Category Archives: Direct-to-TV

DTV Wonders: Chronicles of Narnia (1979)

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This is the second TV/film adaptation of Narnia and oddly the older they are the more obscure they are.

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The first one was ten episodes in 1967.  Only two (episodes 1 and 8) are not lost. I found them on youtube, and they are low quality, bad music, and mostly this guy pictured above narrating.  Obviously it is…  According to IMDB it is the best of all the adaptations?  Guess I should check it out at some point.

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3rd is what I call the best one (unless 1967 comes through) made by BBC, and the last one is where I was introduced to the series, the Walden film.  I never liked it, as it takes itself far too seriously. Our subject is the second adaptation, an animated film from 1979. It came out two years after The Hobbit.   Since they both are fantasies from 20th British authors with directors best known for holiday shorts I presume this was made to cash in on the Hobbit. Just liek the Walden film was made to cash in on Jackson’s Middle Earth adaptations.  Of note, it is an American film, but for British audiences they made another one with British accents. Normally I would review the original, but the British version is all I could find. From the few scenes I could find with the original cast they are notably better than their British counterparts.

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The opening credits are bland, but based on the parentheses I think they planned on sequels. The only god thing about the prequels is this is directed by Peanuts specials director, Bill Melendez. He is great at children’s entertainment and Christian work. That does not mean he is good at adaptations.  Surely his simplistic style will go well with the tiht budget of made for TV movies.

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The story starts in media res where Lucy tells everyone about the wardrobe and is not believed.  The animation is  not appealing (and Susan gets way taller later), but at least everyone is easy to tell apart.  Unless I say otherwise always assume the animation is really bad.  It is not hideous, but it is not fun to look and no one moves very well either.  Lucy then has a flashback on her bed about being in Narnia, and I think the story is easy to follow. Sure new viewers will not know why they are in a strange house, but I think most children could guess a few reasons.  Lucy meets Mr. Tumnus and gets plenty of rather easy to follow exposition at the beginning of the film instead of the middle of the first act. The problem is Tumnus’s design.

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None of the designs are very good, but this is the worst.  Wait, in the book he actually described very similar to this, except for the green hair.  Like the Walden film the problem is Mr. Tumnus’s scene just drags on and on.  The drill from the original book is kept.  He was supposed to kidnap her and instead warns her about the white witch (I do not think she was called Jadis yet in the book, and I take this as foreshadowing a film of The Magician’s Nephew which was never made), and he escorts her back to the human world.  Edmund always has an angry look on him, and he refuses to believe her. He later catches her going into the wardrobe, and he follows her to prove there is no magical land in the wardrobe. Instead he finds snow and The White Witch.

The biggest weakness in this children’s film is the villain. I never liked the Walden film, but she was done very well there. In there and in BBC she also shows the power of evil as a tempting force that we may think is good until we are in trouble.  Here she shouts everything and is super obviously evil.  She keeps threatening to harm Edmund instead of make him think she is good.  In this scene she hardly mentions making Edmund a king and keeps talking about Turkish delight pushing the part where Edmund agrees to betray his siblings for Turkish delight. The problem is they never mention the candy being enchanted making his reasons less understandable.  Thankfully Edmund’s whining  keeps the scene watchable, as he is the best character in the series due to his flaws, even if this film harms his motivation.  He and Lucy go back and he tells Peter and Susan that there is no Narnia.

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The older two talk it over with the professor who is just dull here (a problem Walden also had).  All four then venture into the wardrobe and find Narnia.  None of his wisdom that mirrors Christian apologetics comes through.  Unlike Walden they do not waste time acting like finding snow is so whimsical and let the plot move forward. Edmund gives his lie away by mentioning pathways, and Peter nearly strangles him.  It took nearly one third of the way, but the film is good now.

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They go to see Mr. Tumnus, but his door is in need of maintenance.  A note says he has been captured by the Queen’s secret police.  Later Peter and Edmund have an interesting conversation that is normally removed from the adaptations. Edmund tells Peter that Tumnus may have been lying about protecting Lucy and he is a villain while the Queen is the hero. Peter is mildly considering it. This would be more interesting if the Witch was not so obviously terrible, but they at least help children realize that who you think is a villain is not always the case.  Edmund’s best point still stands, none of them know the way back home.  They met Mr. Beaver who tells them about them being the chosen ones, and Aslan will help them.  They make a big point about Aslan being the son of the Emperor and that Aslan is very scary even to his followers. That is very accurate to Jesus.  Despite him preaching peace and being based on forgiveness he horrified the priests and the Angels always have to say “do not be afraid.”

