Thursday, July 25, 2013

Disney Sequelester: The Return of Jafar

Upon watching you'll quickly feel
like this: trapped.
Ohhhhhh it's gonna be a long 23 weeks, isn't it?

As soon as the movie starts, awkwardness sets in. The first song goes a little like this:
The Return of Jafar starts out pretty much exactly like the first movie, with a mysterious-sounding tune about Arabian Whatever in the background of sordid dealings in the desert. But that song worked in the original because it had a sense of humor and was narrated by an actual person. The Return of Jafar's song is more like "guys it's mystical as SHIZZ up in Agrabah just look at all these brown folks being mystical". And also there's this lyric:
Pack your shield, pack your sword
you won't ever get bored
Though get beaten or gored you might
Sounds very natural, really rolls off the tongue.

Aladdin is back and possibly even more shirtless. For no fathomable reason at all, Aladdin is robbing some honest thieves at the start of this movie. His skillz have definitely improved since the last movie, to the point where they're overtly cartoony - five dudes with swords jump him, there's a dust-up, and Aladdin emerges completely unscathed. So tension is a no-go from the start.

And the villain is called "Abysmal". Subtle~~~~

Fortunately, this only lasts five minutes before we meet up with the actual hero of the movie: Iago.

An odd choice, perhaps, but I actually like it. For one thing, it's different. And for another, Iago is a genuinely amusing character. He's entertainingly nasty, and he has some decent lines - far more so than any of the other characters, who read off wooden dialogue intended only to further the plot.
"Reports are in; life is officially unfair!"
Enjoy Iago's lines, because they're the only humor you'll get. On the other hand… whose bright idea was it to make Gilbert Godfrey sing, and were they in possession of functioning ears?

The first thing you really notice about this movie (after your eyes stop bleeding from the godawful quality animation) is that the pacing goes at absolutely breakneck speed. In the first fifteen minutes we've had three songs, seen Aladdin defeat a group of thieves and distribute the loot to Agrabah, Iago gets out of the lamp, abandons Jafar, finds Aladdin, saves Aladdin from the thieves, gets locked in a cage pending trial,  Jasmine and Aladdin awkwardly summarize the events of the last movie, the Genie comes back GOOD LORD SIR THE SHIP HAS SPRUNG A LEAK!

One of the good things about this movie is that at least Aladdin's characterization is accurate. Unfortunately, that makes Aladdin kind of a dick. See, Aladdin's thing was that he was a nice guy, but a wee bit untrustworthy; he had a tendency to lie and try to fix things later. That worked alright in the first movie because he had a good reason to lie (can't date his honey as a commoner), but in this movie, it's really forced and awkward. Aladdin has no actual reason to hide Iago, the writers just say verbatim: "I have to make sure Jasmine doesn't see you until I've got her… prepared" and we're supposed to accept that. It makes no sense and makes it impossible to sympathize with Aladdin.

Jasmine's characterization, not so much. All she does is simper about how wonderful Aladdin is, especially when Aladdin gets named the Grand Vizier - which, btw, is a pretty bad job to give a guy who doesn't realize you can kill people by dropping gold on their heads from a carpet flying 100 feet in the air. Brain damage caused by generosity doesn't count! Jasmine's the sharp one with a lifetime political experience. Make her Grand Vizier!

So yeah, Iago immediately gets sprung from Guantanamo Bay because Abu is a little jerk, and Aladdin is revealed as a liar! He's only been lying for five minutes or so total, but whatever, the intent was there!

"Aladdin, I thought you had changed!" Jasmine exclaims. Oh good, let's dig that narrative in a little deeper. Go looking for men to change, little girls! It'll end well. I especially like her lying on a fainting couch sobbing over a minor argument.

Return of Jafar Jasmine has never felt such pain.

Original Movie Jasmine is unimpressed.
Then there's a song and they're back together. "I had almost forgotten the way it felt when he held out his hand for mine…" Yes, I had almost forgotten after a whole two minutes and fifteen seconds apart.

"Love's filled with compromises…" Immediately accept it whenever your partner lies to you. Romance!

Right after that musical number we have an, er, seamless transition to Jafar sneaking into the palace in the wake of a fancy dinner. Annnnnnd when we cut back to Aladdin, he's in his street rat clothes again. Continuity! Either they think the kiddies are too dumb to remember who Aladdin is if he stays in court clothes for long, or nobody edited this movie. I call heads.

