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The Aladdin Trilogy

Aladdin (October 24/05)

Robin Williams' justifiably legendary performance in Aladdin has essentially overshadowed virtually every other aspect of the film, which - given the relatively lackluster vibe at work here - has actually turned out to be a good thing. The story revolves around a street urchin named Aladdin (voiced by Scott Weinger), who unwittingly frees a wacky genie (Williams) from his lamp. Together, the two conspire to make a beautiful Princess fall in love with Aladdin - while avoiding the evil Jafar's villainous efforts to snatch the lamp. With its emphasis on themes like the importance of self-confidence and the power of love, Aladdin feels like a prototypical Disney effort - complete with wise-cracking animals and a thoroughly upbeat conclusion. And, as expected, there are plenty of musical numbers spread throughout the film - though very few of them are far from memorable (the Oscar-winning "A Whole New World" is a rare exception). It's in the voice acting that Aladdin earns its status as a Disney classic, with Weinger an appropriately earnest hero and Williams pulling out all the stops as the genie (the actor throws in a variety of celebrity impersonations, some of which are destined to fly over younger viewers' heads - ie Walter Brennan). In terms of fitting into the Disney canon, Aladdin belongs somewhere in the middle; it's better than something like The Black Cauldron, but not even remotely as effective as The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast.

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The Return of Jafar (November 1/05)

Notable as the first direct-to-video Disney sequel, The Return of Jafar follows Aladdin (Scott Weinger) as he attempts to once again foil Jafar's (Jonathan Freeman) villainous plot to take over Agrabah. And despite the fact that he was freed from his lamp at the end of the first film, the genie (now voiced by Dan Castellaneta) is back and wackier than ever. It's clear right from the outset that Disney put very little effort into the production of The Return of Jafar, particularly in the realm of animation. The film has all the style and fluidity of a Saturday morning cartoon, while various songs are bland and forgettable. The repetitive storyline doesn't do the movie any favors, and even at a running time of 69-minutes, doldrums set in almost immediately. Castellaneta does the best he can with the material, but generally comes up short (particularly when compared with Robin Williams' manic performance from the original). The Return of Jafar is a thoroughly needless sequel that may keep small children engaged, but is bound to come off as nothing less than a huge disappointment for fans of the original.

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Aladdin and the King of Thieves (November 10/05)

Though it's slightly better than The Return of Jafar, Aladdin and the King of Thieves is nevertheless a disappointing and ultimately pointless sequel that's elevated by the return of Robin Williams as the genie. This time around, Aladdin (Scott Weinger) and Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin) are on the verge of getting married when Aladdin learns that his long-lost father is actually still alive. Far more disturbing is the revelation that said pop is actually the infamous King of Thieves, though this doesn't stop Aladdin from pursuing a relationship with the man. As was the case with The Return of Jafar, Aladdin and the King of Thieves suffers from a distinctly underwhelming storyline - a problem that's compounded by the thoroughly subpar animation. Williams' kinetic performance emphasizes the deficiencies in the film's visuals, though there's no denying that the movie would likely be close to unwatchable stripped of his manic energy (bonus points for the inclusion of a Mrs. Doubtfire cameo).

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About the DVDs: The original Aladdin arrives on DVD as a full-fledged special edition, complete with commentary tracks, deleted scenes, featurettes, and much more. The special features held within the two sequels, on the other hand, have clearly been geared towards kids, though this isn't nearly as problematic as Disney's decision to slap black bars on Aladdin and the King of Thieves - despite the fact that it was produced in the full-frame ratio.
© David Nusair