Toon Talk: Aladdin II & III
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Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt
Aladdin: The Return of Jafar and Aladdin and the King of Thieves
Arabian Nights: 3 Down, 998 More to Go
At the end of Aladdin back in 1992, as Al and Jasmine literally flew off into the sunset, it was obvious that these characters were ripe for a sequel (made even more so by the phenomenal box office success of the film). But instead of a lavish, full-fledged theatrical production, what we got two years later was the atrocious The Return of Jafar, and the dawn of the direct-to-video, so-called â€˜cheap-quels' began.
Despite its god-awful animation, uninspired story and dreadful songs, Jafar was eaten up by the public, becoming one of the most profitable home videos of all time, and thus paving the way for more stale sequels such as Cinderella II: Dreams Come True and The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea. Thankfully, there has been some decent releases out of the â€˜video premieres', such as The Lion King 1 ½, Beauty and the Beast: An Enchanted Christmas and, newly available on DVD in a two-pack with Jafar, Aladdin and the King of Thieves. But all of this sub-genre (emphasis on the sub) has, to some degree or the other, the same nagging, bitter aftertaste: there's just no comparison to the originals. And, most frustratingly, they don't even try or, frankly, seem to care. They know that John Q. Public will snap up anything with the Disney name on it, regardless of quality.
The Return of Jafar (re-titled Aladdin: The Return of Jafar on the packaging but not the film itself) was the inauspicious forebear of the lot. Basically a bridge between the original film and the animated television series Aladdin (it was originally produced as a TV movie), the story mostly centers on the redemption of Iago, who became yet another sidekick for Aladdin in the series. Its actually pretty easy for Jafar to return, and he ends up genie to the one significant new character here, the bumbling would-be thief Abis Mal (voiced by The Hunchback of Notre Dame's Jason Alexander, who would also reappear in the series). Most of the original voice cast returned, except Robin Williams, wisely sitting this one out; Dan "Homer Simpsonâ€? Castellaneta stepped in as Genie (as he did in the series) and, well, there's only one Robin Williams; without his manic improvs, the in-jokes are practically nil in this one (save for an obvious "It's a Small Worldâ€? gag), and his manic energy is sorely missed. Shoe-horned into the plot are a handful of new songs that do nothing but prove how brilliant the work of Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice was in the original (adding insult to injury, the score is basically retreads of Menken's Oscar-winning music). Included, inexplicably, is not one but two songs ("I'm Looking Out for Meâ€?, "Forget About Loveâ€?) for a grating Gilbert Gottfried as Iago. The one highlight is Jonathan Freeman as Jafar, who can add a naughty oil slick to even the most banal of dialogue.
But all of that is nothing compared to the offensively appalling animation, which is just down-right sloppy; the lip synch is off, props appear and disappear and change size. The exquisite designs of the original characters are maligned beyond recognition, with the biggest victims being the poor Princess Jasmine, whose face is never once on model, and Carpet, a mere finger-painting of his former self. It's so bad that, at one point, Aladdin's costume changes from his Prince Ali robes to his street rat garb in the middle of a scene!
Williams did return, two years later, for the third Aladdin film (and Disney let everybody know it ... for the first time ever for an in-house Disney animated feature, a voice actor was credited on promotional artwork, a far cry from the original Aladdin, where Williams' name could hardly be mentioned) and, along with him, all the fun missing from the second film; making up for lost time, Thieves is crammed with in-jokes and celebrity appearances courtesy of the Genie, including just about every Disney movie (from Alice in Wonderland to, hilariously, Pocahontas) as well as such familiar (blue) faces as Walter Cronkite, Hope and Crosby and all three Marx Brothers, not to mention one of Williams' own creations, Mrs. Doubtfire (and be sure to stick around through the end credits for more Genie wackiness). The animation is an improvement over Jafar (which really isn't saying much ...), although poor Jasmine still has face problems, and the storyline is more compelling, offering a mythical quest for the fabled Hand of Midas (whose touch turns everything to gold) alongside the pending nuptials of Al and Jas and a reunion between our hero and his long-lost father Cassim (voiced by John Rhys-Davies in full Sean Connery mode), who is actually the titular King of Thieves of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thievesâ€? fame. Amidst this ambitious "open sesameâ€? adventure tale are even more new songs that leave a lot to be desired (they should have followed the lead of the animated series and gone tuneless), including the mawkish love ballad "Out of Thin Airâ€?, with lyrics that don't even bother to rhyme. Stand outs include "Are You In or Outâ€?, sung by Beauty and the Beast's Jerry Orbach as the new villain Sa'Luk, and the final reprise of "Arabian Nightsâ€?, originally intended for the conclusion of the first film.