Sunday, December 14, 2014

Aladdin (the TV series) 20th anniversary -- Episode 15: "Some Enchanted Genie" (9/19/94)

Genie Watch: Yes, I suppose it makes sense to designate this entire post as a "Genie watch", given that the character with which that regular feature is concerned is integral to this episode, and not in his usual role of a tag-along supplier of (sometimes clever or enjoyable absurd, sometimes stomach-turning and obnoxious) comic relief. One may logically surmise from the episode's title that he takes center place in its story ... but it actually might have been more accurate to have called it "Some Enchanted Genies", for, in the end, Eden's feelings seemed reciprocal, did they not?

I have actually always been pretty "eh" about this episode -- the premise reeks of the writers realizing that a Genie-centric episode was "due", and then in trying to figure out what they should do with the character, they went one of the most obvious routes: "Hey, we should give him a love interest! Hey, there's other genies, right? And there's no reason that there wouldn't be girl genies, is there? So let's give him a genie girlfriend for an episode! And in so doing, we'll show what other genies are like and how they interact!"

And apparently, all genies are spastic and prone to impressions and cultural references. Eden is modeled after a certain type: a "sassy", sort-of "hot" but somewhat aged and rough around the edges (personally, if this weren't a kids' show, I would think that her character is a smoker) single 30-something, who is so socially savvy that she sees through people's "BS" ... but despite -- in fact, in a way, because of -- channeling her perceptiveness through sarcasm and loud-mouthedness -- two of her primary traits -- she still is popular in her social circle and general locale. (I'm bad at pinpointing accents, but with her voicing, it seems like they were going for one that is severely diluted Long Island or "Joisey" -- it makes sense that she wears hoop earrings, à la Fran Drescher's eponymous role in The Nanny, who exemplifies the "type" I'm talking about ... though admittedly, Eden's not so grating -- at least vocally -- when compared to Drescher. But it does make sense that a female genie would be comparable to a female comedian, given that Robin Williams was essentially playing himself when recording Genie's voice tracks.)

Take such a brassy, overbearing character, whose performance is modeled on one (Williams') that I'd never cared for, and feature her in an episode that amounts to a sitcom, and you have a recipe for a production that my adventure story-preferring self would never be too thrilled with (but especially at 13, when I first saw it). But this time around, I definitely admired the writing (Abis Mal's efforts to become Eden's master is adroitly woven into the the story of Genie's "Does she like me, does she hate me?" ordeal) and animation. It looks to have been animated by whatever house is the one that I favor, which I believe worked on "Never Say Nefir", "Air Feather Friends", and "Garden of Evil". Their squash-and-stretch style -- fluid in movement but exaggerated and incredibly specific in poses and facial expressions -- is certainly fitting for a comedy episode, but particularly for the hyperactive, heavily physical antics of the genie species (or at least the two presented here).

(I'd expect Robin Williams' Genie to react to a female genie
more like Tex Avery's wolf and less as a lovesick sap.)

It's bewildering that Eden is written as Genie originally was in the movie -- fully in command and the master of (no pun intended) his own powers, intelligent but preferring to be the comedian present in every situation (even if no one's looking for one), perceptive, on top of things, quick-witted, fast-talking, fast-acting, and generally having his **** together -- and yet on his part, he is still the incompetent, clueless bumbler that he all too often is throughout the series. (Do genies lose functionality after they are "freed" and are no longer in the servant-to-their-master/slave-of-the-lamp/bottle role?) One could argue that here, his ineptitude stems from him having gone gaga for Eden -- he's a nervous wreck first in asking her out and then on their date, and during the depression that he sinks into after he thinks she's stood him up, he certainly doesn't become any more alert, aware, or capable than usual. His being lovesick, and all the stomach butterflies and mind-blanking-out that comes with it, is certainly a factor. However, I question if the original Genie would've even been nearly this vulnerable -- he was so "smooth" and quick on his feet, and I could see that iteration of the character as having been a natural "player". If he hadn't been so dumbed down for the series, I would accept the premise that it was a clear exception for him to turn into a klutz and have his confidence drop when Eden enters the picture, as it's normal per genie biology for a male genie to turn to jelly when falling for and courting a female genie ... something we just hadn't previously been given the opportunity to witness.

