MP (militarypenguin) wrote,

Aladdin: The Animated Series capsule reviews (episodes 31-40)

Episode 31 - Smolder and Wiser
Summary: Aladdin’s been placed under a curse of clumsiness. Meanwhile, Abis Mal and Haroud summon a heat-based efreet.

Review: While he wasn’t the focus of the episode, I’m long overdue to talk about Haroud. I’d already taking a liking to him since his first appearance, but I think I wanted to see how the show handled him before forming an opinion. After a good many episodes, he’s probably one of my favorites of the new characters who didn’t originate from the first two movies. The deadpan, competent righthand man of the bumbling villain may not be an entirely unique concept, but he excels at it. His line delivery (courtesy of the late James Avery) is pitch-perfect, and he adds a much-needed grounded, adult personality to the cast, even despite being one of the antagonists–actually, it may be because he’s an antagonist that it feels refreshing to see some sensibility not coming from the good guys’ side. He continues to be great in this episode, ending it with a cleverly delivered insult at Abis Mal. It’s a mystery why he sticks with the guy when he could probably run the business on his own, but I maintain it’s out of love.

The episode itself is a fun one. The clumsy Aladdin plot and the showdown in the center of the earth are both a lot of fun to watch, and I’m loving the show’s continuation of Aladdin breaking out of any stuck spots when Jasmine’s involved, without putting her into the role of a damsel. The episode loses a bit of steam once the gang returns to the surface of the earth to resume the showdown (how can the the ordinary old surface compete with the bubbling lava surrounding the heroes below the earth?), but not enough to bring it down. The concept of how negative ideas can get planted in our heads and we unconsciously make them real is a valuable one, and one that’s delivered with enough clarity that the intended audience can pick up on it, and enough subtlety that older audiences don’t feel too beaten over the head with it.

Grade: B

Episode 32 - The Game
Summary: Genie is tired of losing to Carpet at various games, and two wizards show up to provide him with a more thrilling set of games.

Review: I had a little trouble pinpointing why I found this one a little boring despite some of the exciting competition offered. At first, I thought it was because it focused too much on the new characters and not enough on the Aladdin gang, but the screentime between them is pretty equal. The wizards are given solid backstories and dark intentions, so it’s not a case of them being bad characters given focus, either.

I think the problem is that despite the high-stakes games at hand, the characterizations of the Aladdin gang (save for Genie, who’s written as his character usually is in the tv series, but this time is given a great line: "I’ve made every effort to make your guilt trip a pleasant one.“) feel remarkably bland here. It’s a problem that a lot of the episodes with promising concepts that ultimately fall flat face: the characters don’t feel as involved as they should be. They’re actively taking a part in the story, that much is true, but their personalities don’t shine; they convey little unique emotion and body language. Some of that can be attributed to simply not having the budget to produce those nuances in the characters, but it doesn’t feel like much thought was given to “How would the Aladdin characters approach these games?” in general. With a grand total of eight characters at play here, it’s an understandably daunting task, and the episode still accomplishes what it sets out to do; it just lacks that needed bit of flavor.

Grade: C

Episode 33 - Snowman is an Island
Summary: Genie entertains a bored yeti who takes such a liking to him he keeps Genie prisoner.

Review: Another Genie-centric episode, and one that showed a little bit of promise when it began with Aladdin getting fed up with Genie’s persistent jokes and inability to take anything seriously. Wow! One of my major complaints about Genie’s writing on the show is finally acknowledged! Maybe, despite this being an episodic show of the nineties, we’ll actually see some development from Genie, or he’ll at least learn a lesson? Nah, of course not. It’s about the Aladdin gang learning how sometimes you don’t appreciate something until it’s gone–even when that thing has only been gone for about five minutes. It’s a lesson that, thankfully, doesn’t get shoved down our throats, however.

The rest of the episode suffers from being tied to a thin plot that’s confined to a small scale, resulting in it feeling too long and uninteresting even for its runtime. Still, it’s plenty bearable.

