Aladdin is one of Disney’s premiere contemporary classics, and it can stand proudly beside time-honored films like Cinderella, Snow White, and Bambi. Aladdin gets almost everything right: an engaging--personal story, vivid and well-animated imagery, excellent character voice-actors, intelligent humor and memorable music all conspire to produce a film that succeeds as entertainment while maintaining its integrity as a work of art. Children will watch attentively--riveted by the characterization, visuals, and action--while the adult audience is also privy to enjoy a witty sense of humor intended for more perceptive minds. Similar to Finding Nemo or the Emperor’s New Groove, Aladdin can service quite well to entertain an adult crowd while captivating the interest of even the youngest of children, which is my operating definition for "family entertainment".
As with most Disney fairy-tale or mythology fare, Aladdin is loosely based on an existing story. Liberties are taken and changes are made (both subtle and not), but the end result is a story that reflects the essence of the tale, and lessons learned, from the original. I can remember the audience’s reaction to Robin Williams’ performance as the Genie when the film premiered in theaters in 1992; the laughter was so uproarious that one couldn’t hear the film’s dialog for moments on end. The depiction was unorthodox, irreverent, and masterfully brilliant. Robins lent an tenor of freshness to this film that was as welcome as it was unconventional.
Amidst all the action, fun, and bombastic humor, Aladdin charms with a personal story of love, self-discovery, and redemption, and music is a key device to make it happen. Just a few minutes from the opening scene, after having been scoffed at by the pompous prince on his way to the castle, Aladdin saunters home and sets forth a ballad that’s haunting and revealing of a great depth of character--a moment that sends most audiences into a hushed, reverent silence. Music is used as effectively to catapult the mood into merriment and mirth during Aladdin’s parade into the castle as it is to sweep the willing-of-heart up in a swell of dream-infused romance during the “Whole New World” magic carpet flight. In the respected tradition of other contemporary classics like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin demonstrates that the movie-musical is still a viable genre to be enjoyed by modern audiences when done well.
Aladdin has the honor of being the last film that benefited from the incomparable collaboration of composers Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, and everything good that their partnership produced has left its mark in the magnificent music of this film (Ashman died before the completion of Aladdin and Tim Rice assisted Menken to finish the lyrics for several songs including “A Whole New World”). Those of you with a special affection for the music of this film (and their others) will find great reward in exploring the wealth of bonus material featuring this topic.
Aladdin is a great film and one that means very much to me personally. If you’ve been avidly waiting for this DVD with hopeful expectations, you won’t be disappointed. It is my great honor to have the privilege to review this DVD edition, and in case you ever wonder if a reviewer like me appreciates the opportunity that he has with receiving titles like this, I relished every moment of reviewing Aladdin. I hope you enjoy reading this review as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you.
Following in the footsteps of Sleeping Beauty, Finding Nemo, and Alice in Wonderland, Aladdin Platinum Edition comes to you as a two-disc DVD set housed in a single keepsake case with disc one secured to a center-hinged holder. Both discs have full-color silkscreen art (which I happen to enjoy…as long as it doesn’t interfere with more important issues like OAR presentation etc.) and included is a well designed booklet that, along with the expected chapter stop listing, has some nice information about some of the special-feature content and (most importantly) charts the special feature content of both discs with a “Navigational” map. Well done Disney.
The keepsake case comes with a cardboard outer-sleeve that is also beautifully designed and duplicates some of the information from the disc-case packaging and booklet. Disc One has the usual auto-play previews which I wouldn’t mind half so much if Disney would just encode them in proper 16x9…some of them would undoubtedly be quite stunning if presented in “feature quality”. Please Disney…consider this for the future. I know that I’d be tempted to actually watch a few of them (as opposed to the almost desperate remote-menu clicking that takes place at present in order to avoid them) if they compared favorably (image quality) to well-authored content on my projection screen…hey…it would be just like the trailers before the feature film in the theater.