Though taking a carriage ride to Saturn and skating on its rings actually seems pretty mellow for a genie date, considering the "cosmic, phenomenal" powers at their disposal (presumably, they can go anywhere in space and time; if "our" -- or the series', but that's semantics -- universe is but one atom to another, then the evening out that they opted for should be like what going to a gas station convenience store is to us), but the fantastical, whimsical (hmm, I think I may have used those adjectives before...) nature of this excursion is fitting, given that they're both playful magical entities and that it's played as an idyllic, storybook perfect, er, enchanted (well, can you blame me?) romp.

Being when it comes down to it common thieves and not sorcerers or mad inventors, Abis Mal and Haroud are the most suited to be used as "generic"or "default" villains. A Mozenrath, Mirage, or Mechanicles episode tends to be about their respective scheme and efforts; the spotlight is on them. Here, the spotlight is on Genie and Eden, and Abis Mal and Haroud were a logical choice. Acquiring power is always Abis Mal's goal, and having him operating from a place of desperation -- pathetically skulking under the boardwalk to hide and spy (above), and sneaking into an impoverished orphan child's hovel to steal from her -- isn't a betrayal of his character whereas it would be beneath the dignity of the other villains listed above. Abis Mal can both carry an episode as its heavy and at center stage, or function as a go-to antagonist who, as in much of this episode, is kept to the sidelines. (That term is especially appropriate, as until the end of the first act, he and Haroud spend their time observing the goings-on from a distance.)

Given the (unknown, thanks to the credits not being available online) studio that animated this episode, with their "fluid in movement but exaggerated and incredibly specific in poses and facial expressions", Abis Mal and Haroud's are especially kinetic and snappy here. (See examples above.) The energy of their performance only augments their prickly exchanges -- my favorite moments are: 1. The ever-more-observant-than-his-"master" Haroud having finally (after a struggle, as such things with the thick-skulled Abis Mal tend to be) succeeded in drawing Mal's attention to Eden, only to have her simultaneously change into a seal, prompting Abis Mal to ask, "You brought me to look at a seal?" 2. Abis Mal drawing a blank when attempting to declare his second wish and have it nullify Genie's powers (as if they ever actually got in his way?), and Haroud having to repeatedly whisper his ear, "feeding" Mal his "line" broken down into segments. 3. Haroud dead-panning, "Yes, you'll be needing that" when Abis Mal asks for "mega brain-power" in addition to being made giant-sized. His only other line until Abis Mal is thwarted and his normal size and lack of super powers are restored is a dry, "Wonderful, soon you'll be able to play children's birthday parties", in reaction to Abis Mal panicking and hopping on one foot right after having set the other one on fire. It may have been that otherwise, the writers put Haroud out of sight for this scene. We don't actually see him do this, but I picture him standing aside, his arms stiffly folded and looking away to his side, resigned to the inevitably of Abis Mal blindly botching and squandering the whole enterprise. We certainly do see some eye-rolling on Haroud's part, though, as shown below. (But couldn't we have SOMETHING besides "Abis Mal turns giant-sized"?)

A couple of miscellaneous notes:

  • So, rubbing a lamp "calls" a genie not just from inside, but if he's anywhere else, anywhere at all, makes him instantly disappear there and reappear where the lamp is? Has this been established in the franchise? Like, did Aladdin ever do it in the original movie?

  • Also, speaking of lamps, I like the nod to other genie traditions in fiction in outfitting Eden with a bottle instead. (Below, with Dhandi.)

