“Why do they keep making these?!” was the eternal lament of the Disney fan from the mid-nineties to the mid-2000s when the Disney Sequel walked the Earth in all its terrible glory. Couldn’t Disney see that these filthy hack jobs were tarnishing the reputations of the pure and virtuous Disney canon? HAD THEY NOT EYES?! Well, yes, they had eyes. But here’s what they were looking at.
Consider Aladdin. It comes out in the winter of 1992 and it is the mutt’s nuts. Critical darling, instant pop culture icon and oh yes, the biggest box-office of any movie that year, animated or live action. It makes $504 Million dollars on a budget of $28 Million. Which basically means that for every dollar Disney put into Aladdin, they got $18 back. That’s a heck of a return on an investment. That is a good, good day. That is a win.
A few years later, Disney are working on an Aladdin animated series. It’s not an entirely new idea, The Little Mermaid also had a series. But there’s a lot of hype for Aladdin because instead of being a prequel series like Mermaid, this is going to be an actual sequel series where we get to see what our favourite Agrabahns did after the movie. And some bright spark realises that the three episode arc that opens the series actually kinda works as a movie if you squint. So why not release it as a movie? Not in theatres, God no. But maybe direct to video? VHS is super hot right now and Disney movies sell like hot cakes. So why not skip the theatres all together and just go straight to video? You know? Like porn?
Perhaps understandably, Disney were a little leery of taking their cues from porn. But they did it anyway and here’s what happened:
Return of Jafar became one of the biggest selling VHSs of all time. It made $300 Million dollars. $300 Million dollars for a movie that never sold a single ticket. On a budget, estimated, to be $3.5 Million dollars. Remember Aladdin’s oh-so-impressive return of 18:1? Jafar had a return of investment of $86 dollars to every dollar. That’s not a heck of a return. That is market changing. That is paradigm-shifting. That, honestly, is a wee bit scary. So if, for example, you were a huge multinational who cared only for filthy lucre…
Then the question becomes, not “Why did they keep making them?” but “Why did they ever stop?” That’s the kind of return that turns executives into junkies, chasing that hit for decades. 86 dollars for every dollar spent. That’s basically free money. This thing was huge.
And when you think about it, it still kinda is. Return of Jafar is without a doubt the only Disney Sequel that’s almost as famous as its prequel. Disney are actually considering a live action remake of Return of Jafar to follow last year’s live action Aladdin. Could you see any of the other sequels being considered for that?
Return of Jafar has also been a beneficiary of what I like to call “Space Jam” effect, the sharp divide in critical opinion between people who were already adults when a movie came out and those for whom it was as mother’s milk. Best-selling video of all time, remember? There are a lot of millennials out there with fond memories of this one, and even people who utterly despise the Disney sequels will go to the mat for this one. This one’s good, they’ll say. Leave it alone. He’s with me. Go burn some Tarzan sequels.
But does it deserve that loyalty? Is it actually any good? Well, it’s complicated…
So here’s something that’s been bothering me since childhood and throughout my adult life, how the fruck does the Peddler fit into all this? Remember him? He’s our narrator at the start of Aladdin but we never actually got to see him finish. Is he…is this still his story?
69 Minutes later.
28 HOURS LATER
The movie begins with on a dark night, where dark men race through the desert with a dark purpose. Now, there are four main flaws that can be laid at the feet of your typical Disney sequel:
- They’re boring, trying to stretch very little plot to a feature length run-time.
- They trade the heart-felt emotion of the original for cheap, saccharine schmaltz.
- They just rehash the plot of the original making the whole movie fundamentally pointless.
- They’re badly animated.
Now, say what you will, but Jafar is not dull. In fact, it’s something of a thrill ride. We open and BOOM! mysterious figures running the desert BANG! turns out they’re bandits BING! oh shit it’s Aladdin and Abu and they’re robbing the bandits AW HELL NAW Aladdin escapes near certain death and flies over Agrabah dropping coins on the poor like Robin Hood in a fez. It has momentum to burn, is what I’m saying. It also avoids being too scmaltzy, there’s a love song, sure, and it’s pretty durn bad. But honestly, the parts here centred on Aladdin and Jasmine’s relationship is actually some of the most interesting stuff in the whole movie. As for point 3, again the movie passes. I mean, the stakes and character development mostly centre around a gravel voiced parrot but they’re there. Stuff happens in this movie. Journeys are concluded. The status quo has changed. There was a point. This leaves us with the animation and…oy vey.
