MP (militarypenguin) wrote,

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Aladdin: The Animated Series capsule reviews (episodes 1-10)

Episode 1 - Air Feather Friends
Summary: Whirlwinds attack Agrabah, but the guards and Aladdin are split on whether it was actually the doing of demons or thieves. To settle the matter, the guards strike a bet with Aladdin to get proof that the whirlwinds were thieves, with Abu at stake.

Review: As someone who was concerned about the softening of Aladdin’s character in Return of Jafar, I loved the bit of snark from we got from him in this episode (”Ooh, cut yourself shaving, Fazal?”). I was on the fence about whether him agreeing to bet Abu fell in line with his characterization in the original film, but thinking it over, his pride being probed at as being the thing that sets him over the edge does make a degree of sense. Aladdin tends to make snap decisions when his self-worth is on the line (attacking the prince who insulted him, the entire Prince Ali fiasco), and while there could have been more emphasis placed on that for better execution, it was acceptable enough.

What was unacceptable was the Genie bringing up the fact that Aladdin had just bet his friend’s freedom, only to promptly shrug it off when Aladdin assures him he’ll be able to win it. It took me a while to figure out what was distinctly off about the Genie’s characterization from Return of Jafar onward, but it wasn’t until “Never Say Nefir” (an episode I otherwise loved) that I was able to figure it out, so I’ll approach that topic when we get there.

Abis Mal is certainly the most unthreatening threatening villain of villains, isn’t he? He tortures and beheads the underlings he believes have wronged him (confirmed by his right-hand man, Haroud: “If you keep disposing of your men, sir, you won’t have any left”) and has used successfully used magic to turn people inside out. We can’t see any of these things happening, of course, and what we’re left with is a bumbling villain who’s all bark and very little bite. Still, Jason Alexander is always a delight to listen to in the role, and it’s amplified by the hilarious expressions the animators give the character.

The rest of the episode doesn’t have much to be discussed, even though plenty happens in it. It’s watchable, and that’s it.

Grade: C

Episode 2 - Bad Moon Rising
Summary: The Aladdin gang arrives to the land of Quarkistan to discuss diplomacy with their kingdom, but trade is pretty useless if the well-being of your land is dependent on the mood of a difficult-to-appease child-king. The gang attempts to raise the king’s spirits, but when Jasmine is the one to succeed, he has no plans of letting her go.

Review: I’m going to headcanon that this is Aladdin’s first political job that he took right at the call to the Sultan’s protests (only further encouraging him, because the more difficult the job the greater he’ll be able to please the kingdom, right?) and Jasmine decided to humor him and agree to visit the place in hopes that he’d learn a lesson about thinking things through and knowing when he’s in over his head on this. Otherwise, it doesn’t make much sense that the gang would know the location of the place yet have no knowledge of the place itself. But anyway, that’s a minor nitpick, and it’s a nitpick that gave me a good headcanon to chew on. Plus it’s backed up by Jasmine’s amused (and likely sarcastic) “So you do know a bit about diplomacy.”

I was happy to see Aladdin and Jasmine working as future rulers together, and even happier that Jasmine got to demonstrate how she clearly has more experience in the matter than Aladdin would. Again, I’d been concerned about the softening of Jasmine’s character in addition to Aladdin’s in Return of Jafar, and I was more than pleased to see her use her sly wit to wring a positive response out of the king.

The episode has a mostly-solid first half with good jokes (including a great dark joke involving one of the Genie’s magic tricks), but a noticeably weaker second half. The drama is melodramatically presented, many of the jokes start falling flat, and we get a rushed conclusion with an unsubtly delivered last-minute message about the importance of doing good deeds and putting others before yourself. Not a bad episode, but I found myself nodding off by the second half.

Grade: B

Episode 3 - To Cure a Thief
Summary: Abu runs off when Aladdin is fed up with his thieving habits, leading him to run into an incompetent thief. Impressed by Abu’s thieving abilities, he recruits him as an assistant to steal a treasure of the palace.

Review: The Sultan is puzzled why the only object given a special display in his entire treasure room would be a target for thieves. Aladdin snaps when Abu makes one thieving attempt and then decides it’s time to collar and leash him. The Aladdin gang, without batting an eye, entrusts Iago, the notoriously impulsive and irresponsible member of the group, to keep an eye on a Abu and make sure he doesn’t steal anything. An inevitable misunderstanding involving Abu walking in on Aladdin in denial proclaiming he’s glad he’s not there occurs.

Yeah, it’s not a good episode. There’s some fun moments in the thieves’ guild, I suppose, but not enough to give this one a look-over again.

