Within the Disney pantheon, there are good films, there are bad films, there are very good films and there are very bad films. Included in the very good films are indisputable, inarguable classics: The Lion King, Pinocchio, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Beauty and the Beast, One Hundred and One Dalmatians and, yes, Aladdin. The former lot, we have, film by film, drip by drop, got on Blu-ray, but the latter has eluded Disney-collectors for the longest time. Until now.
|The main menu of the Aladdin Blu-ray.|
Aladdin, the 31st feature film from Walt Disney Animation Studios (then called Walt Disney Feature Animation), and the third film directed by the crack-duo of Ron Clements and John Musker (who're hard at work on a new project for the studio), hasn't been in the dreaded Disney vault, but has been stuck in regular ole standard definition. Recently though, Disney finally announced that the film was on its way to Blu-ray - next month, in fact - but curiously, not in the US. Disney often short-change the UK - winter releases don't wind up here until early the next year, home video releases are then accordingly delayed. It's dire. But when it comes to the release of films from moratorium, we actually do get a pretty good deal; we got Peter Pan and 101 Dalmatians last November, and now we're getting this release significantly earlier than the US. The good news for US fans though, is that the release is region free, so you needn't wait for when it's released Stateside, you can order a UK copy very soon.
The film was first released theatrically in 1992, facing the enormous pressure of being Disney's follow-up to Beauty and the Beast - obviously, it had little problem living up to expectations. The quality of the actual film - the story, the characters, the music, the animation - absolutely stands and sparkles in HD; Aladdin is the most exaggeratedly pantomimed Disney film, taking the Broadway musical sensibilities which The Little Mermaid introduced and running with them. The lavish lengths Disney have gone to to transfer the film to HD will only make you appreciate the actual film even more.
In fact, it's easier than ever to appreciate Aladdin, thanks to the absolutely pristine Blu-ray quality! The luscious oranges and golds of the sand, the regal reds and purples of the palace and the sky, and the magical blues of the genie all absolutely pop off the screen. You somewhat take the quality for granted to begin with, almost forgetting that this film came out over two decades ago, not last year. But when it opens up to the first shot of the open desert and the Cave of Wonders, your jaw will drop - not unlike the opening to the Cave itself. The sheen, the radiance, the crispness of the image; Disney do Blu-ray quality ridiculously well. If you click on some of the bonus features (all of which were carried over from previous DVD releases - more later), you get a glimpse of how the animation looked beforehand, pre-HD, and that hammers home how much and how well the film has been restored; it looks new.
A minor downside to the brilliant high-def image is that the very old CGI (used in the first flying carpet scene, among others) really stands out, and not in a good way. It just looks very out of place. The enrapturing flow of the film and the generally beautiful visuals (just wait until you check out the stacks of gold in the Cave of Wonders!) mean that this isn't much of a distraction for long though.
The image quality was always going to be great (or so you'd hope anyway - it is a Blu-ray after all), but what floored me was just how good the sound was. From the very first riffs of "Arabian Nights", it's clear how crisp, how booming and just how good the audio quality is. The musical scenes are fully immersive and it's just another impressive aspect of the transfer.
Now this I didn't know: Before moving on to direct Aladdin, Ron Clements and John Musker turned down Beauty and the Beast.
— A113Animation (@A113Animation) March 27, 2013
It's not a perfect set though, in fact, the bonus features are a bit lacking. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to enjoy (deleted songs and scenes, music videos, a sing-along version and filmmakers' commentary; there's also a very lengthy and enjoyable 'Making Of' featurette, "Diamond in the Rough", featuring thoughts from the cast and crew - hosted by Leonard Maltin), but there is nothing new. You'd hope that they'd bring all the good pre-existing DVD features across to the Blu-ray, but you'd also expect something new - anything, really - but no. All the same, the features are fun to watch, and informative - I didn't realise that, although the tassels were traditionally animated, the detailing on the magic carpet was created using CG, using texture mapping (a technique pioneered by Pixar's Ed Catmull). The special features are worth watching for Eric Goldberg's laugh alone.
According to Blu-ray.com, Aladdin's US (Diamond Edition) Blu-ray release is slated for Spring this year - although that's not fixed (check out the, possibly outdated, cover art above). UPDATE - 03/04/2013, 21:06 (GMT): The cover art is actually fan-made (hence the low-res). In the meantime, the Aladdin UK Blu-ray set, while lacking in bonus features, is a painstakingly beautiful and immersive experience that only serves to remind you just how good the film is.
(Hi-res Blu-ray stills via Fanpop; lower-res DVD ones via Disney Screencaps. Head over to my Instagram to check out some lower-res shots of the Aladdin Blu-ray.)
Picture Quality: 9/10
Sound Quality: 9/10
Bonus Features: 6/10
Overall Blu-ray package: 8.5/10
You can pre-order Aladdin on Blu-ray via our Amazon link above.