As far as the direct-to-video sequels produced by the Walt Disney Company, you could do a lot worse than The Return of Jafar. I’m not saying it’s great but it’s enjoyable and I have to give it props for actually being a genuine sequel.
After parrot Iago (Gilbert Gottfried) escapes from Jafar’s genie lamp, he returns to the Sultan’s palace in the hopes of finding a home there. His arrival brings turmoil to the blissful life of Aladdin (Scott Weinger), Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin), Abu (Frank Welker) and the Genie, newly returned from his trip through time and space (voiced this time by Dan Castellaneta), who are unsure if Iago can be trusted despite his hatred of his former master. The talking bird is the least of their worries, however, as Jafar (Jonathan Freeman), now an all-powerful genie allies himself with a brigand named Abis Mal (Jason Alexander) who seeks revenge on Aladdin.
I have to give credit to The Return of Jafar for being an actual sequel featuring an original story. Little Mermaid 2 and Lady and the Tramp 2 are essentially tweaked versions of the original stories. Cinderella 2 and Tarzan 2 are generic, cookie-cutter TV episodes tied together to make an anthology sequel. By comparison, this is a major success. We get to see the characters from the first movie confront each other again, but in a different way now. No longer is the audience wondering if Aladdin and Jasmine will fall in love, they’re a couple now and the film is about seeing their relationship play out. This is how you do it.
Everything that you liked about Aladdin is preserved - more or less. The Genie and his wacky antics are back, Abu is still a kleptomaniac, the songs are bouncy and energetic. There are some good moments of humor with the animal sidekicks and Jafar proves himself a worthy foe once again. With his genie powers and menacing look, he might even be more formidable than before. Seeing him twisting the words of those around him to give them terrible (and nearly lethal) wishes instills a nice sense of menace.
Before I get into my criticisms, I want to clarify something. If you’re nostalgic for it, for the TV series it spanned or you want a little more Aladdin but don’t want to hear A Whole New World for the 500th time, see this film. It’s not on the same level as the first movie, but this wasn’t released theatrically and at just over an hour long, it doesn’t waste any of your time.
The biggest flaw with The Return of the Jafar comes from the comparisons it receives following Aladdin. The songs are fine but nothing you’ll remember once the film is over either. The story is interesting but doesn’t utilize Princess Jasmine well. She never confronts Jafar or contributes to the story in any meaningful way. It doesn’t feel like an intentional choice as much as a necessary one looking at the budget of a straight to home video release. More breathing room for the Genie would’ve also been beneficial. The animation is fine overall but inconsistent. Iago changes size drastically not only from scene-to-scene but from shot to shot and there’s either a scene missing or a big continuity error concerning Aladdin and his royal palace regalia disappearing to be replaced by his “classic” street rat attire between shots.
Had The Return of Jafar made it to theaters as is, it would’ve been a disappointment. Looking at it as a straight-to-VHS sequel, however, it’s fine. I wouldn’t rush out to add it to your collection, however. Buy it used or rent it. (On Dvd, July 14, 2015)