Grade: C-

Episode 4 - Do the Rat Thing
Summary: Aladdin teases Jasmine about her status as a princess and lack of knowledge of the outside world that comes with it, and Jasmine goes off to prove herself just as capable of being a commoner as a royal. One thing leads to another and she gets her hands on a magic mirror that turns her into a rat.

Review: A gorgeously animated episode that falls short on the writing front. There was a good idea here in having Aladdin and Jasmine have to confront their class differences, but the way it plays out is nothing short of flimsily-written. Why would Jasmine be so outraged by Aladdin calling her a princess? Did the writers mean for him to call her something along the lines of “hopelessly sheltered,” something that would actually get a rise out of her? Iago’s sarcastic retort at Jasmine’s fury does hint there may have been some level of “Yeah, we know this doesn’t make a lot of sense” self-awareness amongst the writing team, but the episode isn’t comical or satirical in enough in presentation (even with the brief “Duck Amuck” reference at the end) for that to ever come through.

Don’t look for close-ended resolutions here, either. The thief who wanted Jasmine to prove herself one? Hands her a “thieving permit” after she’s stolen something and isn’t seen from again. The mysterious old man who warned Jasmine of the forces that would threaten her for stealing the mirror? Never seen from again. The mirror? It’s outlived its usefulness once it’s broken. Aladdin and Jasmine? Jasmine, after (mostly) regaining her human form simply says she’s not talking to him and that’s that.

It’s a strange episode. I, by all means, should probably be assigning it the same grade I gave “To Cure a Thief” for the amount of flaws it has. Yet I can’t, both because it’s far more entertaining than “To Cure a Thief,” and because the visuals are often gorgeous enough to cover up some of the more flawed writing. The characters have fantastic expressions and body language to them that isn’t typically seen, and it’s hard not to be enamored by it.

Grade: C+

Episode 5 - Never Say Nefir
Summary: Iago takes the Aladdin gang over to Getzistan, a Vegas-like city, only to find the place in ruins because a giant dancing rhinoceros comes to destroy it every night. It all eventually culminates in a battle of the bands, and I’m not going to give any more context than that.

Review: It’s the first episode of the series that I actually wanted to watch again really badly. Not because it had an astoundingly good story or writing, but because it's just plain fun. It’s the most cartoony of the episodes by far, as one could surmise from the summary, and it has the visuals to match; the colors used throughout are an unusual palette of bright pinks, purples, and greens, and it takes every bit of its television-sized budget to get as much stretchy fluidity out of its characters as it can. Even Aladdin, the closest thing to the straight man of the episode, gets hit by the slapstick hammer (or, in this case, dart) at least once just to make sure that the entire cast fits quota of meeting the episode’s tone.

The highlight of the episode is, of course, the climax, which is exactly what I phrased it to be: a battle of the bands. It’s silly, over the top, and fun. Of course, it’d just be another battle of the bands if it didn’t have that added joy of seeing our beloved Aladdin characters go shredding it on their instruments like it’s nobody’s business (though Jasmine, sadly, is absent), and that’s really what makes the episode memorable. Many Aladdin episodes are pure adventure stories, and while this one doesn’t necessarily deviate from the show’s usual formula (there’s a problem in the city, the Aladdin gang has to fix it), it’s a standout episode simply for putting the Aladdin characters in an unusual set up, the kind you’d come up with your friends as a joke. “What would happen if Aladdin and his pals were in a band?” Hey, that’s probably how this episode got pitched in the writer’s room.

There’s a subplot involving the Genie’s insecurity over his worth and powers not being what they used to be, but it thankfully doesn’t hit the viewer over the head with the moral of the story (You! Have! Worth! Genie!). It did kind of pinpoint my problem with the Genie’s characterization post-original film, however. While I, at first, thought my problem was the scripted pop culture references constantly being fed to him, it ended up being something a little deeper: the Genie in the original film was a goofball and loving every moment of it, but he was also a fully-mature being with immense wisdom and surprising common sense that made him an unconventional voice of reason for Aladdin. It’s a bit of a shame, because if they wanted to dish out life lessons for the kid viewers to learn from, the Genie would actually be the perfect vehicle for that, and an entertaining one to boot.

Grade: A-

Episode 6 - Getting the Bugs Out
Summary: Praise is getting to Aladdin’s head and he isn’t giving the Genie and carpet any credit. This problem persists as the gang arrives at Amin Abahdway where the citizens, under the terror of the villanous inventor Mechanikles, proclaims Aladdin to be their savior.