Let the controversy ensue, but I personally didn’t notice any of the “changes” that were made to the film’s animation except for one which I rather enjoyed…you see the stars twinkling in the night-time sky during the “Whole New World” sequence (and I double checked on the laserdisc just to be sure and indeed they did not twinkle in the original version). I’ll be the first to throw up at the sight of Gredo Shooting first or having Han step on the tail of a fake-looking digitally inserted Jaba…but personally if the artists really do improve the visual experience in subtle yet meaningful ways such as with Aladdin, who am I to complain? If you notice any other “changes” please comment in this thread as I’m sure everyone is curious.
Wow. Not perfect. But decidedly “Wow!”
Reviewing Aladdin kept taking my memory back to my Lion King review. Both titles have very parallel histories on home-video. They both represented modern, “big budget” Disney animation and they both were released on THX-certified laserdiscs that, at the time, set a reference standard for the format and represented the very best image quality that any consumer medium could deliver to the core enthusiast.
We’ve come a long way baby.
This new 16x9 (1.66:1 pillarboxed) DVD, with the best film elments carefully transferred and beautifuly mastered for emergence on DVD, is nothing short of a revelation. Black level is rock-solid and contrast/dynamic range paints as wide an arc as the DVD medium can obtain. The result is an image that is vibrant, rich, and seductively three-dimensional. Brights are brilliant and blacks are velvety with a smooth, natural grayscale bridging the two extremes. Colors are as bold as they can possibly be without becoming over-saturated.
Shadow detail is perfect. All the surface textures and picture detail in the dark areas of the image are conveyed with clarity and naturalness…the image never seems to “choke” or get noisy as images fade to black as is often the case with MPEG2 software. This particular aspect of Aladdin’s image quality is paramount, as much of the movie takes place in darker, more subdued “lighting”, which I had never realized until watching the projected DVD image. Bright scenes are brilliant and dark scenes are rich and subdued—a testament to the wide dynamic range of the digital capture and compression.
Watching Aladdin on my 106” (yes, those last six inches do make a difference ) HiPower Dalite screen was surreal. Reds are brilliant and varied in hue and intensity—revelaing an astonishing subtlety of artistic attention by the animating team. Blues are deep and greens…oh the greens (especially in Jasmine’s bed chamber)…I don’t think there’s any other DVD in my collection that portrays the richness of greens that I’m seeing on this disc. My effusions may sound over-the-top, but I assure you that my impressions as described here are exactly as it felt while watching the film. And I know that my impressions aren’t just the reflection of a demented videophile’s imagination…because every time I was about to comment about some mesmerizing aspect of the picture, Maurice-my reviewing buddy-would proffer some comment like “The greens are so lush and intense—I’ve never seen anything like that on my TV,” which would capture my thoughts almost verbatim.
And perhaps in an all-time first for any DVD I’ve reviewed on my system, I’m astounded to find absolutely no trace of video noise whatsoever. At least not that I can see. Video noise (often exaggerated or introduced by MPEG compression) is invariably seen on almost all DVDs in areas of intense monochromatic color…like deep red or blue background fields. This Aladdin disc displays no such artifacts…the image is almost unsettlingly clean. Those of you with wide-angle viewing systems, when you get this disc I’m curious if your impressions are consistent with my own. My DLP projector is fed via DVI from my scaling DVD player so there are no additional D/A or A/D conversions to introduce any added noise into the signal, so keep this in mind when viewing in your own system.
Detail was remarkably good for a Disney title (the Toy Story discs were basically perfect, with everything since then looking slightly-to-moderately filtered)…and while the image suggested the slightest veil of softness at times at my viewing angle (a viewing distance of about 1.6 screen widths away), I constantly found myself amazed at all the natural image detail I was able to discern in background images like sand, rocks, leaves, and the marble in the palace interiors. Distance shots also revealed a great degree of detail and fine-object definition maintained good clarity when the “camera” would zoom out or enter a scene with characters in the far-ground during establishing shots.
Also, I’m very pleased to report that at my @ 1.6 screen-widths viewing distance that edge-ringing artifacts from EE were not plainly visible and caused no sign of distraction (yes, even for this pickiest of viewers). If I walked up closer to about one screen width away from the image, at times I could detect some very (very) minor ringing around hard-edges…but even at this close viewing angle (much closer than anyone should ever sit viewing DVD source material) the intrusion was nothing egregious. Bottom line on the EE is that for all intents and purposes you can consider it a non-issue. Whew! Isn’t that a sigh of relief…
Ok, so that all sounds really good. So what’s “not perfect” about it?
