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The Associated Press - June 27, 1994

Home Video News and Reviews

By Douglas J. Rowe

The critics were 50-50, at best. Retailers felt skittish, wondering how many units of the "Aladdin" sequel to order. After all, Robin Williams had gone "poof!" from the Genie role. And the original animation and songwriting teams had disappeared, too.

Walt Disney Co. looked like it may not have had all of its ducks in a row (and we're not talking Huey, Dewey and Louie here).

Just shows how appearances can be deceiving.

"The Return of Jafar" is riding as high as a flying carpet, No. 1 on the Billboard best-seller charts (for kids, and overall).

Maybe the success of Disney's first direct-to-video animated movie (\\$ 22.99) can be attributed simply to a carryover effect. Momentum from the original hit aside, the catalyst of this plot is the redemption of the conniving parrot, Iago, whose voice was supplied in both movies by comedian Gilbert Gottfried.

"He's like the Michael Corleone of parrots. It's like this movie is 'The Last Temptation of Iago,'" Gottfried says, noting that his character is "fighting his evil urges and his good urges."

"In 'The Return of Jafar,' Iago winds up doing the right things, even if it's for the wrong reasons," says Gottfried, otherwise known for his standup comedy, his guest appearances on "Night Court" and his edgy movie roles, like the accountant in "Beverly Hills Cop II."

The comedian, whose idiot-savant delivery also serves him as the host of USA cable network's "Up All Night" series of cheesy movies, then asks: "Is that pretentious?"

During an interview in a midtown Manhattan office, Gottfried displays an open-eyed normalcy in contrast to the squinty, scrunch-faced, "Rain Man"-like comic audiences often see.

Still, it's difficult for him to give a straight answer.

He artfully dodges the question whether that's him on stage, a ratcheted-up version of himself, or another persona altogether.

"I'm actually, in real life, tall, blond and Gentile," he says, knowing you know that he's diminutive, dark-haired and Jewish.

Try the question: How did he get the Iago role in the first place? And he answers: "Basically, Disney looked at 'Aladdin' and said 'This film is too Gentile even by our standards and we got to get a Jew.' And they got on the hot line to me."

He says he had heard Disney was considering Joe Pesci and Danny DeVito, adding, "So basically the call was out in Hollywood for short, unattractive ethnic types."

His style has been described as like nails on a blackboard - and that's by the people who like him, Gottfried jokes. "One critic once described me as the most unpleasant thing to happen to show business since the snuff film."

Such opinions are OK with him, though.

"As much as you don't like to have people hate you, still the idea that they hate you is very good, because that means you have some real effect on them. Rather than just be one of those people that people go, 'Oh, yeah, I think I know what you mean.' Or 'He's OK.'"

Gottfried, who also frequently appears on shock jock Howard Stern's nationally syndicated radio show, says: "Even he gets offended by me."

Recalling how the Fox network got irked three years ago with his routine about Pee Wee Herman and masturbation during the Emmys telecast, he says: "I'm too dirty for Fox, but clean enough for Disney. Yeah, it is a schizophrenic thing."

He says he manages to be "wholesome and disgusting" somehow, joking, "I'm like a cross between Mother Teresa and Jeffrey Dahmer."

The stream-of-consciousness conversation returns to "The Return of Jafar" and how he sings two of the five songs in the 66-minute movie.

"It was fun for me," he says. "I don't know if it will be fun for the audience."

He says he's never had music or voice lessons of any kind and wonders: "Can you believe it?"

Both reviewers and the parents of the children who raptly enjoy "Aladdin" and now "Jafar" clearly consider him an acquired taste, he allows.

"There would be rave reviews that would start off, 'I normally hate Gilbert Gottfried, but ...' I got a bunch of them like that."

At one point in "Aladdin," the parrot says, "How the ..." when he sees that Aladdin has escaped. "And some woman wrote in complaining about the casting of me and how filthy I was, because although all I said was 'How the ...' everyone knew what word would be coming up next."

And what word would that be? "Well, that you can put in your contest part of the paper," he replies.

As a result of his Disney duties, he says, a lot of people say their kids imitate him now - "which to me is a sign of being a bad parent."

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