If a knockoff is a cheap copy of a famous maker’s work, what do you call something like The Return of Jafar, the straight-to-tape sequel to 1992’s buoyant animated feature Aladdin? Here’s a knockoff dressed up as the real thing: It carries the Disney label and costs about as much as a tape of Aladdin, but it’s clear from the first jerky frame that the same time, care, and creativity didn’t go into it.
Sheer numbers apparently made it impossible to resist rerubbing the Aladdin lamp: The film is Disney’s most wildly successful movie franchise ever, with theatrical, video, and merchandising revenues already in the $1 billion range. Little of that money seems to have been invested in Jafar, which was stitched together mainly by the studio’s TV animation facilities in Australia and Japan. In fact, though it’s billed as a made-for-video project, it looks exactly like the Aladdin series already running on Disney’s pay-cable channel and headed for CBS and syndication this fall.
Most of the voice cast from the original is on hand (plus a new thief played by Seinfeld‘s Jason Alexander), and Jonathan Freeman as the titular villain can still make even the plainest dialogue a study in egomaniacal guile. But Robin Williams, alas, has disappeared from the role of the Genie. Here the big blue guy’s lines are spoken by Dan Castellaneta, Homer on The Simpsons. He does his best to match Williams’ speed, but he’s not funny here; overall, the Genie now comes off as more of a pest than a friend.
The tape’s songs, aside from an opening ”Arabian Nights” Ashman-Menken reprise, are mainly from television composers, and they’re tired stand-ins for the movie’s big numbers. As the chase-heavy revenge plot unfolds around the redemption of shifty parrot Iago (Gilbert Gottfried), you get a lot of mindless street fights, in which Aladdin often comes off as not just callow but doltish. Princess Jasmine is reduced to a domesticated bauble, and the magic carpet looks especially threadbare, shorn of the intricate (and costly) computer design used in Aladdin. What made Disney think its loyal video audience would be happy with a cheap imitation? Wishful thinking. C-