Remember those glorious blue and red monochromatic backgrounds that were completely free from the usual “video noise” we’ve grown accustomed to with MPEG2 DVD software? Well, it seems that removing all traces of such video noise makes other compression challenges--like color banding—more apparent…at least on my system. Quite a few times I noticed what looked like discrete “gradient steps” in large-field monochromatic backgrounds of blue or red. Your mileage may vary…and ironically one of the negatives of running DVI like I do is that color-banding seems to become more visible (analog component video seems to soften these color-edge transitions and the result looks more “blended” versus DVI which can reveal an image that can sometimes appear to be “painted by numbers” if it’s poorly mastered/authored). How bad is it? Well, I only noticed it affecting background information, so it’s not as distracting as the color banding on Brother Bear or Lion King (which affected the main characters) but nevertheless fault-conscious videophiles may find that occasionally they can’t help but take notice.
Color banding is an artifact that seems very dependent upon playback hardware...and it's unclear as to wheather the artifact, or the degree that it is visible, is a fault of disc-encoding or an artifact that's introduced subsequent to the image on the disc. Several scenarios are possible...and it's possible that some display chains negate the visibility of encoded banding artifacts while others introduce banding into an otherwise perfect image...and anything in between. Let's have some discussion of this in the thread once more of you have a chance to screen the image an share your impressions. Those with wide-angle and front-projection displays are especially encouraged to post your impressions.
The only other possible fault is what looks like some very intermittent MPEG noise in some of the fast-moving dance scenes during the "Prince Alli" parade number. It's nothing that your eye can really focus on due to the fast motion so it's not too detrimental but just once or twice (a 100" screen reveals things like this) I noticed that the image looked a little noisey during some of the complex motion. Not a huge deal and didn't rain on my parade.
THX/CAV Laserdisc Comparison:
This Platinum DVD edition makes my “reference” CAV laserdisc edition look like a video abomination. Remember when I said “We’ve come a long way baby!”? At least to my mind, this isn’t an exaggeration, given the comparative improvement with the DVD. Even my companion viewer, a fellow Disney and laserdisc/DVD enthusiast (has more DVDs than I do…is it possible? ) couldn’t help but remark about the night-and-day improvement that the Aladdin DVD offers over the laserdisc image when projected on the big screen. To the laserdisc’s credit, black-level and color saturation were impressively good (close in performance to the DVD), but the chroma noise, picture instability, and general lack of resolution made it look more like VHS next to the pristine image that the DVD produced. And of course the laserdisc is 4x3 encoded video, making the 1.66:1 letterbox image challenge to view properly on a native 16x9 display (zooming uncomfortably crops the top/bottom of the image and leaving in 4x3 mode surrounds the whole image with black masking on all four sides).
Anyone care to join me in a moment of silence while we fantasize about the eventual HD-DVD/BluRay version? (reverent sigh…)
It’s darn good. Aside from some color banding which is visible on my system in large-field monochromatic areas (which may or may not be a problem depending on your playback system), This Aladdin DVD edition is near-reference. Get that new 16x9 HD display or projector you’ve been dreaming about and enjoy!
Picture Quality: 4.75 / 5
Hmmm. This is an interesting situation. You see, just like The Lion King, Aladdin has two 5.1 English audio options: One being the original theatrical mix and the other being a new “Disney Home Theater Enhanced” 5.1 mix prepared by Terry Porter (also responsible for the 5.1 DEHT mix on The Lion King). Allow me to say that between these two mixes, virtually any audiophile will discover 5.1 bliss. However, there may be some controversy as to which 5.1 mix best succeeds. First allow me to talk generally about the qualities of both soundtracks and then I’ll compare/contrast them, along with the PCM audio from the laserdisc.
