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Bonus Points: Weekly Guide to DVD Extras

A Look at 'Aladdin' and Glimpse of 'Sunshine'

By Jen Chaney
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 28, 2004;

"Aladdin: Platinum Edition" (Rated G; list price $29.99)
Release date: Oct. 5

In the early 1990s -- before we met Shrek or found Nemo -- Disney's traditional animated movies dominated the family film market. "Aladdin," like "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King," scored bigtime at the box office by telling a timeless tale with enough mature humor to keep adults interested. In fact, one could easily argue that Robin Williams's over-the-top voice work as the Genie launched the celebrity casting trend -- see Tom Hanks in "Toy Story," Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy in "Shrek" and virtually the entire cast of "Shark Tale" -- that's now the norm when it comes to animated fare.

"Aladdin" makes its DVD debut next week in a two-disc set with hours of bonus features. (Buena Vista Home Entertainment)

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It's surprising, then, that "Aladdin" comes to DVD for the first time next week. One can't help but wonder whether the 9-year-olds who reveled in the movie's "whole new world" back in 1992 will still care about it now that they're 21. Regardless, families desperately seeking quality DVDs will likely pick up copies of "Aladdin" if only for a break from endless viewings of "Finding Nemo" and "Shrek."

In the Disney DVD tradition, "Aladdin" debuts in a nicely packaged, robust two-disc set, filled with several hours of bonus features. Those include: a nearly two-hour documentary called "A Diamond in the Rough: The Making of 'Aladdin'"; deleted scenes and songs; games and interactive features; two commentary tracks; and a "pop-up fun fact" option that allows viewers to watch the movie as informative bits of text appear onscreen. On the whole, it's a commendable release, with enough extra material to make fans feel they've gotten their money's worth. But the bonus features aren't quite as compelling as those on last year's "Lion King" DVD. Kids probably won't care, as they'll be more interested in rewinding the still comical (if occasionally dated) Genie scenes again and again. That, and begging you to buy "Shrek 2" when it comes out Nov. 5.

Most Worthwhile Bonus Point: The "Diamond in the Rough" documentary, hosted by Leonard Maltin, yields the most interesting tidbits about the film and is organized in a way that allows viewers to watch as much or as little of the lengthy feature as they'd like. Among the facts revealed: Then-head of Disney Jeffrey Katzenberg hated his first look at "Aladdin," which meant the directors practically had to start over from scratch.

Most Educational Bonus Point: Late, great cartoonist Al Hirschfeld apparently inspired the look of many characters -- including the Genie -- in "Aladdin." A short feature on Hirschfeld, viewable during the "Diamond" doc, could introduce young artists-to-be to the rich tapestry of his work.

Most Unnecessary Bonus Point: It's one thing to include music videos of Clay Aiken singing the deleted song "Proud of Your Boy," and Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey remaking "A Whole New World." But was it really necessary to create making-of-the-video documentaries of both experiences? Preteens with Clay crushes may enjoy watching their idol, but to me this is an example of DVD features gone out-of-control. What's next? Deleted scenes from the behind-the-scenes documentary of the video for the song that got deleted from the film?

Notably Absent Bonus Point: The features include a few snippets of Robin Williams working in the studio, but I have to think there's more footage of the comedian perfecting his shtick in front of the mike. So how come it's not here?

"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (Rated R; list price $29.98)
Release date: Sept. 28

"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" begs to be viewed more than once. The inventive mind-scrambler, written by the brilliant Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation"), works on so many levels that it's nearly impossible to process everything the first time out. For that reason alone the DVD may be worth buying, if only to avoid excessive rental fees.

Its extra features are limited, but a couple are worth a glance, particularly "A Conversation With Michel Gondry and Jim Carrey," a featurette that shows the film's director and star discussing the filmmaking process. In it, they reveal that many of the movie's special effects -- including the "Alice in Wonderland"-esque scenes where Carrey relives his early childhood -- were created not with CGI, but by playing good, old-fashioned tricks on the eyes. And we certainly salute "Sunshine" for that.

Most Notable Bonus Point for Charlie Kaufman Fans: Kaufman joins Gondry on the film's commentary, marking the first time the writer has recorded such a track for one of his films. Granted, he lets Gondry's thick but charming French accent dominate the conversation, but it's nice to get even a few brief confessions from this dangerously talented mind.

Bonus Point You Can Skip: The documentary "A Look Inside 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind'" is fairly pointless: If you've seen the film, you already know everything that's revealed. If you haven't, watching this doc beforehand may spoil it. Bypass this and watch the Carrey and Gondry conversation instead.

Coming in Next Week's Bonus Points: "Fahrenheit 9/11."

"Bonus Points," which reviews the features on the latest DVD releases, is now a weekly column. If you have feedback about the column or want to suggest a DVD for review, e-mail Jen Chaney.

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