Grade: C

Episode 34 - The Animal Village
Summary: After falling and injuring himself from saving one of its inhabitants, Aladdin is taken in by an anthropomorphic animal village that see humans as a threat.

Review: An episode I was certain would be completely silly yet enjoyable ended up being enjoyable and quite good on top of it (and silly, but in the best of ways).

Carpet is utilized as an actual character in this! One of the things I really took notice to upon rewatching the original film was what an expressive and vibrant character Carpet is. Carpet has no lines and no face and yet is every bit as much of a character as the rest of the cast, conveying everything we need to know about what it’s thinking and feeling entirely through body language. It’s no surprise Carpet isn’t given a bigger role than that of the gang’s transportation in the show more often, and I don’t hold that against it; Carpet is a challenging non-verbal character to write for that requires some creative thinking. Luckily, the show proves it’s possible for it to do, and gives Carpet a lot of great little moments of reacting to situations and communicating with others.

There’s a surprising amount of hilarious moments of self-awareness littered throughout this episode. One instance of this occurs when Aladdin is telling Genie his shock at the fact that the animals can talk, to which Genie dryly replies, “You mean like Iago?” Another happens when Aladdin complains of the village of treating him like a criminal, to which Genie gives the following retort: “Well, once upon a time…”

Speaking of which, Genie is utilized extremely well in this episode. Aside from getting some genuinely funny laughs in, he feels a little closer to his original film characterization in being thoughtfully helpful (I really loved the scene where the still-injured Aladdin tries to bash the locked door in and Genie, after turning into a wheelchair and helping Aladdin in, gently reminds Aladdin that he isn’t back in fighting form yet) and sharp with some of his humor.

I was impressed the episode didn’t take the route I thought it would with its “not all humans are bad” message. At first it seemed like Aladdin’s acts of kindness would unanimously change the village’s stance on humans from “humans are bad” to “humans are good.” Instead the episode ends rather ambiguously, with one of the village leaders hoping that one day they could happily invite humans in, implying that while Aladdin was proof that humans aren’t inherently destructive, he’s still an exception, and they’ll continue to be cautious of letting humans into their village.

Grade: A-

Episode 35 - Power to the Parrot
Summary: After getting into an argument, Genie lends Iago his powers to see if he’d make a better genie than him.

Review: Aladdin and Jasmine finally, finally get some alone time to themselves without Iago, Abu, or Genie and, of course, as the title indicates, that isn’t what this episode is going to be about. I still felt pretty bitter about it, but the show has proven with “Rain of Terror” that it’s possible for it to have a good episode without Aladdin and Jasmine, so I was willing to give it a chance, if dubiously.

While “Rain of Terror” was good for its insight into how Iago’s character ticks and how he can use his typically negative traits to do heroic deeds, here it feels like they didn’t know what to do with the character. There’s not much to be done if Iago uses his powers to get what he wants, we all know it’ll lead into a predictable “Iago’s abuse of power backfires on him” plot, but the “Iago uses his powers to hit two birds with one stone and help people while also getting what he wants” plot ends up turning out the same result anyway. On top of that, we get yet another recycled subplot about Genie’s inferiority complex. It’s all a drag to watch.

Grade: D

Episode 36 - The Sands of Fate
Summary: Three horsemen and a gang of marauders are stuck in a time loop, and the Aladdin gang seeks to find a way to free them of it.

Review: Apparently, I might be viewing these out of order. When the old man from “Do the Rat Thing” suddenly appears, Genie immediately recognizes him by the name of Fasir, and the rest of the gang doesn’t bat an eye at this. Turns out, they meet him formally in a later episode called “The Prophet Motive.” I’m a bit concerned of how continuity may play out later on in the episode order I’m following, but I’m in a little too deep to go back in the proper episode order–if there is one–now.

