The Return of Jafar (1994)

When a movie or a TV show is a success, a studio’s natural impulse is to further capitalize on it. But what’s funny is that before, making sequels or adding seasons was often a crapshoot. Budgets get slashed. Actors leave. The production is farmed out a production facility that can make it cheaper. And the studio really, really hopes that you’ll forgive the downgraded quality in favor of an official continuation of your new favorite franchise. Nowadays, thanks to Peter Jackson, Kevin Feige, and streaming services, that creative momentum can proceed unimpeded. The quality may not always be salvaged, but it’s a better system than it was before.

Because Aladdin (1992) was the success it was, it’s no surprise Disney wanted to continue milking the cash cow. Now, this was before Disney got into the direct-to-video craze, so it’s not as though people were groaning when this movie came out. In fact, it’s worth pointing out that not only is The Return of Jafar the first of the DTV sequels, but DuckTales, TaleSpin, Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers, and Gargoyles all had 5-episode pilots. Aladdin: the Series was getting a similar treatment, only their pilot turned into a VHS sold on shelves. How did it fare? Make magic amid the Mesopotamian marvel!

The plot: Iago (Gilbert Gottfried) has freed himself from Jafar’s lamp, and now he’s fed up with the partnership. When he sees Aladdin (Scott Weinger) has moved into the palace, he seeks to move back in to get back in the cozy life. Aladdin becomes Iago’s only advocate, with everyone else not wanting to trust the scheming parrot. Also worth noting, the Genie (Dan Castelleneta) has returned from his world travels.

Meanwhile, a petty thief named Abis Mal (Jason Alexander) has found Jafar’s lamp and frees the villain. Jafar (Jonathon Freeman), however, only seeks to get revenge on Aladdin and the gang, using Iago and Mal to further his goals.

How’s the writing?: There’s not much to say overall. Considering its goal was to set up the animated series, it certainly accomplished that. As a follow-up to a truly heartwarming story about friendship, honesty, and love, it falls pretty flat.

One odd choice is that the movie’s focus isn’t on Aladdin, Jasmine, or even Jafar, it’s Iago. I’m assuming since Gilbert Gottfried was their only other star besides Williams that solidified the original as the comedy it was, they were all in. Sure, Gottfried’s funny, but like most comedians, it depends on the material he’s given. His shtick is to be abrasive and offensive, and even a temperamental parrot working for the bad guy is a downgrade here. Even more puzzling, he’s given a character arc to deter his greedier impulses and make his way to be a good guy, something I’m sure few Aladdin fans wanted to see. In the end, it leads to Iago being one of the central characters on the show, and his opportunist impulses and moral ambiguity provided fodder for all sorts of conflict. Here, Iago’s struggle to fight his demons feel disingenuous, since he’d been working with Jafar for so long, it’s hard to imagine what about Aladdin and his group appeal to his better angels so much.

Does it give the feels?: Not really, because the characters you’re following are making bad choices. Iago is constantly taking advantage of others or trying to weasel out of trouble. Abis Mal is just a dopey pawn at the mercy of Jafar’s whims. Even Aladdin starts things off by stealing from Mal’s group of thieves and later, lying to Jasmine about Iago. Jasmine had every right to be upset, and a cheesy love song doesn’t fix that, much less one sung by velvety pipes of Iago.

Maybe you might be afraid of Jafar and not want him to succeed, and his magic is so much more powerful than ever before, but beyond that, the emotional stakes are barely there. Granted, those bat-winged pegasuses (Pegasi??) are pretty awesome and creepy-looking.

Who makes it worth it?: It’s impossible to talk about Aladdin with mentioning Robin’s involvement, or lack thereof. Even if Williams wasn’t PO’d at Disney, chances are he wouldn’t humor being paid SAG scale again, like he was in the 1992 movie, and no way Disney would have picked up that check. So they brought on the voice of Homer Simpson to do his best Robin Williams impression and impressions of his impressions.

Even though I could tell at a young age that it wasn’t Robin in the movie, I can’t be mad. Castellaneta is a funny guy, but it’s like asking Jackson Pollack to paint a Van Gogh. It just can’t be done because the Genie was the purest reflection of Williams’ comedy. That being said, can I say Castellaneta was any good? Well…yes and no. The Genie still had some clever lines and some funny moments, but they weren’t sidesplitters, nor filled with as much inherent passion as Robin did.

Still, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy what I did end up seeing with the Genie. What’s not to like about a guy who can do anything and be anything? He had some good lines, even if they lacked that extra level of energy only Robin could provide.

Best quality provided: Jafar had a plan throughout the movie and it was pretty well thought out. Jafar’s skill has always in being a manipulator, even without his staff. You can see the complete frustration he has in being bound to the lamp, forced to serve Abis Mal and get his orders carried out through Iago. For what it’s worth, Jafar’s motives are pretty clear and his plan is logical, truly worthy of a villain such as him.

What could have been improved: It’s hard not to notice the animation quality is pretty sub-par. The colors are flat and the character models warp a lot, never mind sometimes their actions can be too spastic or too stilted. Genie suffers worst from this, considering his smooth Al Hirschfeld style from the first movie, now his lines look jarring, as if the animator was more concerned about making the Genie look solid. His chin often looks like a brick stuck to his lower lip, which, while big in the OG movie, never truly retained its shape to look like it had mass.

The songs are definitely not anything to write home about. “Forget About Love” is hard to listen to, and not just because of Gottfried’s vocals. “Nothing Like a Friend” should have been a shoe-in for an amazing Genie song, but it lacked flow and intelligible lyrics. “I’m Looking Out for Me” is a song sung by Gottfried, ’nuff said. The only passable song is the surreal and yet still kind of dull “You’re Only Second Rate”, Jafar’s song to Genie. Genie gets abused relentlessly as Jafar mocks him and flaunts his magic (Genie explains early on his magic isn’t as strong now that he’s free…for some reason.). I’m not a fan of this song mostly because I preferred Jafar as a still, stoic schemer, as opposed to a smug narcissist who can’t stop cackling. That and I keep wondering how Jafar makes all the references he does. At least we know Genie has transcended time and space, but Jafar’s been a Genie for a short time, and locked in a lamp. A nitpick, but I still wonder it every time I see his song.

Verdict: If the animation were better, and the songs were more entertaining, and it weren’t focused on Iago, I’d be fine with watching it every once in a while. As is, I’m perfectly content to just leave it be. Its biggest merits are Jafar’s scheme and maybe the introduction of Abis Mal, who would be a recurring villain on the TV show. I genuinely don’t know if Robin would have salvaged it, but it needed some better writing in its dialogue (Iago: “Reality check: Jafar is LARGE and in CHARGE!”) in order to establish a better precedent for the DTV films to follow. I give this one four jeweled roses out of ten.

Hey, did you guys know this movie had a post-credits scene? Does that mean Aladdin is an Avenger now?

Author: TAP-G

Writer, former podcaster, entertainment enthusiast. Movies and media have the power to shape our world and vice versa. Let’s take a deeper look at them.

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