Regardless of which 5.1 track you choose, one thing will be abundantly clear: The sound quality of Aladdin is outstanding. Dynamic range is aggressive; bass is powerful, solid, and deep; midrange details are articulate and clear without becoming irritatingly bright; and there is a good deal of resolution and natural acoustic “air” in the musical elements of the recording resulting in a soundstage that has good depth—extending deep beyond the front speaker array. The sound is so good, it’s hard to imagine that you’re really listening to a soundtrack recorded for a 1992 animated film…and that’s true for either mix.
Theatrical Mix or Enhanced Home Theater Mix???
Before I embark on this comparison, let make my lack of agenda clear. Most of you may assume (quite rightly) that in general I’m a purist about image and sound presentation and, all things being equal, appreciate a DVD that is faithful to the original source. That being said, I also enjoy the “zing” of a (good) remix, and just to demonstrate the point I’ll remind you that I preferred the DEHT (Disney Enhanced Home Theater) remix on the Lion King to the original (not only was the remix that good, but the original 5.1 mix was actually quite poor, making it an easy decision to prefer the new mix). And as long as the studio provides the original sound mix in addition to any new remixed soundtrack...who can complain?
With all respect to Terry Porter, with the new DEHT mix on Aladdin I’m left unconvinced. In fact, I find myself distinctly preferring the theatrical mix based on sonic characteristics alone—even without consideration based on the merits of “original integrity” etc. Curiously, my impression contrasts sharply with my viewing comrade, a musician, who distinctly preferred the new DEHT mix even in the face of my criticisms. That should indicate to you the subjective nature of judging the success of either mix, so I will do my best to describe what I’m hearing objectively to give you a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each mix.
The Enhanced for Home Theater excels in the same areas that you may already be familiar with from the Lion King: Dynamic range seems virtually infinite with a tremendous and effortless sweep from the boldest room-shaking tremor to the softest, most subtle decay. Surround activity is much more active than the theatrical mix, and the result is a soundtrack that envelops the listener into the sound-experience rather than presenting a soundscape in front of him to be “watched”. Musical elements are (generally) tastefully wrapped around the listener and on-screen action effects are likewise pulled out into the listening space in a way that compliments the on-screen action appropriately and aggressively. By contrast, the theatrical mix seems to “be up front” most of the time with the surrounds used primarily for ambient/acoustic information with the occasional effect finding its way to the rear channel for action emphasis. The result of all this is a DEHT soundtrack that will have you holding on to your armchair to keep from being swept away…that image from the Maxell Tape advertisement seems apt. Be sure to keep a towel handy in case you make a mess after listening to this mix during the Cave Of Wonders sequence…
Well, after saying all that, why do I say that I prefer the original mix? Let me say that for all the reasons stated, my musician friend found himself willingly seduced by the new mix and considered it the de-facto-mix to choose when watching this DVD. But the DEHT mix has a few weaknesses that I found troublesome (at the most inopportune moments), and they happened to be characteristics that the original mix did “just right”.
Firstly, the DEHT mix, despite its shining dynamics and clarity of midrange, seemed to present vocals/dialog in a manner that sounded “bigger” than the theatrical mix, but also a bit flatter and less natural. By contrast, the theatrical mix’s dialog sounded to my ears more “round” with a more natural sense of ease and decay. To use an audiophile’s metaphor, the vocals on the DETH mix sound more “solid state” versus the more “tube like” character they posses on the original mix.
The difference I’m talking about here is subtle, and while it seemed very obvious to my ears, my friend (the musician) require me doing quite a bit of A/B comparison before he perceived the difference I was describing to him…so I suspect that most folks won’t find anything objectionable with the dialog on the new mix…and/or possibly perceive no difference between the two in this regard. And even to my ears, the difference was subtle enough that I might have been willing to accept the new mix as my preferred choice for all its other advantages were it not for one very bothersome fault: The lead vocal tracks for every song have been remixed into the surround channels in addition to the center. While in general I'm all for having some activity in the rear channel, too much of a good thing sort-of negates the goodness. My viewing comrade mentioned an apt metaphor that came to his mind from fellow students at his university. He said "Some students high-light every line in their book, if they're going to highlight everything, they might as well highlight nothing". I think you can see the connection.