Edmund leaves for the witch, and all three adaptations did this scene differently. This film basically copied the book where Edmund has internal monologue, and most of it is exactly like the book. As my brother pointed out most of the best parts of the book is not the plot but the thoughts the characters have, which they would naturally not say to their family.  The film shows them thinking it, which is fine, but that works on paper way better than film.  Walden did this scene the worst by doing what they normally do, have a lengthy scene of characters just walking. BBC did it the best by having Edmund argue with himself in a reflection.  When Edmund mocks a stone lion viewers here will at least know he thought it was Aslan. I also love it how he promises to make roads when he is king.  It shows how he does want to help the land, he still mostly cares about himself, his methodical thinking, and desire for greatness in only one sentence.

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Unfortunately we then meet the worst character, the wolf captain. He just acts so rowdy like he is completely new to being a secret police member when he is supposed to be a seasoned professional.  The witch obviously turns on Edmund and immediately proclaims she will kill them all and the stone Mr. Tumnus cries.  The beavers and other humans flee to a hiding place. They see several animals celebrating that it is turning into Spring and the animation then gets notably better (less bad). They see the witch turn them into stone from a distance, and Edmund is showing way more emotion than anyone else, as he is shivering in fear and looking horrified.  Some grass is also poking through the snow. The problem is the heroes are walking instead of running making this seem less intense than it should when they flee the witch.  Eventually the witch’s sled stops and Edmund finds himself acting as a pack animal.

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The heroes finally get to Aslan and his army. I like the golden design, which makes him look more amazing than the average lion.  You also see their fear when they debate who goes first to meet him.  Aslan instead is welcoming, excited, and warm to them.  I could also hear his concern for Edmund. Sure he shows some of the sexism that was in the original book, but since women only recently started actually fighting regularly in wars I will not fault this much. In a cool scene the army then rescues Edmund from the Witch. The army beats the witch, but she escapes by magically disguising herself as a tree stump. Unfortunately this makes problems later.  Like why she did not try that against Aslan later.

We then get to one of the most iconic parts.  The Queen points out that by the ancient rules made by the Aslan’s father all traitors belong to her and Aslan has to bring Edmund to her. If not all Narnia will be destroyed in fire. Now that the witch is showing the side of evil as a destroyer her over acting is working way better… Until it drags on too long. He is able to get the witch to mysteriously relent. The best part is how Aslan reacts.

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He just looks so irritated with her overacting.  As all who know the story can predict, he then surrenders himself where he is sacrificed on a stone table. The movie shows his sadness and worry like Jesus had at Gethsemane, but he is not beaten enough. He rises from the dead and he does something that I do not think any other adaptation kept, he then plays with the girls.  I am happy to finally see it, as it shows this keeps the original’s mood. Contrary to what the Walden film did Narnia actually had a light hearted tone that was balanced with its religious symbolism. This version succeeds as a micro-adaptation while Walden only worked as a macro-adaptation.  He also says there is a battle going on and they need to get reinforcements by freeing the witch’s prisoners. He wastes time with a speech after freeing them. In a serious work this and the playing is a problem, as that time is best spent on the battle, but in this work it does not detract.  It is not taking the battle that seriously as Aslan already won the battle for good by beating death. Also as shown in the battle the heroes are being turned to stone (curable) not dying. The battle itself is quite Bad. Large battles are hard to animate with a good budget, and this is really bad except for a brief scene where Peter and Edmund are nearly killed by projectiles. Edmund heroically destroys the wand only to seemingly fall unconscious on the spot.  Aslan then jumps on the witch, and she turns to smoke.  It looks more like she teleported to safety rather than being killed.  Melendez is not good at directing battles.

Aslan then crowns the four children kings and they rule a golden age for around twenty years until they go back home.  The professor says “…This is only the beginning of your adventures in Narnia.” I think this confirms my theory that Melendez planned to adapt all seven books.