It’s bad. I don’t mean “bad” as in “bland and lackluster” I mean as in “damn near technically incompetent”. Basic things like synching the voice to the lip movements and keeping the characters on model. I mean Jesus Christ, what they do to Mark Henn’s Jasmine design, there should be an inquiry. Look at these!
As for the lip synching, I thought for a time that the reason it was so bad was that this movie was partially animated in Japan. Unlike in the West, Japanese animation traditionally does the animation first and then dubs the dialogue over it, because they are a wicked and sinful people. But after a little digging, it turns out that the first half of the movie (where the lip synching is noticeably worse) was actually done by Disney Australia, so we must lay the blame at the feet of lazy Aussie drongos.
Where was I? Oh yes. The plot. So Aladdin and Abu rob the gang of a particularly inept brigand named Abis Mal (Jason Alexander) fly over Agrabah distributing wealth in a desperate attempt to prove that they haven’t completely sold out. They return to the palace and Jasmine tells him that they’re having dinner with the Sultan later and that he can’t be late because the Sultan has something very important to tell him.
Meanwhile, in the desert, we discover that not even the Cave of Wonders can contain the might of Iago, and the little parrot has managed to escape and dig his way out through several miles of sand despite being half stuck in Jafar’s lamp.
Now you may say to yourself, “why can’t Iago just rub the lamp to become Jafar’s master?” to which I scoff and say Pah! Idiots. Tell ‘em why, Disney…
Anyway, Iago has just about had enough of Jafar’s BS and, instead of freeing him, decides to fly solo and drops the lamp down a nearby well. This leads to the first of Iago’s two songs, I’m looking Out For Me.
“First?” you say.
“Aye” says I.
“As in, more than one?” say you.
“Indeed” replies Mouse.
“They gave Gilbert Gottfreid two songs” you whisper.
“They did” I sombrely confirm.
“Mouse” you say “Mouse. WHY?”
“Reader” I reply “I DON’T KNOW.”
Anyway, in the bazaar, Iago runs into Aladdin and Abu and tries to play the victim card, claiming that he was under Jafar’s control the whole time. But you should never try to con a con man and Aladdin and Abu don’t buy it for a Persian minute. But, before they can re-enact the final act of Othello, they get stumbled on by Abis Mal and his men and in the fray Iago accidentally ends up saving Aladdin’s life. Unable to just turn Iago in, Aladdin promises the bird that he’ll talk to the Sultan about getting him a pardon. Refresh my memory, how did those two end things?
Ah. Okay. Bit of prep work maybe needed there.
Aladdin hides Iago in the palace until he can find the right time to tell Jasmine that her Dad’s abusive ex-boyfriend is on the premises. Unfortunately, Genie chooses this moment to return from his tour of all of space and time. Now, if you’re going to replace Robin Williams, you could certainly do a lot worse than a voice actor of the calibre of Dan Castellaneta. As you’ve probably heard, Robin Williams had a falling out with Disney after Aladdin. Shy and retiring soul that he was, Williams had agreed to voice the genie on the condition that he not be featured heavily in the publicity. But no sooner had he recorded his lines than Jeffrey Katzenberg was down at the bar, bragging to all his friends about how he’d totally got Robin WIlliams to appear in his movie and he was so easy, you guys, such a total slut.
And, as the saying goes, fool Robin Williams once? Shame on you. Fool Robin William’s twice? Nanoo nanoo! It’s common knowledge that this is why Robin Williams wasn’t in Return of Jafar, but if I may be so bold, I humbly submit that common knowledge is baloney.
Remember when I said Jafar was originally just the pilot for the TV show? I could be wrong, but I find it a bit hard to imagine an A-lister like Williams committing to 86 epsiodes of a Saturday Morning cartoon show. Maybe they were planning on getting him for the opener and replacing him with Castellaneta for the rest of the series like they did with James Earl Jones in Lion Guard? I dunno. I don’t doubt that Williams was pissed at Disney, but I really doubt that’s the reason he’s not in this.
