MP (militarypenguin) wrote,

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Aladdin: The Animated Series capsule reviews (episodes 21-30)

Episode 21 - Lost and Founded
Summary: Abis Mal travels back in time to redo history so that he may become leader of Agrabah.

Review: It’s a time-traveling episode that’s surprisingly sparse on the time-traveling. We see a total of two eras: Agrabah before it was founded back when it was just a vast desert, and the prehistoric era, which is only briefly visited. The rest of it consists of a portion of the cast getting caught in a space-time-continuum pocket that changes their oufits to reflect different eras, which is a lot of fun to watch, but you have to wonder why the potential time-traveling shenanigans were scrapped in favor of something less put-together. We don’t even get to see Abis Mal ruling Agrabah after we’ve seen it taken over, or learn why the founder of Agrabah found that spot in the desert to be the perfect place for a city.

I think it’s safe to assume the writers were pressed for time in trying to figure out a way to contain a concept as vast as time-traveling into a 21-minute time span, in which case the episode probably would have benefited from being a two-parter. Alas, it’s not, and it’s a bit of a bummer knowing this will be the first and last time (unless the time-traveling plot is recycled) we’ll be seeing the Aladdin gang traveling through time.

Grade: C+

Episode 22 - Moonlight Madness
Summary: Aladdin promises to take Jasmine on a date where they won’t be interrupted by Genie, Iago, or Abu, but decides to hit two birds with one stone and have a date with Jasmine on an island while the rest of the gang tries to dig up a treasure there.

Review: The show finally addressed a complaint I’d been having, but never mentioned until now: not enough of Aladdin and Jasmine together on their own without Genie, Iago, and Abu making a bunch of ruckus in the background. They’re great as individual characters, they’re great as a couple, why not do an episode focusing on just the two of them? The answer could be because kids wouldn’t be interested in a romance-based episode, but it doesn’t have to be limited to romance, either; just a fun adventure with the two of them with sprinkles of loving moments in between.

Sadly, the episode seems to forget that fundamental aspect of Aladdin and Jasmine’s relationship: they enjoy being together. Here, it seems as though the relationship weighs down on Aladdin and prevents him from doing things like going on treasure hunts. Who’s to say he couldn’t have just invited Jasmine out on a date doing just that? Ah, right, because contrived conflict. And boy, there is a lot of that between all the misunderstandings and miscommunication and the rest of the gang’s inability to keep quiet, making it the toughest episode to sit through.

Still, I did like this unexpected moment of pensiveness from Aladdin a lot: “Why won’t she believe me? Because I hardly believe me.”

Grade: C

Episode 23 - The Flawed Couple
Summary: Abis Mal and Mechanikles team up to take down Aladdin.

Review: An unexpectedly great episode I ended up watching twice. I admit that it wasn’t an episode I was excited to see–not because I don’t like Abis Mal and Mechanikles, they just have yet to rise up to the status of “Wow! I’d love to see these two working together.” It’s not on par with, say, “Jafar and Hades teaming up” (an episode I’ve yet to see, by the by), is what I’m saying. They’re B-grade villains, and good ones at that, but they haven’t earned their status amongst the legends.

That said, the episode does a fantastic job of getting the best dynamics and banter out of the two it can get. I’d said before that Charlie Adler’s Mechanikles can be a bit grating to listen to, but that’s a complaint I’d like to take back: his obnoxious-sounding voice serves as a great, cartoony contrast to the snooty, organized character of Mechanikles and makes him a real treat to watch. Abis Mal seems to have more of Jason Alexander’s sense of humor in the writing here than he usually does, so there’s more to carry his character here than the usual comical incompetence. He’s still not a competent villain, and the show never pretends Mechanikles isn’t far and away the more competent of the duo, but the point of teaming them up is less about getting two good villains together and more about getting two great personalities together. (Abis Mal: ”So maybe [Aladdin]’s dead?” Together: (solemnly) “He’s alive…”)

What elevates the episode from being just another villain team-up episode, however, is the additional plot with the Aladdin gang being subjected to Abis Mal’s mood stones. The reactions they produce are a lot of fun to watch, particularly from Iago, who was planted with the mood stone of love and is now infatuated with Jasmine, and Jasmine, who was planted with the mood stone of envy, and is given some of the best lines in the episode (”Oh, I wish I were a fearsome engine of destruction!” ”Oh, I wish I were plummeting to my doom!”). You can tell the actors had a blast playing these characters in these extremely out of character moments.

