The Return of Jafar, the sequel to 1992's Aladdin, is the best Disney sequel. Released straight-to-video in 1994, The Return of Jafar sought to capitalize on the enormous success of Aladdin, which at the time was the highest grossing animated movie ever. In 2019, it seems almost unthinkable that a sequel to such a successful movie would only get a home release, but in 1994 it was the way things were for Disney sequels. Disney animation sequels were notoriously bad - again, something that seems alien now - but they were also usually rushed to release, meaning plot and animation were compromised.
The Return of Jafar is not without issues, but it easily surpasses any other Disney animation sequel. After a dispute with Disney, Robin Williams refused to return as the voice of the Genie (though he did reprise his role for the 1996 movie Aladdin: King of Thieves). Instead the character was voiced by Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons), and while he does an admirable job, the Genie is great because of Williams - and his absence is notable. The animation lacks finesse; a hallmark of Disney direct-to-video sequels, and watching again in 2019, it seems astounding that Disney ever passed it for release.
However, The Return of Jafar has far more good points than bad, and it's thoroughly enjoyable to watch. The movie's main focus is Jafar, one of Disney's best villains. Just like in the original Aladdin, Jafar continues to be wicked and evil, which is a joy to behold, and it's his turn that makes this movie so great. The Return of Jafar also features plenty of Iago, again a brilliant character from Disney; a hilariously dry and sarcastic reluctant sidekick. This time around, though, Iago tries to shake off his bad ways as well as his service to Jafar (who is now a genie), eventually becoming one of Aladdin's trusted sidekicks instead.
Understandably, The Return of Jafar wasn't received well by critics when it released, mostly because of the movie's lack of finesse. But it has since found a lot of love from fans, who appreciate it for what it is; a rushed sequel to an exceptional movie, but one which still features a great storyline and fantastic characters. Jafar's evil meddling is off the charts in The Return of Jafar, and it's good to have some character arc to Iago, who was little more than a squawking menace in Aladdin. There's also some great lessons to be learned about friendship, trust, and not judging others, which is great for younger viewers.
For a movie that originally started life as a pilot episode of a cartoon series, The Return of Jafar packs a surprising emotional punch. Sure, Disney has massively improved the quality of its sequels in the last 15 years, but that was to be expected. When looking at Ralph Breaks the Internet and the upcoming Frozen 2 as examples, there's no comparison with regards to quality. That said, those sequels wouldn't be around if The Return of Jafar hadn't paved the way for them first. Of course, viewers do need to overlook the animation quality, but The Return of Jafar features the titular villain having the time of his life, and it really doesn't get better than that.
- Aladdin (2019) release date: May 24, 2019