I think this is the most faithful adaptation. The story is the best part, but the animation really weakens the film.  I still consider the BBC version to be the best, and I am torn on whether I consider this to be better than the Walden film.  The visuals are way worse, and this also has big pacing problems where they move to slow, but the music is better, the dialogue is better, and the story matches the mood better.  Granted the witch and battles are inferior.

As an adult man I would not say I liked it, but I think ten year old me would have liked it.

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DTV Wonders: Arthur’s Perfect Christmas

I am a huge fan of Arthur.  I have seen every episode in the first nineteen seasons, and in my old blog (which got deleted due to my address being deleted) I reviewed every season.  Despite this I never saw this special until then due to bad times it aired.  The special was around 15 years old when I saw it and to my surprise, I did not like it.  It was too ambitious for what the writers were ready for at the time, and it was made when the show was on a rebuilding season.  It is a typical episode stretched into an hour five times longer than it should be.

“Arthur’s Perfect Christmas” is the finale to season 5, which had many issues.  In seasons 1-4 Ken Scarborough and Joe “Crazy Joe” Fallon were the head writers.  They both left after season 4 leaving Kevin Hirsch (a veteran from all 4 seasons) as the new head writer, and he wrote “Arthur’s Perfect Christmas.”  Season 5 had some notably good episodes, but the rest were heavily lacking in heart and concept.  They still had good comedy thanks to Binky.

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In the typical season 5 episode the plot is rather dull, but Binky does something funny that saves the episode, and this is no different.  His plot is rather small, as he has a few brief snippets of him trying to make a good dessert to give in a soup line.  First he made pecan pie with shells in them.  He then made brownies without sugar and banana bread with peals.  The reactions are good physical comedy for comic relief.  It is not very connected to the main plot, but that is true to the entire special.

At the time every episode was 11 minutes, starting two years later the show made occasional 22 minute episodes. At 54 minutes this is way longer than usual. The typical Christmas special would have around a forty minute plot and around 14 minutes of subplots like Binky.  This has three main plots only connected by Christmas time. 2 are Typical episodes and the other is heavily padded.  The plot goes back and forth between the three, but I will focus on one at a time.

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In one plot Muffy declares herself “the princess of Christmas” and invites everyone to a party.  Her best friend, Francine, is Jewish and instead goes to a Hanukkah celebration.  As anyone could probably guess this plot is about accepting that your friends will have some major differences and keeping friendships.  It is okay.

Buster has the best plot.  His mom is always worried about her son being miserable on Christmas since his dad will not be there.  Buster is worried about her, as she is visibly miserable during the time, and he asks her to not make Christmas a big deal and instead they make a new holiday, “Baxter Day.”

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The final plot is with the Read family, Arthur, D.W., their parents, Grandpa Dave (he almost never shows up), and Uncle Fred.  Who is Uncle Fred? It is also the last time Arthur’s original actor, Michael Yarmush, voiced him, and this is a bad farewell appearance.  His voice was way too deep this season due to him aging, and the show has an immediate problem.  It is a musical and the lead does a bad job at singing.  In previous episodes they occasionally did musicals and Yarmush always did well, but this is different.  It begins with a song that Yarmush does not sing in character.  Until I read the credits I assumed it was a different actor singing, but it is Yarmush.  His singing voice is so different that the song is terribly distracting.  Muffy and Buster had songs that were fine because they were in character and it sounded like they were actually sung by the characters.  This sounds like Arthur is lip syncing to someone else.  To make it worse Arthur is constantly complaining that it may not snow on Christmas, and he keeps saying it is not Christmas without snow.  This really bugs me.  I am in my twenties, and I have never seen snow within a week of Christmas.  Quit telling the Southern audience that we are not celebrating Christmas since it is only forty degrees here.  It becomes apparent right away that the Arthur plot line is the worst one.