Despite the initial confusion with Fasir’s appearance, the episode still manages to play out as a mostly stand-alone story, and a good one at that. Aladdin’s characterization here is a bit disappointingly bland, missing the bits of sarcasm, sneakiness, and general humanity that keep him from being a cookie cutter hero. Fortunately, the rest of the gang fares much better in the characterization department, including Genie, but especially Iago. Iago’s been pretty hit-or-miss in this series, either being a complete nuisance that drags the episode down, or a nice, anti-heroic addition to the team. Here he gets to be the hero, but not without his usual snark and cynicism, and his turnaround to help out in the climax is written in a way that doesn’t feel out of place or out of character.

Grade: B-

Episode 37 - The Citadel
Summary: Genie is captured by the sorcerer Mozenrath, and threatened to be eaten by a magic-devouring monster if Aladdin doesn’t collar it.

Review: Well, my gold standard Aladdin episode, “Plunder the Sea” has finally met its match–or its equal, if for completely different reasons. While “Plunder the Sea” is a solid adventure with exquisite animation, a hilarious new character, and Aladdin at his absolute best characterization, “The Citadel” is a great, “serious” episode of Aladdin. It still shares the same humor and tone of the rest of the series, but this is the first one where the threats really feel like threats, and just when you think you’ve seen the episode has ended, it throws a curveball at you to deliver one incredible climax.

This is the first appearance of Mozenrath, the most popular Aladdin villain who isn’t Jafar, and within only a single episode, he’s earned that status. The first word that honestly came to mind for me when describing him was “hardcore.” The scene where he reveals how he surpassed his father-figure who even Jafar feared is shockingly dark, even more so when considering he’s still a youth around Aladdin’s age. He doesn’t mess around at all, and the late Jonathan Brandis does a magnificent job in voicing him with the utmost coolest and natural-sounding charisma.

This isn’t just Mozenrath’s episode, however, it’s also Aladdin’s. His darker, cunning, and even more violent personality is given a lot of exploration here, from completely snapping and beating up a monster when he thinks Genie’s been eaten, to devising a plan to make Mozenrath surrender the monster. Aladdin has a good heart, he knows it as well as Mozenrath, but it doesn’t stop his means of threatening to feed Mozenrath to the monster without it being by his hand from being deviously clever, and ends up being more shocking than if Aladdin had done the deed himself. Aladdin’s reasons for doing this are in the name of good and compassion, of course, in this case saving the monster from an agonizing fate, but just as Mozenrath doesn’t mess around when accomplishing his schemes, neither does Aladdin. They’re fantastic foils to each other, different in their moralities, yet equals in wit and skill.

Excellent villain, excellent use of the entire cast, excellent all-around episode. I cannot wait to see what the show has in store for this new character.

Grade: A+

Episode 38 - Poor Iago
Summary: After covering himself in gold dust and declaring himself greed incarnate, Iago falls into water and, now no longer covered in gold, declares himself poverty incarnate.

Review: Iago goes to the marketplace to show-off his gold-covered-self and declare he’s greed incarnate. For some reason. Iago, when the gold is washed off him and he has a different hairdo, decides to live a life of poverty and give to the poor. For some reason. Iago eventually wises up and decides to go back to his greedy ways. For some reason.

I described “The Animal Village” as silly “in the best of ways” so what would make something silly “in the worst of ways”? Something that barely has a plot, follows logic that’s so nonsensical and impossible to follow that the humor fails to register to the viewer, and ends up being more of a chore to watch even if one turns their brain off. It’s a waste of time.

Grade: D

Episode 39 - The Secret of Dagger Rock
Summary: Aladdin is captured and held hostage by Mozenrath, who wants Genie in exchange, and it’s up to Jasmine to rescue him.

Review: I really hope Mozenrath’s appearances are going to be indicative of an episode’s quality because–yup, it’s another fantastic episode.

