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. ^

Time Lapse (2014)

2015 #25
Bradley King | 99 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English

Time LapseShallow Grave meets Primer in this indie thriller that sees three housemates discover a camera that takes photos 24 hours into the future. They initially use it to their financial advantage, but soon Things Go Wrong™.

Time Lapse has a sci-fi setup, but it’s a film driven by its characters rather than its high concept. The whys and hows of the machine are incidental (who created it and what happened to him is a plot point, but how he did it isn’t), it’s what it does to the characters that matters. The images of the future soon depict tableaux that throw their relationships with one another into question. Moments are seen that one or more of them wouldn’t like the others to see. But if they know the camera is there, why would they do that in front of it? And do they have to recreate it? What happens to Time Itself™ if they don’t?

So it’s a thriller, really, albeit one about three normal characters and their relationships rather than the usual thriller stomping grounds of terrorists or criminals (although there are a few of the latter). There are answers to the mysteries, and at least one game-changing twist that’s an absolute killer. Co-writer/director Bradley King does a first-class job of concealing its presence, only for its reveal to be damningly obvious and explain some things you mightn’t’ve thought would be explained — pretty much a perfect kind of twist, in other words.

Oh no...The very low-key nature of Time Lapse will put some people off. If you like your sci-fi full of action or scientists or world-saving/changing endeavours, it’s not for you. If you like sci-fi where an impossible concept throws ordinary people into dilemmas about themselves and each other, this is a well-conceived drama. Add in an engrossing mystery element that keeps you questioning and guessing until the end, and you have a minor gem.

4 out of 5

Time Lapse is released in US theaters and on demand today, and on Blu-ray from Tuesday June 16th. In the UK, it’s already available on Sky Movies and Now TV, and to rent or buy through all the usual digital providers.

(Despite the latter, the film seems to have no official BBFC rating (Sky go with 15; Amazon say U; iTunes keep schtum), which I’m pretty sure is illegal…)