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Another reason this is the worst of the three plots is all the padding.  The other two had everything advance the plot, but this could have easily been half as long.  A D.W. plot line is also introduced about wanting Tine the talking Tabby, a toy.  This leads to another problem, the A plot is full of subplots. A plot is Arthur giving mom a great gift, a glass bird, as he broke one just like it.  Other plots are waiting for snow, D.W.’s toy that is sold out, mom trying to explain that you cannot get everything you want for Christmas, introducing Uncle Fred, Uncle Fred’s car breaking and crashing with them, and a few others that are really short.  The special explores all these with lots of padding.  Arthur has a long scene shopping at the mall  with lots of padding.  The bird almost breaks several times before it does in long scenes, and it finally breaks in a very short one.  Arthur has lots of daydreams which focus more on his sibling rivalry with D.W.  It is occasionally interrupted by Binky but his filler is short and funny, and the rest is not.  To add to filler the plot ends with Arthur badly singing the same song from the beginning.

I love Arthur, and I regret that I have few good things to say about this.  Most of the jokes work, but it perfectly shows what is wrong with season 5 and the additional problem of being too long.  At the time the longest Arthur story was 11 minutes, and this is five times that amount.  The story is unconnected and full of padding.  When I reviewed all The Land Before Time movies I realized how good they were at connecting seemingly unrelated plots at the end both thematically and in the climax for a great scene.  That is what this needs.  The only scene that connects all three plots is a party scene early in the special.  On a positive note it has a uniqueness among Christmas specials due to its to one thing.  Most of them dominantly take place on Christmas Eve, but this takes place dominantly on Christmas day.  That is not enough to save it, but it is at least not generic.  Sadly, this is a very bad representation of Arthur.

Sometime in the future I will review an hour long Arthur special that is good.

DTV Wonders: The Hobbit (1977)

It is not actually Direct-to-video, but Direct-to-TV.  I decided that is close enough for the best Hobbit movie.  This is a traditional animated film by Rankin and Bass using the resources that would become Studio Ghibli.

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It opens with the book being opened and Gandalf narrating about Hobbits.  Gandalf is awesome as expected.  He is mysterious, wise, powerful, and always on time like he always is.

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Bilbo is much fatter than he is in Peter Jackson’s version, and he is more aggravated to realize a wizard came to him.  The Dwarves immediately show up and sing “That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates.”  They eat all his food quickly.  Like in Jackson’s version Bilbo is scared of dying, but unlike Jackson’s films he is immediately interested in seeing the rest of Middle Earth.

 

The Song “Greatest Adventure plays when he sleeps. He early on wakes up in the middle of the night and realizes he wants to go when he stares at the full moon like nature is calling for him to go.  He then dream about being a king with everyone loving him at the lyrics “a man who’s a dreamer…” The song describes what he will not find if he stays like passion and fun.  This is a great credit song and it only comes in about nine minutes into the movie.

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Once they actually start leaving Bilbo quickly misses his home and tries to comfort himself by thinking of it.  It gets worse when Thorin, the Dwarf leader, pressures him into robbing trolls.  In Jackson’s version the trolls had already robbed them, but here they were not bothering them at all, as Rankin and Bass used a more negative portrayal of the dwarves.  I think that is more accurate to the book.  Bilbo is caught and then the rest of the dwarves, but Bilbo escapes to a cave since the trolls are okay with losing the teeny snack.  So far so good, useful wizard and everyone else is useless like in Tolkien’s book.  Gandalf saves them, and while Thorin is mad at Bilbo, he did find the cave of the trolls’ treasure which includes swords.  Here another distinction occurs between the animated and live-action dwarves.  The animated ones seem to have no weapons before now or plan at all.  They really are helpless without Bilbo and Gandalf.  Even worse Thorin has no map reading abilities.  When Gandalf leaves Thorin gets them to sleep in a cave which is “the perfect place.”

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They are all captured, but Bilbo again escapes.  The dwarves are saved by Gandalf, while Bilbo is lost and confronted by Gollum.  Gollum’s voice cannot compare to Andy Serkis’s performance or his great performance is Bakshi’s film, but his design is notably different in a good way. He looks like a frog-human hybrid, and he looks like a physical threat.  The riddle game goes like it does in the books, and Bilbo uses his new magic ring to escape.

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In one scene a dwarf saves Bilbo from Wargs, and I think this is the only time a dwarf is helpful.  At Mirkwood forest Gandalf leaves and appoints Bilbo as his surrogate and group scribe.