I’m a sucker for plots about heroines saving their boyfriends (and I’ll admit upfront that my reasons for it have nothing to do with subverting gendered tropes and everything to do with me just plain enjoying those plots), and while this isn’t the first episode where Jasmine’s had to save Aladdin, it’s the first that’s presented in the traditional, “hero rescues damsel” form. In fact, Aladdin has himself has never gotten an episode like this where he’s had to save Jasmine, nor an episode where he’s had a moment where he needs to rescue Jasmine in general. The only episodes that come to mind are “Web of Fear,” in which Jasmine isn’t in fact captured but leading the group that “captured” her, “The Flawed Couple,” in which the whole Aladdin gang sans Aladdin was captured at the climax, and “Garden of Evil,” in which Jasmine plays an active, central role even in her capture, and Aladdin’s rescue attempt ends in tragedy. I’ve mentioned something along the lines of this before, but it’s impressive to see this from a nineties cartoon, where the era was starting to become more aware of old tropes, yet still managed to fall prey to them every once in a while.

Mozenrath continues to be a great villain who doesn’t mess around, but just as his debut episode didn’t overshadow the greatness of Aladdin, neither does his presence overshadow the greatness of Jasmine here, either. Jasmine’s had a lot of excellent starring roles, and this may be her best role yet so far–though it’s hard to beat out a role that involves a “normal” character having to act with a different personality for a duration of the episode, and Jasmine’s attempts at “manly” talk (I think this is the one episode we’ll ever hear Jasmine say “yo” in; savor it) are great. It’d be redundant to say Jasmine in general is great, but she is; she immediately takes action once Aladdin is captured, and doesn’t stop after her defeat. Aladdin shamelessly brags at Mozenrath about Jasmine’s sheer determination and how much he’ll regret making her angry, and she more than lives up to it using her skill, wit, and even her own brute force to save the day.

Aladdin gets some time to shine too, despite his state of capture. Aside from talking about how cool his girlfriend is, he throws some great snark at Mozenrath (”I will rule the seven deserts!” “Sure…but how many parties do you get invited to?”). The episode uses just the right amount of its cast, wisely keeping Iago and Abu out of the action, and only giving them a couple brief scenes checking in so we know how the episode didn’t just forget about them

The ending scene at the palace is perfect and sweet, and a great way to round out a great episode. There’s a bonus funny scene with Abu and Iago, but it in no way detracts from the quality of the episode.

Grade: A+

Episode 40 - In the Heat of the Fright
Summary: The Aladdin gang saves a village from attacking fire-based cat monsters, and the cats’ leader, Mirage, seeks to destroy the gang.

Review: A confusingly plotted, if entertaining, episode. It’s hard to tell if Iago, being a former villain, is familiar with Mirage or if he’s just making things up when his description of her is as general as “evil incarnate.” If she’s evil incarnate, then what separates her from the likes of Jafar or Mozenrath? We later learn she has dimension-warping and entrapping, and psychological abilities, but wouldn’t Iago have brought that up? It then seems as though there may have been a chance that he made it up to give Genie a scare, claiming that she likes to go for magic-based entities like Genie best, but what’s his basis for that? If Genie had nearly been killed or ensnared by her, his persisting fear of her throughout the episode would make sense, but the only basis of it being a “maybe” Iago gives him ends up making his fear feel out of place and even confusing.

It gets even more confusing when Mirage wants to kill Aladdin, Genie is relieved it’s Aladdin she wants, Genie then disappears, then the gang thinks she wants Genie, then Genie tries to surrender himself to Mirage who says outright she wants Aladdin…it’s all meant to lead up to a point about Genie understanding that true courage is facing your own fears, but it’s all so rushed it that it doesn’t register with the amount of power it could have. Aladdin’s sudden inspiring speech about courage and true friendship feels rushed in and artificially written as well, as though he had no struggle in this unknown dimension beforehand or any sort of concern when he finds Genie right at the lion’s den; he somehow just immediately knows what to say right in the moment.

But, as I said, it’s still a highly entertaining episode, mainly for its villain. Mirage is easily second to Mozenrath in the most popular not-Jafar Aladdin villains, and like Mozenrath, she’s earned that status. We may not know what her agenda is, but between her cosmic and mind-altering abilities, her elegant way with words, and her charismatic personality, it’s hard not to be taken in by her, and it’s all amplified by the terrific voice work of Bebe Neuwirth.

Grade: B-
Tags: aladdin
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