C’mon down, stop on by,
Hop a carpet and fly,
To another Arabian night…
25 years ago Disney fans were once more given the opportunity to rub the Genie’s lamp and have their wishes granted when The Return of Jafar was released on home video. Unlike some of the other Disney sequels, this film was actually great and felt like a continuation of the original story. The film has some catchy songs, features all of the characters we fell in love with in Aladdin, and despite the animation not being as high quality as its predecessor, The Return of Jafar is still a great film. The story focusses more on Iago and his battle with his conscience than it does Jafar. Can a bad guy become good? That’s the basic theme behind this Arabian adventure. With a little bit of Jafar seeking revenge on Aladdin thrown in for good measure, this film is a great example of how to give the fans more of what they want. Unlike many other Disney sequels that actually ruined the original a little bit. I’m looking at you, Pocahontas. So join me as I step back into the cave of wonders to see what treasures The Return of Jafar has to offer.
So the first element this film got right was the cast. One thing that can ruin an animated sequel is having a different voice actor portraying the characters we love from the original. With The Return of Jafar, all main characters were voiced by the same actors from Aladdin. Except for the Genie, who was voiced by the outstanding Robin Williams in the first film. Dan Castellaneta does his best impression of Williams’ Genie in The Return of Jafar, and it’s close enough. Genie didn’t have too many scenes anyway so it doesn’t stand out too much. The most important reprised roles are Aladdin, Jafar and of course Iago, voiced by the one and only Gilbert Gottfried. His rough, recognisable voice is perfect for Iago and I don’t think anyone could have replicated it. As Iago is basically the main character in this film, it was vital to have the iconic voice.
And while we’re on the subject of characters, something else this film got right was bringing everyone back. Some Disney sequels, I’m looking at you again Pocahontas, take the main characters and have them in a new setting with a host of new characters. Personally, I dislike this. Give me more of who I love, not new characters I couldn’t care less about! The Return of Jafar brings everyone back, in the same beautiful setting, and only adds one new character really. Abis Mal, great name for a villain, is voiced by Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander, and he plays the role of the idiot who frees Jafar from his lamp. He also seeks revenge on Aladdin for making a fool of him in front of his already un-loyal group of bandits. He’s a fun character, and Alexander was a great choice for the role. Seeing the old gang back together, Aladdin and Abu, Jasmine and Raja, even the Sultan was a treat for fans of the original.
It always feels rewarding to get a glimpse of what happened next and this film, in particular, feels almost like extended scenes from Aladdin as opposed to a sequel. Some of the songs featured in The Return of Jafar could easily fit in with the already excellent soundtrack to Aladdin. The film starts with a new version of “Arabian Nights”, which is the song that opened the first film too. It’s a great start to the film, to hear that familiar tune, and then the new lyrics are a treat too. We also have some brand new songs, including Iago’s “I’m looking out for me”, a grumpy ode about how he’s sick of being someone else’s slave and “You’re Only Second Rate’”, Jafar’s hate letter to Genie. Both of these songs stand out and are great additions to the Aladdin music catalogue. Genie also has a new song called “Nothing Like a Friend” which I think was aiming to be the next “Friend like me” but sadly falls a little flat in comparison. Some things just can’t be done without Robin Williams.
Zaba-caba-dabra!Granny’s gonna grab ya!Alakazam-da-musAnd this thing’s bigger than the both of us!
Throughout the film we also hear instrumental sections of some of the Aladdin classics. “One Jump Ahead”, “Prince Ali” and the classic “A Whole New World”. Hearing these oh-so-familiar melodies really stirs up the happy memories from watching Aladdin and helps the film to feel like a continuation of the original Disney tale. Music is such a huge part of what makes Disney films so popular, and in The Return of Jafar you can see that they understand this. Aladdin has the best Disney soundtrack to date, that’s my personal opinion. So to have this extended and almost idolised in the sequel feels correct. There were some killer songs in Aladdin so why shouldn’t we be reminded of them in this second adventure? The soundtrack to The Return of Jafar may be short, but what it does offer is a collection of funny, story-based songs which stick in your mind long after the film ends.
One thing I do find discouraging in this film, however, is the way Jasmine is portrayed. In Aladdin, she was a fiery young woman. Bored of palace life and the attention of prince after prince, Jasmine yearned for her freedom. She was desperate to see the world outside of the palace walls, and she insisted that she did not need a man to make her happy. She was a bit of a rebel, and we loved her for it. We, of course, knew she would fall for Aladdin in the end, and we were happy to see them together at last as the first film ended. In The Return of Jafar however, it feels like Jasmine has completely lost that rebellious side of her personality. She is now content with life inside the palace and her main goal in life is to set Aladdin up as royal advisor to her father. I don’t want to come across as a power feminist here, but why does she have to lose her personality now that she has a man by her side? It’s not a great message to send to young girls, and as a big fan of Jasmine it was disappointing to see her turn into this swooning, love-struck cliche of a girl in love.
But back to the good stuff, another element of the film that stood out to me as a young viewer was some of the scenes with Jafar. Looking back now they’re not so bad, but as a kid they were a little terrifying. We see Jafar as an old lady during his song “You’re Only Second Rate”. It’s creepy to say the least, to see that long thin face on the body of an old woman. We see this creepy flash of him as the lyric “Granny’s gonna grab ya’ bellows out”. Looking back now it’s reminiscent of Norman Bates’ mother, rotting in the basement. We also see Jafar being defeated in spectacular fashion, his skeleton revealed as he is seemingly electrocuted. Again, it’s a common cartoon feature, the comedy electrocution, but in this film it seems somehow darker. Normally Disney villains fall from a height into nothingness, merely suggesting death. But with Jafar we see him physically in pain when his lamp is destroyed, ultimately leading to his demise. It’s not a big deal nowadays but at the time I remember feeling the prickling of fear watching him, and it was a brave move from the Disney animators.
But to counteract this, The Return of Jafar is also full of some great, childish humour. Iago has some great one-liners, and Abu has his share of comical moments too. In one scene, Iago gets a snooker ball lodged in his beak, and Genie struggles to get it out. With a click of his fingers, he is suddenly dressed as a surgeon, and Abu has a tiny nurses outfit. He’s like a miniature, hairy version of Heath Ledger’s Joker when he dons the nurse outfit in The Dark Knight. The outfit and makeup are comical enough, but then Abu throws the hat off his head and we see him pulling away his fake eyelashes. It’s a great touch, and amusing enough for children and adults. We also get to see Aladdin and Abu enjoying what they do best, tormenting thieves and giving their loot to the poor. It’s nice to see Aladdin hasn’t turned his back on his people since getting into the palace. He really is a Disney hero.
So with all of these winning elements, it’s easy to see why The Return of Jafar makes such a good Disney sequel. Unlike failed attempts such as Lady and The Tramp 2, or Pocahontas 2: Journey to a New World, this sequel stays true to the original. It doesn’t repeat the same story again and it doesn’t change what was created in its original film. Instead, it develops the story, it continues our hero’s adventure, and it also gives us closure on what happened to Jafar in the end. The Return of Jafar is an excellent film and a worthy second half to Aladdin’s story. 25 years after its initial release, I still find it an entertaining watch—It may not hold as many treasures as the original, but it’s still a cave of wonders well worth a viewing.