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VIDEO REVIEW

Williams' Improvisation Steals Spotlight in 'King of Thieves'

August 13, 1996|MALCOLM JOHNSON | THE HARTFORD COURANT

"Aladdin and the King of Thieves" might be better called "Robin Williams: A Rhapsody in Blue."

The direct-to-video animated sequel to "Aladdin" and "The Return of Jafar" due in stores today has a few other modestly diverting elements. But Williams, man of a thousand voices, clearly gives this father-son drama its main reason for being--revitalizing the "Aladdin" cycle after his absence flattened "Jafar."

Serving as a sort of master of ceremonies/superstar, Williams shape-shifts his blue Genie with the help of Disney animators as he improvises a gallery of impressions: a bit of Sylvester Stallone, a quick Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, even a flash of Mrs. Doubtfire. As in "Aladdin," Williams' lightning impersonations flash out too rapidly to be savored fully in just one sitting--which perhaps accounts for the incredible $500 million the original feature has now amassed worldwide. People just had to see it again.

Inspired by their madcap voice artist, the animators serve up their own bag of tricks, interpolating visual and verbal references to "Dumbo," "Cinderella," even "Steamboat Willie." At one point, Princess Jasmine, Aladdin's highborn beloved, dons the European garb of another princess, Snow White.

It all makes this festival of animation a triumph of free-association collage. When Williams' sometimes big, sometimes smallish, sometimes multiplying blue Genie is doing his stuff, "Aladdin and the King of Thieves" is likely to please the most sophisticated animation fan, with the self-referential Disneyana popping up as an added bonus.

The rest of the film--the non-Williams songs and the plot centering on Aladdin and, occasionally, Jasmine--falls well short of "Aladdin," though it surpasses the forgettable "Jafar." The plot is immediately transparent, as Aladdin, on his wedding day, wonders who his father was, fondling the dagger that was his only inheritance. While it took Luke Skywalker three movies to discover he was sired by the evil Darth Vader, Aladdin's self-questioning suggests that the father is still alive, and that he probably is none other than the hooded Arab Batman already shown sneaking into the Disneyland Baghdad of Agrabah.

From start to finish, "King of Thieves" packs plenty of action, enough to keep the kiddies rapt for several baby-sittings, at least. More musical kids will be disappointed in the songs--though Williams' light stylings lend comic energy to "There's a Party Here in Agrabah" and "Father and Son."

Less entertaining are the "42nd Street" variation "Welcome to the 40 Thieves" and the snarling "Are You In or Out?," sung by the gang's hulking sadist, Sa'luk, savagely voiced by Jerry Orbach in an impressive change of pace from his suave Lumiere in "Beauty and the Beast." Liz Callaway's musical discourse on patrimony as the singing voice of Jasmine, "Out of Thin Air," fails to measure up to "A Whole New World."

The "King of Thieves" animation lacks the glories of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," with its brilliance of detail in every frame. Yet though it never measures up to the great Disney animation masterpieces, it unfolds more dazzlingly than, say, "A Goofy Movie" or even "DuckTales: The Movie--Treasure of the Lost Lamp."

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