Video troubles sour Aladdin’s Blu-ray debut

Disney’s adaptation of Arabian Nights is an internationally twisted revision of a foreign fairy tale. Their take on the story in Aladdin also imbues the chaotic activity of the ’90s and shows a social awareness for the rising counter culture evident throughout the decade.

It’s hard to see through Aladdin. Disney’s film is a kinetic, kaleidoscopic dose of saturated color, noise, and Robin Williams in a thousand roles – bunched into one. As gorgeous as it can be with a flurry of expended energy, Aladdin never stops, nor does it want to. Songs are too catchy, characters too likable, and the sightseeing infinitely beautiful.

Aladdin is bright enough to become a generation’s animation spectacle. Disney’s renaissance hit prior to ’80s kids maturing and right as impressionable ’90s children were a target audience. The film is a sensational piece of nostalgia – Disney has done it for decades. Each generation has a Disney film which is their own.

Aside from the lavish look and perky storytelling, Aladdin turns into splendid escapism, with a heart dropped through decidedly foreign magic, bulbous castles, and a culture now sneered. Aladdin would likely (and sadly) bomb in 2015 given its setting, even if this story is catapulted by a slew of American additions. Aladdin (Scott Weinger) finds success on his own, without family. Each key character is espousing American values of freedom – Aladdin to escape poverty, Jasmine (Linda Larkin) to leave her castle, Jafar (Johnathan Freeman) to rise above his crooked underling status. Even Genie wishes for a life away from a master commanding him to grant wishes.

Beauty & the Beast was a mellow art film in comparison to the glitzy showmanship of Aladdin.

Despite being directed by Ron Clements and John Musker who were nearing their 40s by the time of production – they handled Little Mermaid too – there exists a specific understanding of how entertainment was progressing. Beauty & the Beast was a mellow art film in comparison to the glitzy showmanship of Aladdin. It was hyper-active and attention grabbing, an animated film settled into an era flushed with neon and frenzied editing styles, led by a character who trounces authority figures.

Underneath is a scenario of progress, even foreshadowing. Nestled between alluring pencil strokes is the beginning of the computer era, an unknowing death warrant for this form of animation. Luckily, it holds. The toothy mouth which forms the Cave of Wonder and the personality-driven magic carpet are both wonders for the ability to act seamlessly as digital mix-ins among the painted cells. Aladdin is a technical wonder as much as it is a dedication to an entire era. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Movie]

Two personalities @ 53:41

Disney shows they may be imperfect after all. After a streak of classic animation which were all winners (and some astonishing 3D conversions), Aladdin shows some faults. Problems are not immediate. Each pencil line is captured with enormous fidelity. Sketch lines and background strokes give images personality lost in the days of VHS and DVD. Grain removal is a mastered task by Disney.

Except maybe not? Aladdin’s Blu-ray troubles are digital remnants, possibly left over from grain removal, possibly something else. The existence of ringing is evident in any shot where characters shrink into the background. Contrasting lines begin to display artifacts, roughed up without the clarity notable in close. Some of the more lavish scenes, say the chaos of the, “Prince Ali” song, struggle within these boundaries.

While a problem, Aladdin has the benefit of its source material. Color is astounding, doused in tremendous blues and dense earth tones. Inside the Cave of Wonder, sprouting lava is intense. Saturation and density are faultless. Contrast and depth are likewise premium work.

Faulty or not, Disney’s presentation does host extensive resolution and fine detail. The jump between formats doesn’t harm the computerized work either. Often, Aladdin is as high-end as any of Disney’s Blu-ray output – in spite of the issues. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]

Superlative remastering work gives Aladdin new sonic life. DTS-HD 7.1 provides copious surround activity. Different though, certainly. Those seeking purity to the source may be disappointed. This is reworked, at times aggressive, and outstanding in terms of adding scope.

A collapsing Cave of Wonder pushes falling rocks into the rears – all four – while rushing lava fills the soundfield with richer drama. Battle scenes with Jafar take off into each channel, tracking his hissing and slithering form. The genie’s activity follows through the width of the soundstage.

Action highs are superb, but the songs are given renewed life. Instruments strongly take precedence in the rears and stereos. Lyrics stay tightly joined to the center, achieving maximum fidelity. Add in other audio effects and these grand moments of activity are great showpieces.

Aladdin is hardly done, adding weight to Jafar’s baritone voice, panning dialogue as Jasmine walks through the market, or adding ambiance to the marketplace in full. The golden scarab darts off and travels between speakers as it searches for its goal. Interior scenes build up strong echoes to best sell the sense of space. Wonderful work. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Audio]

A majority of the bonuses carry over from the DVD. That’s okay. Therein lie two commentaries, one from co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker with co-producer Amy Pell. The other comes from the animation team for two distinct chats about the film. An hour long series of featurettes cover the full expanse of the production. These are in addition to a collection of sizable bonuses.

New bonuses begin with Genie Outtakes, honoring Robin Williams with nine minutes of never-before-heard improv from the Genie role. It’s said he created 16 hours of material, so this is likely only a snippet. Still, it’s fun. Creating Broadway Magic delves into the stage show version and in 19-minutes, turns into a lavish commercial.

An obnoxious trivia bit, Unboxing Aladdin, has only a few tidbits worth waiting for. Genie 101 is a little more reserved, with voice actor Scott Weinger detailing each impression the Genie gives in the finished work. Ron & John gives the co-directors time to sit down and remember their time working on the film. These two are a great pair even if they’re only given six minutes. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Extras]


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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