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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