Review: This has the opposite going for it that “Bad Moon Rising” did; a really weak first half followed by a strong second half. The plot with Aladdin learning a lesson in humility and then self-worth is tiresome, but once that’s out of the way it’s a fun episode with great action that allows all of its main players to shine. Mechanikles manages to be both a funny and competent villain, and while the voice Charlie Adler uses for the role (which drifts to and fro between his Ed Bighead voice from Rocko’s Modern Life and Cow from Cow and Chicken) can be a bit grating to listen to at times, the writing of the character makes up for it.

Grade: B-

Episode 7 - The Vapor Chase
Summary: A demon wreaks havoc upon Agrabah when Abis Mal tries selling some enchanted powder to the citizens and I hate writing summaries.

Review: I’m consistently impressed with the series’ handling of Jasmine. The nineties were a pretty hit or miss time when it came to handling female characters, mostly trying to get better, but still falling into traps like shoehorning the character into the do-no-wrong, moral compass of the show or foil to the flawed hero. Aladdin and Jasmine refreshingly aren’t a case of this, both being admirable heroes in their own right, having flaws that often cause the conflict of the plot, being in the “right” some times and the “wrong” in others without having the one in the wrong be “put in their place,” and learning from each other. They’re equals while still being distinctly different characters.

This episode is a great example of that, addressing Jasmine’s lack of experience outside of the market place and how it sets her apart from Aladdin, who’s savvy enough from his experience living there to question the legitimacy of what the seller claimed to have sold her. This is sort of the plot of “Do the Rat Thing” done right, both in how Jasmine’s pride and refusal to listen lands her into trouble, and in how she goes about fixing it herself. At first I thought Jasmine’s accusation of Aladdin being jealous kind of came out the left field, but thinking about it more, it makes sense that she’d snap to that reaction after finding something she believes can help the people, only to be shot down by someone doubting her.

This was also a great episode for Jasmine in showing how utterly brutal she gets when she’s wronged. When she learns Abis Mal is the seller who tricked her, she immediately attacks him, wrestling him to the ground and presumably trying to kill him, as Aladdin exclaims “We have to stop [her] before she strangles Abis Mal!” I absolutely loved that.

Grade: B+

Episode 8 - Garden of Evil
Summary: After stealing a flower from the garden of a plant creature named Arbutus, the Sultan, 20 years later, must repay him with his greatest treasure. The treasure? His daughter.

Review: This was an episode that stood out for me as a kid for how unexpectedly tragic it was. This is one of the more thoughtful episodes of Aladdin, less focused on adventure than it is on understanding the things we hold precious to our hearts, and trying to understand and consider the different perspectives of others. Watching it now, twenty years later, the ending is still as heart-wrenching as ever, though it’s saved from being a complete downer through Jasmine teaching what she learned to the rest of the group, and the final scene of them planting the flower that was Arbutus’s heart.

The only great flaw of this episode is the many dramatic, serious moments constantly being interrupted by the Genie and, to a lesser extent, Iago, attempting to lighten the mood. Had their presences been toned down or been utilized in a way that benefited the story, this could have been a near-flawless episode. As it stands, however, it’s still an excellent one.

Grade: A-

Episode 9 - Much Abu About Something
Summary: A vision of a land populated by people crying for help summons the Aladdin gang there. There, the people proclaim Abu to be the one prophesied to be their savior.

Review: Man, Abu has not had a good turnout for his episodes, and this was, without a doubt, the worst of the episodes in this batch yet. It’s simply dull. "To Cure a Thief,” while clumsily written, at least entertained some. This episode couldn’t even accomplish that at the barest minimum. Not even with a dinosaur.

Grade: D

Episode 10 - My Fair Aladdin
Summary: Aladdin is feeling insecure and out of place amongst the nobles, so Iago gives him some advice on how to be more chic. Meanwhile, Mechanikles is on the rise.

Review: Oof, like “Do the Rat Thing,” this one had a great idea on its hands (a similar idea, too, involving the characters trying to blend in to places outside of their comfort zone) and didn’t seem to know what to do with it. Part of the problem is that the conflict is resolved quickly, but chooses to drag itself out anyway; Aladdin is afraid Jasmine thinks lowly of him, Jasmine assures him that’s not the case and wants him to be himself, but Aladdin still can’t bring himself to believe it and carries on with the act. It did, at the very least, further establish Aladdin’s own discomfort when it comes to carrying on more formal royal duties, and that’s about it. The humor of the situation feels uninspired for one of such great potential, and the plot fades into obscurity once Mechanikles takes the center stage.

Grade: C
Tags: aladdin
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