DVD Review

[DVD Review - Aladdin on DVD]

This week, after much anticipation, Buena Vista Home Video released a 2-disc Special Edition DVD of the hit animated Disney classic, Aladdin.  Additionally, a new remastered soundtrack was just released from Walt Disney Records, and even a Karaoke album was released as well.  SoundtrackNet got a chance to dig through all of this material, and we're pleased to share our findings with you here.

The DVD:
Aladdin was released in 1992, so it's really not an old film by any means.  The film got a digital transfer, and it looks absolutely stellar.  Colors are saturated and vivid, and the image quality is top-notch.  For hand-drawn animation, this disc is reference quality, so be sure to show it off to your friends!

From an audio standpoint, this DVD is powerful!  There is a new Home Theater 5.1 sound mix, which features enhanced use of the surround channels.  For those purists who are uncomfortable with something "new", Disney has wisely included the original theatrical 5.1 mix as well.  Then there's French, Spanish, and even two audio commentaries to boot!  While composer Alan Menken is not involved in the commentary tracks, his musical contribution (as well as Tim Rice's and the late Howard Ashman's) does not go unnoticed.  Deleted songs, the way the film changed through production, and other issues are all discussed on the commentary track.

A nice thing about the way this DVD is structured is that right after you finish the commentary, and hear the directors talking about deleted songs, you can go to the "Bonus Materials" section on the first disc, and check out the deleted material.  In the "Deleted Songs" section, you can view four deleted musical numbers.  Each of them features an introduction explaining the context, including Menken's thoughts on it.  The first, "Proud of Your Boy", was probably the hardest number to cut.  Due to script and story changes, the role of Aladdin's mother was cut from the film - and the song had no place in the film. 

Unfortunately, this all happened just after Howard Ashman passed away from complications from AIDS - you can see through the interviews that the song was very personal to him, and many people on the production were devastated when the song was cut.  The second deleted musical number is "You Can Count on Me", written just after Ashman's death.  The song allows Aladdin to express his dreams and aspirations, but ultimately was deemed unusable when the film's storyline changed.  Interestingly, some of the music contains elements that would ultimately be used in "A Whole New World". 


The third song, "Humiliate the Boy", was the last song that Ashman wrote with Menken before he passed away.  It was dropped because story elements and plots changed, but basically the scene features Jafar unmasking Prince Ali to be Aladdin, and completely embarassing him in the process by abusing him with wishes (which worked differently in this older version of the story).  So while this song was dropped, Alan Menken and new collaborator Tim Rice wrote a new song called "Why Me" in an effort to allow Jafar to keep a lengthy musical number.  In the final film, this is all condensed down to the quick "Prince Ali (reprise)" track. 

In the "Music and More" section, we're provided with all of the music videos for the film.  A new recording of "Proud of Your Boy" was done by pop star Clay Aiken, and not only is the music video provided here (in both 2.0 and 5.1 sound mixes), but a small "making of" featurette featuring Menken and Aiken, as well as the ability to watch the original story reel with the Aiken recording!  On top of that, there's a new music video of "A Whole New World" featuring Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson, as well as a making-of featurette for that video, too!  Not to be outdone, there's the original 1992 music video as well, featuring Regina Belle and Peabo Bryson.  Keep in mind that this is an older video, so the quality (and production value) is quite dated. Finally, there's a selection to view the songs in the film (with or without lyrics on screen), in a sense a "song player".  And this is all just on the first disc!


The second disc is where things start getting technical.  While they have the usual games and activities for the kids, "Backstage Disney" is where you'd probably want to go.  Here they have a 2-hour long feature documentary, "Diamond in the Rough: The Making of Aladdin", broken up and available through three different viewing modes.  From a musical standpoint, the section on Music is a bit weak, featuring only a look at the original scoring session of "A Whole New World", and an excerpt from a rough-sketch version of "Prince Ali" (with final audio).  It's disappointing that throughout the whole 2-discs, all of the musical attention is on the songs, and nothing is explored regarding all of the underscore that Menken wrote!

However, of note on the second disc is a 20-minute long documentary called "Alan Menken: Musical Rennaisance Man".  Playing like a mini biography, this documentary features interviews with Menken's parents and family, and focuses on the amazing things he's achieved in his career.  From Broadway to Disney, it's all covered here.  While it's not definitive by any means, this is a great feature for the DVD, and I strongly urge everyone to check this documentary out if you're a fan of Menken's work!

The Soundtrack:
Released originally back in 1992, and then re-issued in 1999, this new "Special Edition" soundtrack of Aladdin features the same material as the original release, but remastered and with two bonus tracks.  The two tracks, "Proud of Your Boy (demo)" and "High Adventure (demo)" were previously only available on the 4-disc "Music Behind The Magic" box set.  The first song is, as described above, a tender ballad that Aladdin sings for his mother.  "High Adventure" is a fun number that doesn't fit at all in the film that was finally made, but for an earlier version of the story, it would probably work.  Reminiscent of some of the musical numbers that Menken and Ashman wrote for Little Shop of Horrors, the fast-paced lyrics and jaunty melody will certainly stick with you long after the album finishes playing.  Unfortunately, there was an entire disc on the "Music Behind the Magic" box set dedicated to Aladdin's unused concepts and demos, and it would have been a real treat to have those released here.  Also not included on the album are the Clay Aiken or Nick & Jessica recordings that were done for the DVD.

Walt Disney Records recently started the new line of "Disney Karaoke Series" albums.  Exactly what you would expect, these discs feature two versions of classic songs from Disney films, both with and without vocals.  Presented in CD+G format, if you have a karaoke machine, you can read the lyrics on screen as you sing along.  Of course, this is a novelty item, and it can be a lot of fun during parties.  However, on the Aladdin disc we received, one thing was a complete letdown: the music quality.  On the DVD release, the music are filled with excerpts from music-only versions of the original recordings of the songs.  That is basically what I had hoped the karaoke disc would be - original recordings, sans vocals.  Unfortunately, these recordings are synth recreations.  On top of that, the vocal versions aren't the original versions either, and instead are the synth versions with new performers.  A printing error credits "Rim Rice" as the lyricist on a few of the songs, too!  So while this is a novel idea, and karaoke enthusiasts will still enjoy it, the implementation is unfortunately less than it could (and should) have been.

Disney is doing an all-out push for Aladdin.  Last week, they held a star-studded gala premiere at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood, with a digital-projection showing of the film.  With the new DVD release, as well as the soundtrack and karaoke CDs, you can't escape it!  Aladdin is one of my favorite Disney films from the Jeffrey Katzenberg era of the studio, and will serve a welcome addition to your movie and music libraries.

Special thanks to mAc McLean at Buena Vista Home Entertainment, and Maria Kleinman at Walt Disney Records for their help with this article.