Now, as I say, I don’t have any beef with Castellenata in the role. In fact, considering I watched the TV show religiously, he probably has a better claim to being “my” genie than Williams does. But, there are two things I simply cannot countenance.
Anyone remember this moment from the original? The manacles fall off and the genie whispers “I’m free…I’m free…”. Incredibly moving moment. So why the fruck is he wearing the manacles again?
Did he get nostalgic for his millennia of enslavement? Is he wearing them ironically? WHAT?
Disney claimed that he just looked weird without them but Disney can go straight to hell. Weird wrists aren’t a good enough reason to torpedo your character’s internal logic. Give him a frickin’ watch or something.
Because Genie is nothing if not extra, the movie grinds to a halt so everyone can sing “Nothing in the World”, the pauper’s “Friend Like Me”. They then all go to dinner and the Sultan announces that he’s making the impoverished street urchin who lied his way into his daughter’s affection and almost cost him his kingdom his new Grand Vizier because he is an excellent judge of character.
Genie then turns the conversation towards Iago and how he was just the worst and let’s be real here: Genie totally know that Aladdin is hiding Iago and is just stirrin’ shit. He knows. He absolutely knows. He knows who Jack Nicholson is, he knows about the bird.
Meanwhile, Abu deliberately opens Iago’s cage which leads to him almost getting eaten by Rajah and he flees into the dining room where he crashes into Genie and carpet and GOD DAMN BUT THIS FRANCHISE HAS A LOT OF COMEDY SIDEKICKS.
Sultan and Jasmine are, understandably, effin’ p’d but Aladdin promises to take complete responsibility for Iago. The sultan agrees, but he ain’t happy, and Jasmine is furious.
This brings us to something that I actually find quite fascinating about this movie. This is literally the first time we’ve ever seen a Disney couple after their happy ever after, where we get an idea of how their relationship actually works. Or doesn’t. And what this movie reveals about Jasmine and Aladdin is that she is crazy about him. But she doesn’t trust him. Which makes sense, right?
The first time she met him in the marketplace, he effortlessly lied to save her life (“she thinks the monkey is the sultan”). The second time he met her, he effortlessly lied about being a prince. And however good things are, however sweet and funny he is, that’s got to be festering in the back of her mind: Can I trust this guy? So it’s little wonder that when she learns he’s lied to her again, she just goes ballistic. And it feels right. Of course she would feel that way.
Of course, it only lasts until Iago and Genie team up to reunite the lovers through the power of magic and reverse psychology. Jasmine and Iago sing “Forget About Love”, which, what with being sung by Liz Callaway and Gilbert Gottfreid, is a bit like listening to a duet between a nightingale and a chainsaw.
Meanwhile, in the desert, Abis Mal and his cronies are getting water from the well. Abis pulls out Jafar’s lamp and releases him.
One of the reasons why Jafar, for all its flaws, still stands head and shoulders above the rest of the straight to video sequels is that it gets to keep one of the strongest elements of the first movie, Jafar himself, with Jonathan Freeman returning to stretch vowels and take names. The Disney canon tends to have a fairly Old Testament approach to its villains, having killed more bad guys than Wolverine. This means that the sequels have to create new villains who are, almost without exception, pale imitations of the originals. That’s how we went from Frollo to Sarousch, from Scar to Zira and from Ursula to…
May their sins be visited upon them tenfold.
Jafar, thankfully, doesn’t have that problem. Janky animation aside, Freeman is still killing it in this part, giving just the perfect mix of camp and real menace. Instead of the usual diminished stakes, this sequel actually ups the ante. Jafar is back. He’s imaginable more powerful than he was before, and he is PISSED.