  • I like that besides being impoverished, wearing tattered clothes, and having saddened eyes, Dhandi (above, with Eden's bottle) is smart and resourceful (as demonstrated when she repeatedly points Abis Mal in the wrong direction when he's tearing apart her hovel in search of Eden's equivalent of Genie's lamp (a bottle, but Dhandi won't let on that fact) and her seizing the bottle just in time to use her second wish to undo Abis Mal's last wish. Her being a clever, wily kid counterbalances her generosity and compassion, avoiding the "homeless child as perfect angel" trope.

  • Why do Aladdin and Abu appear to be living on the riverbank?

  • Is "gumdrop pizzza" one of those things that's supposed to be funny because it's soooo "wacky"? And a literal "leaning tower of pizza"? Really?!

  • Dhandi "needing someone" shouldn't have really precluded Genie and Eden from continuing their relationship, as Dhandi lived in Agrabah anyway. Perhaps they thought that contriving a reason for Eden and Dhandi to relocate far away would come off as just that, contrived. They could have at least specified that raising Dhandi will be a "full-time gig" ... but even that would have drawn attention to the fact that Eden would still be able to at least take nights off, especially when Dhandi's a little older. Hmm, in inevitably having to restore the status quo at the end of the episode and get Genie's new girlfriend out of the picture, maybe the writers actually, for once, avoided the traps they usually fall into and thought the sentiment, the affectation of it would convey to the viewer in full what was happening, as if it were a "natural" development that "just felt right". And more or less, it did ... although it is highly appropriate to wonder if being conditioned to "end-of-episode status quo restorations" might account for buying this type wrap-up scene wholesale.

-- Ryan


  1. I thought Eden's fast-talking personality reminded me of Elvira, while the name and bottle looked like a tip of the hat to Barbara Eden. By comparison, Fran Drescher's persona always came off as someone who thought she was cool in her head.

    I recall liking this episode because of Eden and wished they had explored the idea the idea that there were other genies out there. The original tale of Aladdin DID feature Aladdin as master of two djinn - one of the ring and one of the lamp - the ring being the inspiration for "Green Lantern". It would've been fun to meet the "Genie of the Ring".

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. 'rehab,

    After I posted this, I realized that Eden actually sound more Californian (think "valley girl") than anything. And that's Elvira in a nutshell ... as I've only just have discovered via YouTube ... for you've just caused me to realize that I've always known what Elvira looks like, bu not (until literally less than a minute ago, as I type this) what she sounds like!

    Although I thought of I Dream of Jeannie while watching this episode, it never occurred to me that Eden was a direct visual reference -- "Arabian" clothes and human anatomy are pretty typical for genies. But the name (I had never picked up on that of the sitcom genie actress, and so didn't realize the commonality) seems a sure nod.

    I, too, would have been interested in a deeper genie mythology in the series. (As I harp on it review after review, I'd really like to know the "rules" of what a genie can and can't do.) I know that Disney prohibited Tad Stones and Co. from incorporating anything from any of the other Arabian Night stories -- not sure if that would somehow have something to do with it or not. But as far as finding out more about the genie species and its history and how it interacts with other races of the magical variety, we did at least get the Muktar episodes, which I thought were great. But it could have been fleshed out more -- it's actually a similar idea to the Third Race, or the Children of Oberon, on Gargoyles, but that was better-defined.

    -- Ryan

  4. Cassandra Peterson's comedic timing and sense of humor are the real secret to Elvira's appeal beyond the obvious. I know she toyed with retiring and having someone else affect the Elvira persona - even hosting and judging a reality show that did find a "New" Elvira - but it was all the more clear that this is not an interchangeable character.

    I remember the Aladdin comic books from the 90s featuring a story about Genie attending a "Genie Convention", but I neverread it and don't own it, so I don't know how it played out. The series was never shy about creating magical creatures to make up for the lack of access to the source material, so it might be a question worth passing to Tad Stones on his Twitter page.