Anyway! The obsession bug bit hard, and I knew I was going to be scouring for every piece of animated Aladdin media Disney put out, so I figured I’d watch it chronologically: the original, Return of Jafar, the tv series, and King of Thieves (which I’ve actually never seen). I’d seen Return of Jafar many times as a kid, saw it once a while back as an adult, but never really watched it with the original film fresh in mind. As a result, I had...surprisingly more to say about it than I thought I would, and wanted to get my thoughts in order before proceeding further into the tv series.
This was one was interesting to watch because I knew, going in, that it wasn’t going to be on par with the original, nor that great of a movie on its own. But I didn’t expect the issues I’d take with it. Some, again, I knew of right off the bat: tv-budget animation, the Genie’s non-improvised humor, the step down in musical numbers, the fact that none of the original writing talent was on board. It was going to be the equivalent of watching a school stage play after watching a Broadway performance; decent, but harder to enjoy after being treated to something grand.
First, however, what I liked about it. I actually liked Jafar in this more than I thought I would; the idea of him as a genie granting wishes with a monkey’s paw effect, while only briefly explored, was perfect. I really, really liked that the film went into the no-killing policy of genies (very briefly mentioned in the original), and how Jafar had to figure out how to work around that if he wanted to see Aladdin gone for good. It involved an impressive amount of mindfuck--first dropping Aladdin off in one place and forcing him to walk all the way back to Agrabah only to get arrested, told that he murdered the Sultan, ordered to be executed by his fiancee, and then just before the sword would fall to behead him, the last thing Aladdin sees is Jafar revealing himself to him. It’s a mindfuck that could have been better executed in some ways (I had a hard time taking “Jasmine’s” dramatic reaction seriously), but it still had enough thought put into it to be a remarkably sinister plan. I thought the ending scene with Aladdin and Jasmine readying to see the world was really sweet.
Which brings me to my main issue with the film...and that was Aladdin and Jasmine themselves. I liked them well enough here, but this, again, being the first time I’ve watched it with the original film still fresh in my memory, I noticed they seemed a lot softer here. Sanitized, even. Aladdin and Jasmine were good people in the original, but they also shared these sharp, unexpectedly cunning sides that appealed to me a lot and enriched their dynamic. They were thoughtful, they’d sometimes use harsh language, they complemented each other in ways beyond just being in love--this was all missing in the sequel. I understand some changes have to be made to show that the characters have developed from what they were in the first film, but Aladdin and Jasmine’s cunningness and wit weren’t among the things that “needed” to be rectified in order for them to mature as individuals. The thing they needed to move past was Aladdin’s tendency to lie...which, incidentally, is the very thing the sequel falls back on, and it proves to be merely something to drag out the film’s length enough for Jafar to enter the picture*.
So, the sequel, more than anything, made me miss the Aladdin and Jasmine of the original...pretty badly. And that’s a vital thing, because they’re the stars, they’re the ones I want to see, and especially the ones I want to see the further adventures of. I’m hoping the tv series (which I watched a lot of as a kid, but can’t remember the finer details) falls back more in line with their original characterizations, though knowing how wildly a long-running show can vary in quality with the writing baton being passed around on a regular basis, I can’t say my hopes are especially high. I’ll enjoy it, no doubt, but I think it’s going to take some “do not compare the original film to the show”-training of the brain to enjoy it fully.
* It’s frustrating, because the film does have some good ideas, and ample opportunity to explore other ones. The Sultan suggesting Aladdin to be vizier would allow the film to delve further into a less-explored one of the first film involving Aladdin’s discomfort at the prospect of becoming a future sultan, justified by his lack of political leadership experience and transition from the slums to the royal palace lifestyle. Jasmine’s, oddly, still apparently restricted to the palace and unaware of what’s happening outside of it, which could have worked to tie in to Aladdin’s dilemma. Aladdin has no political experience, and Jasmine still has little experience and knowledge of outside the palace, both of which are vital to them becoming leaders. In fact, the film’s beginning with Aladdin flying over the city to give treasure to the poor could have been the perfect setup to both establishing that life outside the city is still less than perfect, eventually leading Jasmine wanting to fix the matter while also wanting to see the world, and Aladdin wanting to become a worthy sultan through Jasmine’s knowledge of politics (while also wanting to see the world), culminating in the film’s conclusion and the setup of the tv series. Some details would have to be simplified to make it more digestible for the target audience, but it’d be doable, and it’d give them both more involving plots than what they had to work with in Return of Jafar.