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"Aladdin" Platinum Edition sets the gold standard for Disney DVD

"Aladdin" Platinum Edition sets the gold standard for Disney DVD

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How do you improve on perfection?

'Cause -- let's face it, folks -- Disney's "Aladdin" was a damn-near-perfect animated film. This 1992 release from Walt Disney Pictures was beautifully designed. It was loaded with big laughs, great songs and memorable characters. Best of all, in spite of all the topical humor that Ron Musker & John Clements crammed into "Aladdin," the picture really hasn't aged a day. It's still as relentlessly entertaining as it was nearly a dozen years ago.

"So why should I replace the perfectly good VHS I have of 'Aladdin'?," you ask. "Has Buena Vista Home Entertainment folded in any new songs -- like they did with the Platinum Edition DVD versions of 'Beauty & the Beast' and 'The Lion King'?" Nope. Not this time. In spite of all the ballyhoo that you may have heard about Clay Aiken singing "Proud of Your Boy" (I.E. A song that Howard Ashman & Alan Menken wrote for an early version of "Aladdin" that ultimately didn't make it into the finished version of the film), the folks at BVHE were smart enough not to try & shoehorn in an unnecessary new song this time around.

Oh, sure. "Aladdin" 's been cleaned up somewhat. But this digital restoration work wasn't actually done for the DVD release. But -- rather -- for this film's aborted IMAX release. Which -- had everything gone according to plan -- "Aladdin" would have made its large format debut last December.

Anyway ... What Buena Vista Home Entertainment did right here is that they basically left "Aladdin" alone. They then loaded up this two DVD set with some pretty amazing extras. And -- no -- I'm not talking about that all-new music video, where Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson mangle "A Whole New World." But -- rather -- the directors commentary, the animators commentary as well as the hour-and-45-minute-long documentary, "A Diamond in the Rough: The Making of 'Aladdin.' "

It's these three additional features that really make the DVD version of "Aladdin" worth purchasing. By listening to and/or watching these extras, you get a real sense of how -- in spite of a number of false starts -- this Academy Award winning feature length animated film finally came together.

Don't believe me? Then here -- just try one of these "Special Features" on for size. The "Animators Audio Commentary," where Andreas Deja (Jafar's lead animator), Will Finn (Iago's lead animator), Eric Goldberg (The genie's lead animator) and Glen Keane (Aladdin's lead animator) get together to reminisce about what it was actually like to work on this motion picture.

It's clear that these four really enjoy getting together again. There's lots of laughter (Eric Goldberg's giggle is particularly infectious) as well as tons of great stories about who did what during the production of "Aladdin." Take -- for example:

  • Goldberg advises film fans to pay particularly close attention during the movie's "Friend Like Me" number. You see, this was the first sequence in "Aladdin" to be completely animated. As a result, it features the younger, wimpier looking version of the film's title character. Back when Aladdin was actually supposed to be modeled after Michael J. Fox, rather than the buffer built Tom Cruise.
  • Maybe you've heard stories sometimes about how the Walt Disney Company supposedly forces its animation directors to put extraneous cute creatures (You know? The Princess's pet. The Prince's noble steed) in their feature length animated films. With the hope that these characters will then make it that much easier for Disney Consumer Products to sell dolls & plush. Well -- in the case of "Aladdin" -- then-WDFA head Peter Schneider actually asked Musker & Clements to take a character out of the movie. Rajah, Princess Jasmine's pet tiger, to be exact. Well, Ron'n'John refused Peter's request. Thinking that "Aladdin" would be that much more entertaining if the pampered princess had an oversized *** cat. Which is how Rajah remained in the picture.
  • Ever wonder what Disney's animators used to inspiration in the film's "Chaos" sequence (You know? That moment in the movie where Aladdin, Abu and the flying carpet are frantically trying to escape as the Cave of Wonders falls in all around them?)? Would you believe Disneyland's "Star Tours" simultaor ride as well as the roller coasters over at Magic Mountain?

You know what's the nicest thing about listening to Andreas, Will, Eric & Glen talk? How eager these guys are to share the spotlight. Deja, Finn, Goldberg & Keane really don't want to hog all the credit when it comes to "Aladdin." They seem genuinely eager to talk about their talented co-workers. People like Tom Sito & Dave Burgess (Who did much of the animation of the Genie in the film's "Prince Ali" number), Ed Gombert & Burny Mattinson (Who supposedly did some truly extraordinary storyboarding on "Aladdin") as well as truly dedicated WDFA employees like Kathy Zielinski (Who -- in spite of being nine months pregnant -- still stayed on the job. As the story goes, Zielinski wouldn't allow her water to break until after she delivered her final scene for the picture).

It's stories like this -- where you learn bizarre inside stuff like the real reason that the Genie is wearing a Hawaiian shirt & a Goofy hat in the film's finale is because Robin Williams wore the same get-up in that "Back to Neverland" movie that used to run at the "Magic of Disney Animation" attraction at Disney-MGM Studio theme park -- that make me sorry to think that the Walt Disney Company deliberately busted up its traditional animation unit. Took talented people like Broose Johnson & Brian Ferguson -- other WDFA vets that Keane & Co. single out from praise on this picture -- and scattered them to the four winds.

Okay. We're not here today to talk about what the Mouse has done wrong. But -- rather -- to celebrate what Disney has done right. Which is 1) create an extraordinary animated film like "Aladdin" in the first place and then 2) create a 2-disc DVD that puts this acclaimed motion picture in the best possible light.

You want to hear the best possible tribute to "Aladdin"? Let me share a story that Will Finn tells on this Platinum Edition DVD. As part of the "Animators Audio Commentary," Will talk about how one day -- while he was driving in his car -- he was listening to the radio to this call-in psychologist. And this listener had called in to talk about how depressed she was. So what did the psychologist suggested that the caller do to relieve their depression? "Go to the theater and see 'Aladdin.' It's a really funny movie."

So -- you too are feeling down in the dumps right about now and/or want to learn more about what it takes to make a landmark animated film -- my advice is the same as that radio psychologist. Go to the store and pick up a copy of the Platinum Edition of "Aladdin." You'll definitely be entertained. And -- who knows? -- you might actually learn something.

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