Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996)

2015 #196
Tad Stones | 82 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9* | USA / English | U

For most of the ’90s and ’00s, Disney churned out direct-to-video sequels to many of their most beloved animated classics. They have a reputation for being unremittingly awful, hence why Pixar’s John Lasseter put a stop to their production after he became Disney’s Chief Creative Officer in 2006. Despite that reputation, however, there are those who say one or two are actually quite good. One of those (and the only one I’ve previously seen) is The Lion King 1½ (released as The Lion King 3 in the UK), which is a sort of a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead to the original film’s Hamlet, re-telling the story from the perspective of Timon and Pumbaa. I saw it years ago but would vouch for its relative quality — when I first re-watched The Lion King after, I briefly thought some scenes were missing, which I guess is testament to how well it fits.

Another such-praised sequel is this follow-up to Disney’s 1992 Animated Classic. It’s actually the second sequel (the first was also the first of those Disney DTV sequels) and also follows an 86-episode TV series. Fortunately, the makers dropped an early idea to use one of the series’ main villains as the film’s antagonist, and so it functions perfectly as a direct sequel to the original movie. Which is nice, because that first sequel isn’t meant to be very good and I imagine the TV series is hard to come by nowadays. Plus, neither of those can claim an ever-so-important distinction that this can: it features the return of Robin Williams as the Genie.

The film begins on the wedding day of Aladdin (Scott Weinger) and Jasmine (Linda Larkin), which is interrupted by the mysterious Cassim, the King of Thieves (John Rhys-Davies), and his gang of forty thieves seeking to steal an oracle from among the wedding gifts. Although they fail, the oracle informs Aladdin that the answers he seeks about his long-departed father are to be found with the forty thieves… I expect you can guess where that’s going. Fortunately the film gets there pretty quickly, then transitions into a story about the possible redemption (or not) of Cassim alongside the quest for the Hand of Midas, capable of turning whatever it touches into gold (natch).

The King of Thieves has a few things in its favour. It’ll come as no surprise that the biggest and best is Williams reprising his iconic performance, and consequently being responsible for most of the film’s humour. There are a couple of fun nods to some of Williams’ other best-remembered roles, and plenty to other Disney films too. The rest of the film offers a fast-paced, action-packed narrative, with a few musical numbers to boot. The songs are certainly not as memorable as those found in proper Disney movies, but most are decent while they last. Jasmine gets somewhat short shrift, but this is really a story about father and son.

Those who dislike Disney’s Aladdin won’t find anything to enjoy here, but for fans of the original, Aladdin and the King of Thieves is a solid, fun follow-up.

4 out of 5

* The film was made for release on VHS, so it’s no surprise that the OAR is 1.33:1. The HD version is cropped for 16:9. It’s mostly alright, though anyone with an eye for composition will find it obvious at times. ^

Aladdin (1992)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #1

Imagine if you had three wishes,
three hopes, three dreams
and they all could come true.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 90 minutes
BBFC: U
MPAA: G

Original Release: 25th November 1992 (USA)
UK Release: 18th November 1993
First Seen: VHS, c.1993

Stars
Scott Weinger (Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Shredder)
Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting, Insomnia)
Linda Larkin (The Return of Jafar, Joshua)
Jonathan Freeman (The Return of Jafar, The Ice Storm)

Directors
Ron Clements (Basil the Great Mouse Detective, Hercules)
John Musker (The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Frog)

Screenwriters
Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Frog)
John Musker (Basil the Great Mouse Detective, Hercules)
Ted Elliott (The Mask of Zorro, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl)
Terry Rossio (Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End)

Story by
Deep breath… Burny Mattinson and Roger Allers, Daan Jippes, Kevin Harkey, Sue Nichols, Francis Glebas, Darrell Rooney, Larry Leker, James Fujii, Kirk Hanson, Kevin Lima, Rebecca Rees, David S. Smith, Chris Sanders, Brian Pimental & Patrick A. Ventura.

Based on
The folktale of Aladdin and the magic lamp from One Thousand and One Nights, aka The Arabian Nights.

