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"Aladdin and the King of Thieves" Makes a Rich Haul of Laughs

Rejoice! Rejoice! Robin Williams returns to the fold in Disney’s Aladdin III: Aladdin and the King of Thieves.

Yes, sometimes even the mighty Mouse learns from its mistakes, and, following the Return of Jafar debacle, Disney managed to lure the venerable Genie back for this 1996 direct-to-video finale to the Aladdin saga. It’s got Genie, Genie, and more Genie. Moreover, it’s also got a sense of wonder and awe that was lacking in the previous, more pedestrian outing.

The story opens on Aladdin and Jasmine’s wedding day, and the groom-to-be is uneasy. No, not about the honeymoon; he is, oddly, pining for his Dad, wishing he were alive to give him guidance. Things get worse before they get better, though, when a band of thieves, led by their king, Cassim (John Rhys-Davies), attacks at the ceremony, robbing everyone blind until Genie and friends thwart them in a free-for-all that razes the palace to the ground. Afterward, they discover that Cassim was trying to steal an oracle that knows the location of the “ultimate treasure.” This oracle tells Aladdin that his Dad is still alive, and he sets off with Abu (Frank Welker) and Iago (Gilbert Gottfried) to find Cassim–the King of the Thieves who turns out to be the father in question. Aladdin catches up to them, wins a fight against the ruthless Sa’luk (Jerry Orbach), and is accepted as a member of the gang. Cassim is seeking the legendary hand of Midas, which can turn anything to gold. The problem is that it is located on the Vanishing Isle, which constantly moves around because it’s on the back of a giant turtle. Aladdin and his father return to Agrabah for second attempt at a wedding ceremony, but Sa’luk betrays Cassim, landing him and Iago in prison for life. Aladdin breaks the two out of jail and together they escape the city, but Aladdin turns back to face the music. He is pardoned for acting out of filial devotion, and he and his friends set out both to find the Vanishing Isle and to rescue Cassim from Sa’luk, who has taken Cassim prisoner.

The animation is a little richer and smoother than in The Return of Jafar and almost approaches theatrical quality in parts. The character models seem to have slipped a bit, however, and the transfer looks a bit faded. Overall the songs are of higher quality than in Jafar, if not quite as catchy or witty as in the first film. “Party in Agrabah” is a fun opening song from Genie that builds up the wedding celebration along the lines of “Prince Ali,” and Aladdin’s initiation theme, “Welcome to the Forty Thieves,” is also fairly rousing. Mercifully, Disney appears to have sacked Iago’s muse.

Performances are good. Rhys-Davies’s sly but warm-hearted Cassim is a bit generic, but his rumbling delivery is as charismatic as ever. Aladdin is Aladdin, Iago gets in a decent joke or two, and the rest of the cast fills in nicely when the stars aren’t out to shine. The one-note Sa’luk can’t quite replace the mesmerizing Jafar, but at least he is satisfyingly menacing.

But the star is Williams, who is just as sharp as in the first film, and since he’s no longer a central plot element, he’s free to cut up at will. His hilarious celebrity impersonations are back, too: Sylvester Stallone, Mickey Mouse, Mrs. Doubtfire, Bob Hope, Robocop‘s ED209, Shaquille O’Neal. The jokes fly fast and furious as well. When stampeding elephants interrupt the wedding ceremony, Genie remarks, “I thought the earth wasn’t supposed to move until the honeymoon.” But he’s not the only one with funny lines. On finding the thieves’ hideout Aladdin boldly declares, “We got ‘em trapped,” to which Iago retorts “We?! They are forty thieves. We are you, a rug, a monkey, and me. Wait, don’t count me.”

As with Return of Jafar, the special features on this new DVD release are surprisingly limited for such a big franchise. The ever-present Disney’s Song Selection lets you practice karaoke with clips from the movie. The Bag the Bad Guys and Loot in the Air Challenge games are tedious versions of Where’s Waldo in which you hunt for randomly hidden thieves and treasure, respectively. The only feature of value is Behind the Microphone, which is a brief but fun look at the main cast hamming it up in the studio. Frank Welker shows off his amazing versatility, and of course Williams gets in a joke or two. This little taste only makes you hungry for more, though. According to the filmmakers, they recorded hours and hours of material with Williams. So where is it? Come on Disney, burn that sucker onto CD.

While it’s not exactly another Aladdin, Aladdin and the King of Thieves is nevertheless a fairly polished and very entertaining romp, and it proves that direct-to-video releases can be high-quality productions. If Disney can maintain this standard, then I’m more than willing to put aside my skepticism and embrace sequels to Emperor’s New Groove, Toy Story, Treasure Planet, and others. You can count me out for Steamboat Willie 2: Cruise Control though. Well, maybe if they get Dafoe.

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