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Aladdin: Platinum Edition

Depending on your opinion of the current state of the major studios' animated-feature industry, Robin Williams deserves either an award or a beating. The erstwhile Mork's frantic performance as the Genie in Disney's monster hit Aladdin (1992) marked the debut of two trends that are still going strong in cartoon land more than a decade after its release: big-name voice casting and pop-culture-reference mania. Co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker (with the considerable assistance of composers Alan Menken and Howard Ashman) had already given animated features a new lease on life with their hugely successful The Little Mermaid (1989), but scan the list of that film's credits, and the biggest name to pop out is… Buddy Hackett (a talented comedian, to be sure, but not exactly a marquee actor). And Mermaid's Ursula was a pretty hip witch, but she wasn't exactly tossing off Ed Sullivan and Rodney Dangerfield impressions. Nope, it wasn't until Williams' big, blue-lamp spirit helped diamond-in-the-rough Aladdin (voiced by Scott Weinger) defeat the evil Jafar (Jonathan Freeman) and win the heart of beautiful Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin) that the model for modern animated features — from Toy Story to Shrek — was established. All that said, context schmontex: No matter its significance in the cartoon canon, Aladdin is first and foremost a great movie. Funny, warm-hearted, and full of adventure, the script, pacing, songs, and cast come together to make it one of the brightest gems in the Disney vault. Weinger gives the fez-topped hero an appealingly blustery vulnerability that lets the character hold his own opposite Williams' motor-mouthed sidekick. But it's the Genie who makes the magic happen, and the composers and animators knew that. The show-stopping "Friend Like Me" and "Prince Ali" numbers are sheer delights of color, image, and lyrics; fans will still be humming them days later, grinning as they remember the Genie hamming it up. Or, if you have Disney's Platinum Edition DVD handy, you can just pop it in the player and skip straight to the right spot in the movie — unless you get caught up in one of the two-disc set's plethora of special features, that is. Say what you will about the Mouse House, they don't skimp when it comes to home video (you know you're in for it when a map of the special features is included). Not only were the archives raided for piles of historical footage and concept art, but a Leonard Maltin-hosted panel discussion was convened to capture new interview footage for the DVD release. In a nutshell, the goodies: Disc One offers the film in a beautiful anamorphic transfer (1.66:1) with English, French, and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks (as well as the 5.1 "Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix"). Extras on this platter include two commentary tracks (one by the execs, one by the animators), a pop-up trivia track, trailers, four deleted songs, two deleted scenes, and music videos. Switch to Disc Two to find interactive games, a tour of the Genie's lamp, extensive publicity and conceptual art galleries, a 20-minute featurette on Menken, and almost two hours' worth of "making-of" material divided into short featurettes and interview segments. It's all interesting, but particular highlights include a mini-bio of master sketch artist Al Hirschfeld and a quirky segment in which bird-phobic Freeman visits a parrot store. It's all wrapped up in a dual-disc slimline keep-case, which slips inside an outer paperboard sleeve.
—Betsy Bozdech

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