So then Jafar shows up with Abysmal (seriously that name) and tells Iago that he's gonna help, or else. Which is a fairly lame threat since we've all been told a zillion times how genies can't kill, and there's already another genie there, so couldn't they just... Whatever. We must move forward. Our mere 66 minutes of screentime demand it.

Jafar makes Iago set up Aladdin and the Sultan on a bro date in order to divide and conquer. He's incredibly powerful so he could just take them all on at once... No? No. And once again, I can't help noticing how utterly useless Jasmine is in this movie. All she does is agree with Aladdin, cry when he does something wrong, or... no wait that's it actually.

This stands in stark contrast to the first movie, which was remarkable, because Jasmine was the first Disney princess to have actual power. Before her there were arguably strong leading ladies in The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, but in both those movies the princesses have to get anything they want through a man: Ariel needs her father's permission to go on shore and then when she can't get that, she needs Eric to choose her as a love interest in order to stay on shore. (And then when that plan falls through, she mopes until her father grants her permission - and girlparts - again. Sorry, but in a lot of ways The Little Mermaid is even more of a feminist nightmare than Cinderella.)

Remember this scene?
Belle is literally the Beast's prisoner, and the only reason she's eventually allowed to leave is because the Beast is overcome with love for her. And she plays no role at all in the penultimate fight. She gets locked away for it and only shows up after Gaston dies in order to cry over the Beast until he turns pretty.

Now, that's not to say these movies are bad - obviously they're not, and a character doesn't need to be powerful in order to be strong. But it's worth noting the trends of these things in movies, because these are the messages that kids get pounded into their little skulls.

So on the other hand we have Jasmine, whose first line in the movie Aladdin is explaining that her pet tiger was merely "playing" with a suitor who annoyed her.

This is immediately followed by Jasmine yelling at her father (the Sultan) as he pleads with her to pick a husband, and then running away from the palace because she's frustrated with the restrictions of her life.

Contrast this to Aladdin, who at the same moment is being kicked out of the city and singing plaintively about how he just wants more than this provincial life.

Aladdin was unique because it featured a relationship with a power imbalance in favor of the woman. All the previous Disney Princess movies featured a prince as the love interest, and most of the women weren't originally royalty themselves. The previous Disney Princesses gained power from love. 

Jasmine is so powerful that Jafar fantasizes about offing her troublesome self in the same breath as the Sultan. She saves Aladdin's life multiple times, including in the beginning when she reveals herself as the princess to the castle guards. While Aladdin is content to sit around and fantasize about someday, Jasmine is motivated and determined to exert her will over her life. The story starts because of her, not because of Aladdin. If Jasmine never went into the marketplace and brought Aladdin back into the palace, thereby involving him in the palace intrigues, he'd still be hanging out in his love shack singing wistfully. There might be a mandolin involved.

Jasmine was the first Disney Princess that couldn't be described as "sweet". She was headstrong, cunning, and daring. So this complete rewrite of her character is both upsetting and deeply obnoxious. She's entirely superfluous in her own movie. The Return of Jafar could cut out her, Abu, and the Genie and lose nothing.

While the Sultan and Aladdin are out bonding, Jafar crashes the Genie and Abu's picnic with the worst song in all of recorded history.
Men cower
At the power
In my pinkie
My thumb is number one on every list

Jafar goes after the Sultan next and captures him because... reasons. Reasons. Aladdin almost dies, but Jafar magics him safely into shallow water. When Abysmal complains about that, there is literally an "If you remember the plan, it is not yet TIME for the boy to meet his end" line. Spoken by Jafar. Is this movie over yet?

Okay so Aladdin pulls himself out of the water and goes to the palace, only to find that Jafar has framed him in the death of the Sultan in order to "seal Aladdin's doom". You know what would have also sealed Aladdin's doom? KILLING HIM ONE MINUTE AND NINETY-FOUR SECONDS AGO!

Meanwhile, everyone else is chained up in Jafar's creepy basement. Nice of the palace to keep that around for him.
Jasmine, your arms are like two centimeters wide. You
realize you could just slip through the cuffs, right?
Luckily Jafar has a serious gloating fetish, so while he dresses in drag for Aladdin's beheading, Iago's grinchy little heart beats to life and he tries "to free the chump Genie so he can save your chump boyfriend!" ILU Iago.

Iago manages to free the Genie just as Jafar runs off from his one last look at Aladdin. Said "one last look" is um... er...