Now, as we all recall from the first movie, there are three rules binding a genie:
1 No wishing for more wishes.
2 No killing.
3 No making people fall in love.
3 No raising the dead.
This means that Jafar can’t carry out his first revenge plan, killing Aladdin, bringing him back to life, killing him again, bringing him back and then making him fall in madly love with a rabid porcupine. Instead he enlists Abis Mal to help him carry out his plot. They sneak into the palace and see that Iago has already pecked his way into Aladdin’s inner circle. Jafar is actually happy about this, saying it’s very like “Iaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo” to ingratiate himself with those in power. Jafar corners Iago and coerces him into getting Aladdin and the Sultan to go a hidden oasis so that they can smooth things out when actually, Jafar’s magic goons are waiting to ambush them.
While they’re gone, Jafar attacks the Genie with “You’re Only Second Rate”, a song that is tenth rate. Freeman gives it socks, no question, but the lyrics are so bad you can practically hear the writer flipping desperately through their rhyming dictionary looking for a rhyme for “Abracadabra”.
At the oasis, Aladdin is able to convince the Sultan that he saw something good in Iago the same way that Sultan saw something good in Aladdin and Sultan agrees that it’s exactly the same and that it was a very good idea because he is an old man and a fool. But Abis Mal shows up with army of Nazgul on kickass bat-pagasi and kidnaps that Sultan and drops Aladdin over a waterfall, but they magically save him from dying because they can’t kill him.
Aladdin makes his way back to the palace and is instantly arrested by Razoul (who actually only got his name in this movie) and before you know it he’s back in his old dungeon. Aladdin demands to see Jasmine but when she arrives she accuses him of murdering her father and orders him beheaded.
Of course, it’s not really Jasmine. Jasmine and the Sultan have been locked up in a different dungeon with all fifty seven comic relief characters. Aladdin is led to the chopping block and just before he’s about to be beheaded, Jafar shows up disguised as Jasmine and changes back just long enough for Aladdin to realise who’s behind all this.
Which, as villain power moves go, is pretty baller. Unfortunately for Jafar, he hasn’t reckoned on one thing, the dried, shrivelled husk of Iago’s conscience. Iago frees the Genie and he manages to rescue him right before he becomes too short to go on any theme park rides.
Aladdin is all up for plucking Iago to stuff a throw pillow but when Jasmine explains that he rescued them all, Aladdin forgives him. Team Aladdin get ready to take on Jafar but Iago refuses saying he’s done his good dead. And Aladdin lets him off the hook, saying it’s cool and he’s done enough. Iago flies off, but he clearly feels bad about it.
They sneak into the palace and almost manage to get Jafar’s lamp but he blasts them out into the palace grounds when he then re-landscapes into more of a Mordor theme with lots of lakes of burning lava. Aladdin and his crew are hopelessly outmatched until Iago shows up at the last minute like Han Solo during the Death Star run and knocks Jafar’s lamp into the lava, finally destroying him. Iago gets blasted pretty badly by Jafar but, of course, genie’s can’t kill you so he survives, presumably with agonising burns for the rest of his days. And the movie ends with Aladdin telling the sultan that he can’t be his grand Vizier because he’s planning on seeing in the world and having adventures. Like, 86 or so, each running around half an hour in length including commercials.
Return of Jafar is kind of like Gizmo from Gremlins. It spawned a lot of monsters and did a lot damage, but we can’t stay mad at it. As animation, it’s not even in the same league as it’s predessesor. But it’s briks, fun, occasionally funny and doesn’t desecrate any of the original characters who largely survive unscathed. As Disney sequels go, that’s definitely a win.
How butt ugly is the animation? Is it as ugly as a butt?: 03/20
What with being done by two different studios, the quality really is all over the place. But it’s a pretty bad place.
Are the main characters jerks? I bet they’re jerks: 15/20
Jasmine is noticeably less badass this time around but overall these are still recognisably the characters we love from the first movie. You’d be surprised how rarely that happens.
Bet the villain’s a real shitpile, character wise: 17/20
Wonky animation aside, it’s still one of the best villains in the canon strutting around.
Oh what’s this? Supporting characters? Fuck you supporting characters!: 14/20
Semi-phenomenal, nearly cosmic is still pretty good in the grand scheme of things.
Man, fuck the music. I hope it dies: 08/20
The songs are dang-awful, but the incidental music is actually quite fine.
FINAL SCORE: 57%
NEXT UPDATE: 17 October 2019