Music
Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors, Tangled)

Lyrics
Howard Ashman (Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast)
Tim Rice (The Lion King, Evita)

The Story
Street urchin Aladdin falls for bored Princess Jasmine when she sneaks out of her palace one day, leading him to the clutches of evil vizier Jafar, who needs Aladdin to retrieve a magic lamp as part of his scheme to rule the land. When Aladdin accidentally discovers the lamp’s inhabitant, a wish-granting Genie, he uses his wishes to set about wooing the princess. Jafar, of course, has other ideas…

Our Hero
One jump ahead of the bread line, one swing ahead of the sword, steals only what he can’t afford (that’s everything). Riffraff, street rat, scoundrel. It’s Aladdin, of course.

Our Villain
Grand Vizier Jafar, a plotting underling — the kind of role that has strong precedent in fiction, I’m sure, though Conrad Veidt as villainous Grand Vizier Jaffar in The Thief of Bagdad is rather clearly the direct inspiration.

Best Supporting Character
Oh, I don’t know, maybe… the Genie! Fantastically voiced by a heavily-improvising Robin Williams, praise is also deserved for Eric Goldberg’s character animation, which matches him every step of the way. In fact, it was an animation Goldberg created using one of Williams’ stand-up routines that convinced the comic to take the part.

Memorable Quote
Aladdin: “You’re a prisoner?”
Genie: “It’s all part and parcel, the whole genie gig. Phenomenal cosmic powers! Itty bitty living space.”

Memorable Scene
Trapped in a desert cave, Aladdin accidentally rubs a lamp and unleashes the Genie — and with it, Robin Williams’ all-time-great hilarious performance.

Best Song
For me, it’s Prince Ali, the huge Genie-led number as a disguised Aladdin arrives back in town in grandiose style. The Genie’s big solo number, Friend Like Me, is an incredibly close second. Soppy A Whole New World won all the awards, because of course it did.

Truly Special Effect
Only the second time Disney used CGI with 2D character animation. In Beauty and the Beast, it built a room for the characters to dance in; here, there’s a character (the entrance to the cave) and a whole action sequence (the flying carpet escape from said cave). It earnt the team a BAFTA nomination. There’s no shame in what they lost to: Jurassic Park.

Making of
Robin Williams ad-libbed so much of his role as the Genie — generating almost 16 hours worth of material, in fact — that the film was rejected for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination.

Previously on…
Aladdin is Disney’s 31st Animated Classic, their official canon of animated movies. It’s the fourth film in the “Disney Renaissance”, the decade-long period (starting with The Little Mermaid and ending with Tarzan) when they had a run of films that were critically and financially successful (unlike those before and after said period).

Next time…
Two direct-to-video sequels, the second of which is quite good; in between those, a TV series ran for 86 episodes(!); a Broadway adaptation debuted in 2014 (it’s coming to the West End in May); not to mention numerous video games and appearances in other works, almost all still voiced by the less-starry names among the original cast. The go-to new voice for the Genie? Dan “Homer Simpson” Castellaneta.

Awards
2 Oscars (Original Song (A Whole New World), Original Score)
3 Oscar nominations (Sound, Sound Effects Editing, Original Song (Friend Like Me))
2 BAFTA nominations (Score, Special Effects)
1 Annie Award (Animated Feature)
3 Saturn Awards (Fantasy Film, Supporting Actor (Robin Williams), Younger Actor (Scott Weinger))
1 Saturn nomination (Music)
Nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation.

What the Critics Said
“What will children make of a film whose main attraction — the Genie himself — has such obvious parent appeal? They needn’t know precisely what Mr. Williams is evoking to understand how funny he is. […] What will come through clearly to audiences of any age is the breathless euphoria of Mr. Williams’s free associations, in which no subject is off-limits, not even Disney itself.” — Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Score: 94%

What the Public Say
“the perfect Disney film, one that cleverly combines the sensibilities of classic and modern audiences, one that matches toe to toe with many of the studio’s greatest films. You may prefer the emotional heart-ache of The Lion King or the romantic magic from Beauty and the Beast, but I would always prefer the witty and charming Aladdin.” — feedingbrett @ Letterboxd

Verdict

Hailing from slap-bang in the middle of the Disney Renaissance, Aladdin may not be quite as strong as the films either side of it (Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King), but it’s the next best thing. Buoyed by Robin Williams’ top-drawer performance (have I mentioned that yet?), multiple toe-tapping musical numbers, and a dastardly villain who’s among Disney’s best — and is just one of several great supporting characters here, actually — Aladdin is an A-grade animated Arabian adventure.

In #2 no one can hear you scream.