I think I know what Porter was trying to do with the musical tracks…it seems to me that he was trying pull the lead vocal tracks out “into the room” by mixing them in C/LR/RR fashion. In any case, my presumption is that his intent was deliberate and to achieve a desired effect to enhance the sound. However, I have to say that I personally find this mixing style of the lead vocals to be distracting. Firstly (assuming that pulling the lead vocalist out into the center of the listening area was the intent), for the effect to work properly, one would need to have rear channel speakers that are properly timbre matched to the front mains. But even if we consider that a given in an high-end HT set-up since, after all, it’s better to raise the bar of mixing quality for better systems rather than dumb-down quality for compromised systems (and "compromise" is definitely something that a DEHT mix should not be doing), for the effect to create a clear and localized point-source for the vocalist, not only would one need to have timbre-matched rears, but the surround speakers would need to be direct-radiating (not dipole) and one would also need to be seated dead-center in the “sweet spot” between them and have the sound time-aligned properly front-to-back.
Many HT systems (like mine) have dipole surround channels which create a more diffuse rear image. And let’s face it, most of us watch movies in group settings where only one person would be privy to the “sweet spot”. Even seated properly between my rear speakers, the effect of the lead vocalist information coming out the rear channels was distracting and bothersome…and it muddied the sound. By contrast, switching to the theatrical mix revealed a much more pleasing musical presentation with a great Left-Right soundstage that imaged deep beyond the front mains…and those beautiful lead vocals were clear, distinct, and sounding like real singers do…emanating from a single point-source with all the lushness, vibrancy, and clarity that I remembered from my laserdisc. Even my listening comrade, who preferred the sound of the DEHT mix in general, agreed that the musical vocal mixing was something of a travesty, and we both wished we could watch the film with the sound of the theatrical mix for the music-track sequences and the DEHT mix for the rest. Our only real difference was in preferring which track to select given the choice of just one: for me it was the theatrical, for him it was the DETH.
What I really would have loved would have been a DTS track of theatrical mix…
I cannot wait to hear posts by HTF members about your own impressions and preferences. Keep it civil, respectful, and inform us of your system set-up if you can…
Lasderdisc PCM to DVD 5.1 DD comparison:
The results here are very similar to the same comparison with The Lion King. The PCM on the laserdisc does the usual things better that virtually all laserdisc soundtracks to better than 5.1 DD…the timbres are a bit more natural, musical textures more colorful, midrange frequencies tend to sond more lush and bass response feels a bit more solid. These are subtle improvements to be sure, and most folks would either not hear them or wouldn’t care about the differences even if they did…but it’s these sort of subtle nuances that have an emotional impact on obsessed audiophiles like me. The 2.0 PCM track isn’t perfect however, and I found that it tended to sound a bit more congested in complex musical and action sequences and image localization for instruments and sound effects was less articulate than either of the 5.1 DD tracks on the DVD. However, low-level resolution seemed superior on the PCM which was most clear in the decay of room-echoes and acoustic “air” around vocals.
Overall, I’d still opt to hear the 5.1 DD mix off the DVD…because the trade-off in these qualities was subtle and the 5.1 discrete mix had a more involving quality to it that tipped it in my favor.
Audio Quality Summary:
Given the outstanding effort to bring us two excellent 5.1 mixes on this disc, I think it only fair to give them each their own score. And please don’t get hung-up on the numbers here…it’s so subjective.
Theatrical Sound Quality: 5 / 5
DEHT Sound Quality: 4.5 / 5
Wow. This disc is racing head-to-head with Clerks X for Disney Studios Special Edition of the year. It’s not only filled to the brim with SE content (which, pleasingly, does not seem to adversely affect picture quality in the theatrical presentation), but almost all of the bonus material is good.
- [*] Disney Enhanced for Home Theater Mix: Yes, I’m going to consider this a special feature, and I think that’s fair. Please read my comments in the audio section detailing this 5.1 mix.
[*] Commentary: Two of them…one with the filmmakers (producers) and one with members of the animation team. Both commentaries are wonderful to hear, and even casual fans will find this feature worth-while. Dedicated fans will want to listen to both commentaries in their entirety.