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Bilbo is forced to climb a tree.  “I couldn’t argue.  My contract is vague on several points.”  A funny attack on loopholes there, and when he sees how pretty Mirkwood looks he realizes he wants to be there adventuring, not back in his home, a huge change from the beginning of the film.  Unfortunately the rest of Mirkwood is not well made by the film.  He saves the dwarves from spiders, but the stabbing animation is bad making the scene pale compared to its book counterpart.  Also “the wood elves have returned.”  That appearance was deleted making a plot hole.

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Also they look nothing like Elrond, and this design is not good.  Fortunately getting them out is a great scene demonstrating Bilbo’s intelligence, the rivalry between dwarves and elves, and it is ironically way less cartoony than the live-action version.  One notable thing is the movie is only seventy-seven minutes long.  The dwarves are mostly extras (which is better than they were in Jackson’s version).  At Laketown the people also get demoted to extra.  Only their future king seems to have lines, as they are just a brief stop.

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Bilbo on the mountain befriends a bird, the Thrush.  He finds the entrance to the mountain in a much better scene than what Jackson used due to the better pacing.  Then Thorin says Bilbo needs to go earn his 1/14th of the treasure.  That is how it happened in the book where Thorin ignores all Bilbo has done for them, and Bilbo points out his contract never said he had to save them from spiders and elves.  to his disappointment nobody comes to help except Thrush.

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Smaug here is magnificent.  Instead of a generic dragon design he looks like a mammal.  His actor Richard Boone, makes him sound like he is from a Western, and it works for something so powerful.  Some find his design too fat, but I did notice until a few watches.  He does decide the burglar is from Laketown.  To save them Bilbo sends the Thrush to warn them about his one weak spot, which results in their future king slaying the dragon. Back with the company only Bilbo shows any interest in the men’s safety, and Bilbo begins to act like the leader.  When the dragon attacks he guides them to safety and gets everyone else in first.  He then leads them to he gate out against Thorin’s will.  It ends with the Battle of the Five Armies.  No dragon sickness it is just the dwarves are greedy, the elf king wants his old treasure despite having been a pain, and the men feel entitled to something after killing the dragon. Bilbo wants to give up fractions of the treasure since there is plenty, but Thorin says he does not understand war.  These few minutes have more weight than the last Hobbit film.  Bilbo hopes to be captured resulting in Thorin calling him a coward.  Bilbo responds that he has been heroic while Thorin has hid. Gandalf then warns them about the attacking goblins.  Humorously the three kings then call each other their closest friends and brothers, as they join against a common enemy.  In the book only three dwarves die.  Here seven die.  Thorin thanks Bilbo for his work, and the two reconcile after the devastation of battle.  Bilbo arrives back at the Shire with some gold and the film ends with the ring shining indicating a sequel made by different people.

The animation is the weakness.  I like the designs, but movement and fighting are lackluster, and it sticks out at times that they were squeezing their dimes.

I hate to keep putting down Jackson’s work (especially with all the good he has done for the books), but this is better than his trilogy.  Bilbo does not become a side character, the plot is faster paced, elves do not take over, it has better humor, very good songs, interesting designs mostly, and it always felt faithful to the children’s story it was based off.

 

 

 

DTV Wonders: Scooby-Doo in Arabian Knights

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Scooby-Doo as a franchise has been around since 1969 menaing it will turn 50 next year, and this film nearly killed it at age 25 in 1994.  A Pup Named Scooby-Doo ended in 1991 and no new Scooby-doo episodes were made until 2002 due to the franchise being saved in 1998 by Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island.  Now as a fan of the franchise I had to check out what nearly killed it.

It starts with Scooby-Doo and Shaggy having a magic carpet taxi ride.  The animation is changed to better match the frame story, but that looks distractedly odd.  To make it worse no one’s mouth closes all the way, until they do in the frame stories.

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They arrive and get a job as a royal food tester.  They then eat everything, realize they are professional poison checkers and will die from it.  They then also realize the Caliph now has no food and will kill them for it.

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They accidently break his glasses and Shaggy hides in drag.  The blind Caliph mistakes Shaggy for a suitor and his future wife thinking he is beautiful, smart, and witty.  Clearly he needs a woman with the last two traits to complete him.  Shaggy’s brilliant plan is then to tell him a story so boring it will put him to sleep.  I suggest remembering that audience.  Shaggy thinks the most boring story is about Yogi Bear in a rip-off of Disney’s Aladdin.  There many good descriptions of Aladdin and Yogi-Bear but boring is not one of them.

