‘Aladdin’ is Disney animation at its best

Aladdin gets the lamp in Disney's 'Aladdin'
Aladdin gets the lamp in Disney’s ‘Aladdin’

The Disney animation machine has been chugging along for nearly a century, turning out some of the most remembered and celebrated pieces of moving imagery in history. Generations have grown up with memories of Snow White and the Seven DwarvesBambi and The Little Mermaid.

This October, Disney gives one of its strongest outings its due with the 2-disc “Platinum” Edition ofAladdin. Filled with smart humor, beautiful animation and memorable characters, this film raised the bar for animated motion pictures through its use of contemporary humor.

Coming in on the heels of the massive success of both The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, Disney was experiencing what has been noted as its second “Golden Age”. Racking in more than $200 million during its initial release back in 1992, it was a massive hit, later spawning two sequels and an animated series.

Watching the DVD, I found myself tapping my feet to what I think is the best song, “A Friend Like Me,” which brought Robin Williams center-stage as the Genie. Part of the fun of watching this film again was doing so with my young son beside me. And while he is only 16-months old and often doesn’t pay much attention to the television for any significant amount of time, he was drawn in by the colorful Aladdin. At times he simply stared, other moments he actually pointed and excitedly proclaimed, “Oooooo.”

Robin Williams brings the Genie to life in 'Aladdin'
Robin Williams brings the Genie to life in ‘Aladdin’

These films are often filled with more child-friendly humor, but Aladdin went in a different direction. I think it’s arguable that a large part of its success was the humor Williams injected into his role. Although contemporary and adult oriented — would a child get the Rodney Dangerfield reference? — and rather un-Disney like, it helped set Aladdin apart from its predecessors and ushered in a new age in animated films. Following successes such as Toy Story followed suit, mixing adult humor in with sight gags to give the parents something to laugh about while the children enjoyed the simpler humor.

However, as much as I love the Genie, my favorite character in the film is the monkey, Abu. I love him because he doesn’t speak. His emotions and interaction with the other characters are all done through visual means. His eyes and body language say it all. And when he shares moments with the Flying Carpet, it’s almost perfect. The subtly of the carpet’s movements and the comedic nature of Abu are for me some of the strongest moments of animation in the film.

By nature, Disney’s films are musicals. And to be quite honest, I am not a musical lover. In fact, I largely despise them — with a few exceptions. But the Disney films often do a good job of keeping the musical portions of the film relevant to the story. Aladdin is a strong example of that, as each number helps establish a character or moment. While I think “Friend Like Me” is the most entertaining tune, I also enjoy, “Prince Ali”. For some reason, I always find that it gets stuck in my head afterwards.

Aladdin is presented with vibrant color and crisp images on the DVD. The sound is terrific. There is a moment in the film where a line of dialogue from Jafar gets lost in the music, but otherwise there’s nothing to fault here.

Princess Jasmine in 'Aladdin'
Princess Jasmine in ‘Aladdin’

When it comes to special features, this set has them with spades. From almost two hours of behind the scenes information to fun games and audio commentaries by the filmmakers and animators. I enjoyed the behind the scenes info, as it was pretty revealing and explored extensively how Aladdin was dramatically retooled early in the production after “Black Friday”.

The highlights come mostly from the music portions of the bonus material. One of which is the lost song, “Proud of your Boy”. This was one of the last songs written by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken before Ashman’s death during the film’s production. It’s a touching and beautiful melody, cut from the film when the role ofAladdin’s mother was excised from the story.

Now, this is the only time I will give Clay Aiken any good notices, so enjoy it while you can. I am not a fan of this overly-hyped American Idol runner-up. I think he is horribly miscast as a pop star wanna-be. But with his rendition of “Proud of your Boy”, Aiken is where he belongs: singing musical numbers. He has a powerful voice, one ideally suited for Broadway, and he delivers this tune with softness and strength that is honestly outstanding.

Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey are also featured performing “A Whole New World”. Simpson’s sultry voice gives the tune some soul, but Lachey’s contribution doesn’t really hold up.

Overall, this special edition is a well-packaged collection of documentaries and features. But, as I watched the film, there was something gnawing at me. Something that I was hesitant to discuss here, but feel that it should be looked at a bit.

The world has changed dramatically in the eleven years since Aladdin was released. With the war on terror and the constant news of violence in the Middle East, I wonder if the perception of this film may be affected. I would go so far as to say it is debatable such fare would be produced by Disney now. With its focus on Arabs and the mention of beheadings, will parents and their children have a different view of this film in today’s hostile environment?

I hope not. There’s a positive message to be found in Aladdin, one of being true to yourself. Regardless of how some elements to the story may have a different meaning now, Aladdin is a classic family film that is beautiful to watch, with a story and characters that are fun and entertaining.

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