(Welcome to Out of the Disney Vault, where we explore the unsung gems and forgotten disasters currently streaming on Disney+.)
Before Disney started producing endless remakes of its classic animated films and dumping some of them on Disney+ (ahem, Lady and the Tramp), they used to make endless sequels to classic animated films and dump them on VHS.
There have been dozens of direct-to-video (DTV) animated sequels – nearly 60 if you include the films made out of TV episodes and those that debuted on the Disney Channel. Some were good, most were bad, and a few, like Aladdin and the King of Thieves, were almost better than the original. This is a sequel that expands the world and mythology of the first film with a catchy soundtrack that feels like it belongs in the theatrical film. And it’s about time we recognize Aladdin’s dad as one of the coolest and hottest Disney characters around.
So grab your flying carpet, leave the awful stereotypes behind, and let me show you the world of the best direct-to-video sequel Disney ever made.
It’s not like Disney was a stranger to sequels, as any fan of the underrated The Rescuers Down Under will tell you. But with the huge success of the Disney Renaissance of the ’90s and the box office juggernaut that was 1992’s Aladdin came the desire to capitalize on the home video market with tons of sequels. The first one, Return of Jafar, had many, many problems, but it still made $300 million. So Disney quickly got to producing another sequel, one that thankfully didn’t just center on Gilbert Gottfried’s Iago.
King of Thieves serves as a series finale for the Aladdin animated series, and adapts the tale of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” The film centers on Aladdin’s wedding to Princess Jasmine being interrupted by the 40 Thieves stealing all the gifts at the wedding, and Aladdin finding out his father is not only alive, but the eponymous King of Thieves, and he’s looking for a brand new magical treasure.
Practically the entire cast and crew from the previous film returns, including Robin Williams as the Genie after a notable absence in the previous film due to a major dispute. Also joining is John Rhys-Davies as Aladdin’s dad, Cassim, which instantly makes this film infinitely better than Return of Jafar. Also new is the soundtrack, which rather than reusing and rearranging music from the original film like Return did, includes a brand new score and lots of catchy songs.
When it came to making unnecessary sequels to theatrical films, Aladdin really lucked out. Even if we didn’t really need to see more, the plots are quickly justified by how well they tie together with the original film. The titular return of Jafar in the first sequel felt inevitable given how big a role treasure-hunting played in the original film, and even if we didn’t really need a story about Aladdin’s father issues, adapting arguably the most known of the One Thousand and One Nights tales is a no-brainer.
Right from the start, King of Thieves sure wants you to feel like you are watching an actual Aladdin movie, even if it’s not in a theater. The animation is not as crisp as in the original film, it certainly looks and feels like it. More importantly, perhaps, this sequel sounds like the original, as we start with “There’s a Party Here in Agrabah,” a brand new song which is like a mix between the visuals of “Prince Ali” and the melody of “Friend Like Me.” From there, we get five new songs, all equally as catchy and full of that classic Disney magic.
Speaking of magic, easily the biggest thing King of Thieves did to feel more like the original Aladdin was bringing Robin Williams back to voice Genie. This only happened after a long and public feud that ended with a public apology to Williams from Disney Studio President Joe Roth — and also a $1 million Picasso painting as a peace offering. The moment Williams’ Genie pops up on the screen, the energy completely changes from that in Return of Jafar. The pop-culture references are sharper and not as out-of-left-field as in the previous film, and Williams’ impersonations of Sylvester Stallone and Walter Cronkite are just perfect. Even if there are increasingly more meta-references to the Disney empire than in the original, they work here; there’s even a fantastic Mrs. Doubtfire gag at one point.
Thankfully, King of Thieves is more than just a repeat of what made the original better. The moment we see Aladdin’s dad, Cassim, lead his team of thieves to a secret cave and utters the immortal words “Open, Sesame!” the film vastly expands on the world of Agrabah and the character of Aladdin. Now that he’s about to marry into royalty, Aladdin faces imposter syndrome and big daddy issues, which collide into the plot when he decides to try and mend his relationship with Cassim. Then there’s the actual plot of the film, which involves Cassim’s quest to find the mythical Hand of Midas, which gave the Greek king the ability to turn anything it touches into gold. There’s also a trial by combat and a giant turtle carrying a whole island on its back. In many ways, this is Aladdin by way of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, with the estranged father-son duo looking for a mythical artifact while bad guys pursue them.
Though there is no clear report of the film’s sales figures, it still proved profitable enough for Disney to go all-in on DTV animated sequels, with King of Thieves paving the way for basically every animated film from the Disney renaissance to get a spin-off TV series and/or a sequel film, from the really bad ones (Pocahontas II), to the great ones (The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride).
With a sequel to the live-action Aladdin remake in the works, it should be a no-brainer for the film to also remake an animated film, and what better plot for the sequel than Aladdin’s hot dad trying to find the golden hand of a Greek king?
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