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Frame story one is Aladdin (the Disney version) but gender flopped with Aliyah-Din.  I will definitely hate her more now that I have to constantly type that name.  Just replace the Blue genie with Yogi-Bear as a genie and this is what the film uses in 1994, two years after it came out.  It has many problems like most of Yogi’s jokes are him begging his master to wish for a picnic basket, which he does constantly.  The Prince (no name given) does a big speech about not falling for love at first sight, which is then exactly how he falls in love (lust to be exact) for Aliyah-Din.  Jafar’s counterpart has a boss who is an emerald voiced by Tony Jay.  He then disappears after one scene making him pointless and a waste of money in hiring Jay and animating it.  Its climax and twist ending is just awful.  Also it is just a dull rushed version of the Disney film, and overall it is not good and takes up way too much of the film.

It does have some redeeming qualities.  Aliyah-Din wears a light brown cloak mostly, and with how few female protagonists do that it is refreshingly different.  While this is clearly a coincidence it also has two genies (Yogi and Boo-Boo) just like the original story.

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The big help is Jafar’s counterpart Haman.  I legitimately like watching him.  I do not like the Jafar archetype, an obviously evil villain who is already high up and wants to go a little higher.   There is nothing about Haman’s appearance that indicates villain and for any viewers who have not seen the Disney film will probably be surprised he is the bad guy until it is revealed.  He also does not rely on a magic mind control staff.  He is simply good with his words and legitimately convincing that he is just trying to help, and many of his scenes from Disney’s Aladdin are an improvement because of that.  One reason Prince is not married is Haman is telling him he should not rush marriage choices, a good message that most people would listen to, and it fits his agenda of keeping the Sultan heirless to help him take over later.  How does he get Aliyah-Din to enter the cave?  He tells her the Sultan has a great disease and only the lamp can save him.  He tells her it very humbly and is very polite.  Even when he snaps he apologizes saying that his brief anger was due to his worry about the Sultan’s health (very reasonable).  While the villain cannot save the film he is a major benefit keeping it watchable.

This story takes up most of the runtime, and apparently Scooby-Doo in Arabian Knights lacks a certain thing promised, like Scooby-Doo characters.  Yogi-Bear should have been marketed.  Yikes Aliyah-din only takes up 34 minutes?  It felt way longer.  Well as expected this does not put the Caliphate to sleep.  Surprisingly he does love the story and is even more in love with Shaggy.  Shaggy now makes the right choice to tell him an unromantic comedy, and this is actually a big improvement and the only full part worth the watch.  It stars the mostly forgotten Hanna-Barberra character, Magilla Gorilla.

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This next part is simple good comedy with Magilla mistaking Sinbad’s raiding ship as a cruise ship.  They then hunt down various treasures with hijinks ensuing.  There are still two problems.  The previous story is just boring and by this time I am not interested any more.  Also the first treasure hunt is the longest and also not fun to watch.  The second one is the great one which involves Magilla and Sinbad being on a roller coaster with jewels all around it, as they try to steal the valuables while avoiding all the death threats.  This is also where Sinbad becomes a great comedic villain.  He has a good mix of legitimately caring for Magilla and the flaw of being more interested in the treasure.  The third voyage is mixed, but Sinbad keeps it funny.  When Sinbad loses everything I am kind of sad to see it, because I really enjoyed him and felt he was going through character development from a greedy criminal to a caring boss.

The film ends with the Caliph deciding the fun of the stories made him forget his hunger.  Shaggy and Scooby are made royal story tellers.

This film fails in context.  It should have been advertised as a Hanna-Barberra film, not Scooby-Doo who hardly has any role.  The Sinbad story should have been first.  Give the audience a short good comedy before the main event that way they could enjoy the better one and then at least go into the second one already happy.  If not that then greatly shorten the Aladdin story and make Sinbad more than a comedy by adding in a real arc for Sinbad.  That had plenty of potential for it, but it was only treated as a tacked on epilogue to the main event despite being vastly superior.  While not the worst Scooby-Doo movie I have seen it is the one I think the fewest people would like. It is really bad.