This movie is animated. Somebody animated that. On purpose. Why?! Was there some kind of buried subtext about Jafar's deep and abiding love for Aladdin that I missed? Because that is a look of genuine despair and regret right there.

After that the Genie immediately saves Aladdin and deposits them all ON TOP OF THE TAJ MAHAL, which is super convenient I'm sure.

And then someone allowed their toddler to ink this scene.
Iago wants to flee for his life. Aladdin thinks they have to fight Jafar. Jasmine cries, "But how?! He's SO powerful!" The Sultan isn't really sure what's going on. I mostly want to slap Jasmine.

Abysmal wants more treasure! Sugar daddy delivers, but wants his freedom in return. Abysmal almost says the magic words (while our heroes watch and do nothing), but thinks the better of it just in time. Everyone gets caught out and the courtyard caves in for... reasons. Reasons.

It's an all-out fight for the lamp! A really lame one, since we know that Jafar can't kill. There's a repetition of "you'd be surprised what you can live through" during the length of the movie, but look, we all know a Disney movie isn't going to feature much by way of torture, so I'd take my chances on that one.

All of the main characters prove entirely useless (including the all-powerful Genie, whose powers seem to encompass mainly the realm of puns and pop culture references) until Iago swoops in screeching a battle cry of "Hey Jafar! Shuuuuuuuuuuut upppppppppppppp!" I've heard worse.

I really enjoy the way that Aladdin magics himself up from a rock three feet above the pool of lava to out of the earthquake crevice before it closes. Not gonna help him out, Genie? Magic carpet? Bueller?

Surprise, Iago doesn't die, because GENIES CAN'T KILL ANYONE. It's almost like this movie was entirely pointless!

And then the movie ends with Jasmine and Aladdin deciding to go off and see the world together, because screw responsibility, there are tourist attractions to see! The giant ball of twine in Minnesota waits for no man.

Final Conclusions:

I'd seen this movie before, but upon rewatch I'm shocked at how bad it really is.

A lot of the problems are inevitable effects of its circumstances, I think: the budget was low, they had TV writers used to short running times, Robin Williams was off in a huff (no really; he'd agreed to be paid a very small amount in exchange for his name not being used in the marketing of the original Aladdin movie, and then Disney totally broke the terms of the contract) and they had to get a replacement.

But there's actually an even bigger reason that this movie sucks as much as it does. See, Disney had been successful with their The Little Mermaid TV show, and they had designs on the same thing for Aladdin. (I haven't seen the Aladdin show, but I have seen a bunch of TLM episodes, and those are surprisingly good.) So they wanted to basically retcon a less tidy ending for the first movie in order to give the characters something to do. In the director of The Return of Jafar's own words: "We came up with a convoluted story that explained everything and that ended up being The Return of Jafar."

It's convoluted alright, but in a really unnecessary way. The story is: Jafar wants revenge, tries to use Iago, Iago crosses over to the good side. There's no reason that movie had to be bad. But instead of using fully realized characters to tell a compelling story like the first movie did, this movie introduces a ton of new characters and brings back a ton of old characters without there really being anything for them to do. So all the characters just flail uselessly until either Jafar or Iago actually does something.

Think about it: this movie didn't actually have to involve Aladdin. If the movie had been Iago's struggle to decide whether or not to join Jafar as he gathered power once again, the end result would not have changed. You could have even gotten what you wanted in terms of setting the original characters up for a sequel - Iago could have been weaving around them, trying to stay hidden from everyone, inadvertently affecting their lives with his schemes.

The characterization for this movie is just nonexistent. Abysmal is... greedy. And that is it. That is literally all that I know about the character after watching 66 minutes about him. Jasmine is Aladdin's girlfriend. Aladdin is a liar but kind of a bro. The Sultan is a pillow pet.

I think the reason this movie tends to get more of a nostalgia pass than the other sequels is that it doesn't do anything truly horrible to destroy our memory of the original movie. The Return of Jafar just kind of... exists. Even if sometimes you wish it didn't.


  1. This is hilarious. I haven't seen this movie since I was a kid. I think I'll keep it in my memory where it's still good. The only bad thing I could remember is the graphics and the wardrobe inconsistencies.

    I did see some of the TV show, it was fairly decent from what I remember. Aladdin was always doing reckless things to help people, sometimes Jasmine would go with him, sometimes she wouldn't. Yeah...I don't remember much, but I do remember liking it and the video game.

    1. I was positive that there also used to be a Jasmine TV show, but apparently I made this up. Maybe I saw a couple of the episodes where they focused on Jasmine.