11 August 2019 | jimjo1216
UPA shoehorns Mister Magoo into the story of Aladdin and his magic lamp
"1001 Arabian Nights" marks the first foray into feature-length films for both Mister Magoo and UPA. The result is somewhat lackluster, as Magoo is given a supporting role in his own big debut. The movie is a retelling of the classic Arabian Nights tale of Aladdin and his magic lamp, complete with beautiful princess, evil sorcerer, genie, and flying carpet. Magoo is added as Aladdin's uncle, a father figure urging his nephew to get married. The familiar plot doesn't need Magoo to help it along, although he bumbles into a few key scenes. The film is hardly a showcase for Magoo, yet it's not a very compelling animated fantasy, either.
The movie seems to lack inspiration, and never really justifies its existence. Why was this movie made? Was it primarily a vehicle for UPA's biggest star, Mister Magoo? Or was it a vision of a fairy tale classic that was begging to be brought to the screen? In the end, it doesn't seem like either. The story is weak and padded with tepid gags. The songs, such as they are, are weak. UPA's signature stylized aesthetic doesn't quite shine through, and the limited animation does the film no favors. Magoo winds up playing second-fiddle to the generic romantic leads (a scenario which calls to mind the treatment of the Marx Bros. in their movies at MGM), not to mention the hammy villain. "1001 Arabian Nights" falls short as a feature-length Magoo adventure, but the Arabian Nights tale is a little too dull to stand on its own without him. (So what was driving this movie to get made?)
UPA decided to keep the "attractive" human leads (Aladdin and the princess) less stylized and cartoony than the characters around them (possibly to ground the romantic drama at the heart of the plot). But the more "natural" character designs feel out of place in the stylized cartoony world, and the animated characters seem almost as wooden as their voice acting. (Live-action stars Dwayne Hickman and Kathryn Grant were brought in to voice the characters.) Aladdin is particularly bland; at least Princess Yasminda is given some exotic flair.
The movie is not bad, though. Just a bit underwhelming. It's diverting enough as an animated fairy tale, innocuous enough for the whole family to enjoy. There are flashes of UPA's signature visual flair, mostly in the opening credits and in the backgrounds. Fans of Disney's "Aladdin" (1992) will find it interesting to note the parallels between the two films, which are quite similar in plot. (Maybe Disney animators had been inspired by this film on some level, or maybe each film is just a faithful depiction of the original story.)
The most interesting character in the film is Hans Conried's Wicked Wazir, a colorful comedic villain whose schemes are somehow always foiled by Magoo (oblivious as always). Conried almost single-handedly breathes life into the film with his performance (think his Captain Hook in Disney's "Peter Pan", but kookier). No one does comic exasperation like Hans Conried. Along with Jim Backus as Magoo, the voice cast also features veteran vocal performers Alan Reed (Fred Flintstone) as the sultan and the prolific Daws Butler (Yogi Bear, "Fractured Fairy Tales", etc.) as the rugmaker and the royal accountant.