Seeing Aladdin get planted with the mood stone of fear was actually really interesting to watch, and the sort of reaction I was hoping we’d see more of him from in the “Web of Fear” episode. I’m not sure if the intended effect was humor, but I found myself surprisingly moved by when Aladdin becomes such a terrified mess he huddles into a corner, hugging his knees and trying to remind himself the fear he’s feeling is being produced by the stone; it’s getting in deep, but reminded me a lot of being faced with anxiety attacks or depression and trying to remind myself my brain’s chemistry is just out of whack. I loved that the thing that ultimately causes Aladdin to forcefully break past the fear the stone is instilling in him is the threat of Jasmine being hurt; it’s another moving scene that further showcases the greatness of this episode. No matter how silly it gets, it doesn’t forget the serious cores of what makes the characters tick.

Grade: A

Episode 24 - Rain of Terror
Summary: Thundra longs for a vacation, and Iago suggests she take one while he does her job. This goes about as well as it sounds, and soon Thundra’s old nemesis Malcho arrives to steal Iago’s place.

Review: Our first episode without the titular character! Iago, Abu, and Genie are an odd bunch to work with without any grounded characters for their personalities to bounce off of, and this episode could have gone wrong very easily. It starts out with a seemingly predictable outcome–if Iago takes up Thundra’s job, then of course he’s going to screw up and misuse it immediately. And then learn a lesson about how he shouldn’t let the power get to his head and abuse it…right?

Actually, no. One of the few things generally agreed amongst fans regarding the Return of Jafar sequel is that while Iago gets a redemption arc, it doesn’t soften him up or make him any less nasty. This continues on in the series; Iago is still unabashedly a cranky jerk who acts on his own self-interest a majority of the time, and is often the vehicle for conflict if the episode’s plot somehow can’t provide one. This can be a nuisance, because it means dealing with a static, predictable character, but this episode shows how that can be used in the character’s favor.

Iago, while lamenting over how much he’s messed up, says, “I am deceitful, conniving, and sneaky…when in doubt, go with your strengths.” It’s a perfect summation of his character, how he works, and how he should best be utilized in an episode. Iago’s a former villain, and he has few regrets about it; in fact, he’s pretty proud of it. That should lend itself to more interesting plots involving him using his skills and knowledge as Jafar’s former righthand man to thwart the plots of villains, or allow a wild card (is he doing it for himself or others?) to be thrown into the plot. This episode demonstrates that it is, in fact, possible to accomplish this. Iago “betrays” the team in order to partner up with the villain–and then proceed to use his deceitful, conniving, and sneaky ways to save the day. He doesn’t really need to “change” his ways so much as use them in a way that can benefit others besides himself.

Grade: B

Episode 25 - Dune Quixote
Summary: Sadira puts a spell on Aladdin to think he’s the dragon slayer from her fantasies and she’s the princess he’s in love with

Review: This is a thoroughly entertaining and funny episode, but before I discuss the pros, I need to discuss its greatest con: the complete, utter mishandling of Aladdin’s characterization. And mind, this is before he gets hit by Sadira’s spell.

It begins when Sadira, after being caught in Aladdin’s arms, flimsily feigns innocence when she’s accused of stealing something. Aladdin asks this person he knows very well as a thief and a repeated enemy of theirs, “Is this true?” When Sadira tries to make a break for it, he grabs her, saying if she didn’t steal anything then she has nothing to worry about–this would be true, Aladdin-style smart-aleck at play if he didn’t follow it up with a sincere, “I’ll protect you!” I say again, this is before he gets hit by Sadira’s spell. His denseness doesn’t end there–when Sadira, after flirting with him, invites him to have a drink with her using both a seductive tone and body language, Aladdin (as Iago affirms with his own disbelief) actually believes it’s just going to be a drink and that Sadira has no other tricks up her sleeve.