[*] Deleted Songs: There are several deleted songs here presented in story-board form (4x3 lbx) with demo-quality audio recordings (presented in mono). These are songs that were ultimately dropped from the production for reasons of story change or artistry, and the songs include “Proud of Your Boy”, “You Can Count On Me”, and “Humiliate The Boy”. Information is provided as to the history and reasons for cutting each film and their inclusion here is a real treasure. The documentary information contained here, focusing on Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, really added depth to my appreciation of the music of Aladdin and many other films where this team partnered to compose the music/lyrics. The wealth of information here also stands as a loving testament to Ashman who died of AIDS during the production of Aladdin and was not able to see the film to its completion.
[*] Music Videos: New and Old. We have Clay Aiken perform a wonderful version of “Proud of Your Boy” (and the 5.1 option for this video is astounding, though the 1.78:1 letterbox video is disappointingly 4x3 lbx rather than 16x9) and Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey perform a new version of “A Whole New World” which was nice to listen to, but doesn’t supplant the Regina Bell and Bryson original version as my favorite (also included with 2.0 DD audio).
[*]Pop-Up Fun Facts: Also saw this on the Lion King 2 Simba’s Pride DVD…basically a cute use of the subtitle feature to pop up “facts” during movie play. Nothing enlightening but kids might like it.
[*]Song Selection: A nice feature which I hope will become standard on Disney DVD musicals from now on, you can go to this menu to gain direct access to the “songs” in the movie. They play (the 5.1 DEHT mix is the default here and cannot be changed) with sing-along subtitles which, by the way, can also be accessed by toggling through the subtitle option while watching the feature film. I like this “Song Selection” feature and I think it adds value especially for kids.
- [*]A Diamond in the Rough: Making of Aladdin: Almost 2 hours of some really incredible behind-the-scenes information. From casting to screenplay to animation, it’s all covered in this documentary. This feature is also divided into chapter stops allowing the user to easily navigate to a particular part of the documentary that may hold interest.
[*]Aladdin Art Review and Galleries: Some really great information and still-frame images, but why oh why can’t they use the screen-real-estate more efficiently? It’s frustrating…even on a 100” screen, to see the image surrounded by matting on all four sides of the image almost as wide as the image itself.
[*]Alan Menken: Musical Renaisance Man: After all he’s done for so many modern Disney musical classics (among other films), he finally gets some kudos in the special features on this disc, this interview/documentary being paramount. A talented guy who’s also clearly down-to-earth, all the Menken fans out there will really be glad to have this feature and I encourage everyone who enjoys the music of Aladdin (and so many other films…including Little Shop of Horrors) to take a look.
[*][b]Trailers: You get the trailer in 4x3 P/S and it looks like it’s sourced from a VHS master…but hey, it’s a trailer and it’s actually appearing on a Disney DVD. Trailers for the two direct-to-video sequels are also included.
[*][b]Games: Ok, there are lots of games for the kids, and I tried playing several of them and I have to say I think they are quite above average and some of them may even appeal to an adult crowd…for the visual beauty of some of them if for no other reason.
- [*]The “Inside the Genie’s Lamp” wasn’t a game so much as a virtual tour…but it’s fun and creative and I watched the whole thing through. You’ll probably get a kick out of it.
[*]Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Adventure is very cool. The game itself is “so so”, but the visuals are really amazing. The game is 4x3 full-frame (would have liked 16x9 myself) and as you race to save the princess your magic carpet ride takes you through a myriad of environments seen in the film plus quite a few more…all in first-person perspective. The result is wonderful…like one of those IMAX presentations that has you leaning over to keep your balance, and the visuals (all computer generated) are really beautiful to behold.
[*]3 Wishes Game is more for little kids.
[*]The Genie World Tour was something I didn’t have time to investigate…expect an update![/list][/list]
Those of you who haven’t seen Aladdin are in for a special treat. Those of you who know and love this film as much as I do have just as much to look forward to with this DVD edition. It’s got everything a DVD should have: A reference picture, incredible sound, and is filled to the brim with quality bonus materials that add real value to a film that deserves the honor. Climb aboard this magic carpet ride. Do you trust me?