Occasional bouts of foolishness are a part of Aladdin’s character, this much is true; but his foolishness doesn’t come from lack of insight and naiveté as much as they do insecurity and desperation. There was a bit of play in the latter category when Sadira teases Aladdin about Jasmine having him whipped, and Aladdin deciding to go with Sadira to prove that’s not true. This might work if Sadira was someone he admired or thought highly of, but at this point in the story, she’s a well-established villain. Even when discounting “Sandswitch” (an event of which no one but the animals and Sadira could remember) or Sadira’s decision at the end of her debut episode to release Jasmine and let Aladdin go, there’s still implications that she’s worked on the offensive against them before, such as when Aladdin brings up a time she conjured a sandstorm that she presumably used to attack them (”Abu’s still digging sand out of his ears”).

This may seem like a nitpick, considering pre-magicked Aladdin only has about five or so minutes of screentime, but it’s actually pretty important in order to make the humor of his hammy, over the top “dragon slayer” personality work. The end result is still funny, but it could have been even funnier had Aladdin not been shown to already have the thickness of a brick and his own heroic hamminess (again: “I’ll protect you!”) in previous scenes.

The good news is that Aladdin the dragon slayer isn’t the real star of this episode, it’s the Jasmine-Sadira team-up. Jasmine is rightfully irritated with Sadira’s persistence of going after her boyfriend, but she’s also willing to set bitter feelings aside for more important matters at hand. The two end up making a surprisingly evenly-matched team, and the episode does a far better job of showing the differences between them than “Strike Up the Sand” did. The best example of this is when Sadira is telling Jasmine which of a series of lock picks to use and Jasmine being completely clueless as to which one she means (”Don’t they teach you anything at the palace?” “Well, not thievery!”). Instead of using their differences to emphasize what different characters they are, however, they’re used to demonstrate how well they work as a team, as shown when the same scene continues with Sadira guiding Jasmine in picking the lock.

I enjoyed Sadira’s moment of much-needed maturation at the end, even if her going from being willing to change the fates of everyone in Agrabah in order to make Aladdin hers to quietly giving up on her quest is pretty hard to believe. Maybe it had to do with the difference of the previous encounters and this one being that Sadira got to work with and forge a bond with her rival? I’d buy that. We still haven’t learned a thing about why she was so determined to make Aladdin hers to begin with, however, and I’m a little concerned we’ll never get closure on that topic. It’s hard to tell when to give the benefit of the doubt to episodic shows made in the nineties, and even harder to tell with a show that can wildly vary in its willingness to dig a little deeper like Aladdin. And while I’m glad Sadira apologized to Jasmine, I really hope she gives an apology to Aladdin for all the violation of personal space against his protests and magical brainwashing she’s put him through.

I really haven’t emphasized enough about how fun this episode is. There’s great humor throughout, both of the goofy and witty kind (”Inflatable rocks? Oh, like we can’t afford real rocks.”), and setting my problems with Aladdin’s pre-magicked characterization aside, his “dragon slayer” personality is a riot to watch. Great action throughout, too. Despite the animation being on the lower end of the quality spectrum, it still manages to fit in a neat moment in the form of Genie showing a film on how to “cure” Aladdin that uses a different style of art from the show; it’s a bit of creativity I wouldn’t have expected from it, and I was really impressed. Were it not for some of the aforementioned characterization issues, I’d probably give this one an A-, but consider it a borderline grade.

Grade: B+

Episode 26 - The Day the Bird Stood Still
Summary: Abis Mal spikes the Sultan’s bath oils with rock efreet venom, and Iago picks an unfortunate time to take a bath. In order to stop from being turned into stone, he must hand over the Genie to Abis Mal.

Review: Rushed pacing, confused plotting (Aladdin and the gang find out Iago is on his way to Abis Mal–and then suddenly they’re at his place before him?), and bland stakes make this episode entirely skippable.

Grade: D-

Episode 27 - Of Ice and Men
Summary: One act of recklessness after another leads Aladdin to bring a powerful ice efreet over to Agrabah and plunge the city into snow.

Review: If “Dune Quixote” is the quintessential example of How Not To Write Aladdin Being Foolish, then “Of Ice an Men” is the quintessential example of How To Write Aladdin Being Foolish. Here, Aladdin’s recklessness and lack of foresights stems from a need to to prove himself to someone he values highly, even when he doesn’t “need” to. A good ribbing at his pride is enough to send him in over his head, and let the thrill of succeeding at proving himself get to his head in the process. It’s a good episode of how to write Aladdin as a flawed hero without shoving a lesson down the audience’s throats in general, including having him redeem himself with the things he excels at: improvisation in moments of chaos, and trickery.

I said before that I wished the Aladdin of “Plunder the Sea” was the Aladdin we got in below-average quality episodes, and while I wouldn’t call this one below-average per se, it does lose some of its initial excitement when the gang has to return to Agrabah and Frajhid’s character gets annoying fast. Luckily, Aladdin’s writing more than makes up for any lost potential; a strong lead character really does make all the difference even if your plot isn’t up to snuff.

Grade: B

Episode 28 - Opposites Detract
Summary: A dragon has been wreaking havoc upon the city it used to protect and mysteriously vanishing without a trace; the Aladdin gang investigates the matter.

Review: It’s a bit of a confusing episode in retrospect that leaves more questions than answers (are Zhin and Zhang twins? Are they human? Are they deities? Why didn’t Zhin tell the Aladdin gang anything about his relation to the dragon? How do the people not know about Zhin? How did Zhang get stronger? What’s the whole history with the dragon?), but it has enough intrigue and resolution to keep it from crumbling apart, and the struggle between good and destructive personalities that can’t be separated is always a plot I can’t help but be taken in by. The characterizations of Aladdin and Iago are strong here, and Aladdin betting with Iago to keep him quiet and proceeding to remind him of the bet throughout the episode feels far more true to the character than the Aladdin of some previous episodes who’d act surprised and outraged that a former enemy would behave out of line.

Grade: B

Episode 29 - Caught by the Tale
Summary: A pair of kids get obsessed with the stories of Aladdin. Story of my life, I guess.

Review: Man, this was so close to being a really good episode! Meta episodes with characters telling stories from different POVs are always a blast, and that’s where this episode shined the most. Genie tries to tell the kids wholesome, G-rated stories, while Iago promises not to spare the details of the gratuitous violence. It’s a lot of fun.

It goes downhill when the kids start to play heroes and eh. Eh. I can appreciate the “Everyone can be a hero” sentiment, but less so when it’s using the old “Look! An episode kids will relate to! Because it stars kids! Saving the day!” story that was popular in cartoons of the eighties and nineties. I’m actually pretty sure most kids hate these storylines because they came here for ninja turtles, Batman, or Aladdin, only for the episode to pull a bait-and-switch and be served a plate of themselves.

Don’t ever shoot one-liners again, Aladdin.

Grade: C+

Episode 30 - Elemental My Dear Jasmine
Summary: After a squabble with Aladdin, a mermaid named Saleen traps Jasmine underwater so that she may have Aladdin for herself.

Review: It’s an episode with frustrating beginnings. Jasmine asking Aladdin if he’s ever dated anyone before her and getting upset when he answers yes, Aladdin and the gang laughing uncontrollably at Jasmine getting wet kicking off the conflict, Aladdin being completely dense around an openly flirtatious girl again, everyone in general feeling very “off” in characterization.

Luckily, the episode does improve by the end when all misunderstandings are wrapped up and the only thing left is for the whole gang to take down Saleen. But what really did it for me was the ending scene between Aladdin and Jasmine. It’s only a few seconds long, but it’s beautiful and perfect, and I could watch it repeatedly.

Grade: C+
Tags: aladdin
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