"The Return of Jafar" (Walt Disney Home Video, $22.99 retail, though many outlets are selling it for as low as $14.99) is many things - the first made-for-video feature-length film from Disney; a sequel to "Aladdin," the biggest moneymaking animated feature of all time; a natural sell-through tape for parents looking for something new and fairly inexpensive for the kids. . . .

It's also a disappointment, especially if you are expecting anything better than run-of-the-mill TV animation. And it's kind of sad that the preview for "The Lion King," which precedes "Jafar" on the tape, far outclasses what follows.Having said that, however, let's remember that the current state of TV animation is not what it once was. No longer is Saturday morning television dominated by the likes of stiff pictures with moving mouths. "Tiny Toons," "Animaniacs," the new "Batman" cartoon series - even "The Simpsons" in prime time - have bolstered the level of acceptable animation for daily and weekly TV.

In terms of its look, "The Return of Jafar" is on a par with those shows - though it's not even close to the classical, fluid-movement style that is the hallmark of Disney's theatrical work.

And since this one costs just a bit less than videos of Disney's animated classics - "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" will be on tape this fall, for Pete's sake - we've been conditioned to expect something better than what we see in "The Return of Jafar."

The songs here (excluding the opening number, which reprises a tune from "Aladdin") are very weak. Several of the characters look and sound different, and not for the better. And the humor, though some of it is fitfully amusing, seems like a retread of the original film . . . in other words, more of the same.

The sequel's story picks up where "Aladdin" left off, as the former street thief and his pet monkey Abu decide to play Robin Hood, taking stolen goods from a hood named Abis Mal ("abysmal" . . . get it?). They they spread the booty among the poor of Agribah.

Meanwhile, that cantankerous parrot Iago escapes from the black lamp - and the evil clutches of sorcerer Jafar (who, you will recall, was turned into the genie of the lamp). Soon, he meets up with Aladdin and attempts to go straight. So, Aladdin brings Iago to the palace, deceiving Jasmine along the way and causing a rift in their relationship.

But when the blue Genie returns from an around-the-world trip, he invites himself to stay at the palace and attempts to help Aladdin patch things up. He also comes to the rescue after Jafar teams up with Abis Mal to get revenge on Aladdin, which leads to the climactic battle of the genies.

As you might expect, the most amusing bits of business here belong to the Genie, who must to get along without the help of Robin Williams this time around. Instead, Dan Castellaneta, who also does the voice of Homer on "The Simpsons," provides the Genie's voice, and while he's not quite as manic or charming as Williams, the artists do come up with some funny visual comedy to accompany his patter.

Also along for the ride this time is Jason Alexander, a "Seinfeld" regular, who does the voice of Abis Mal. And Gilbert Gottfried is back as the voice of Iago, this time getting boosted to a co-starring role.

The bottom line: "The Return of Jafar" is just OK, but it's strictly kids' stuff.

When this one's on, parents probably won't find themselves drawn to the TV to catch a glimpse of the Genie's antics, as probably happens with "Aladdin."

At least that's what happens at my house.


ANIMATION LEGEND: WINSOR McCAY - Billed as the first pioneer of animated cartoons, Winsor McCay enriched the days of silent cinema with some of the most charming pen-and-ink films ever made. This video includes all of his surviving works, from rather ungainly romps starring Gertie the Dinosaur to an exquisite Little Nemo adventure with hand-painted colors; also on view is a chilling World War I propaganda film about "The Sinking of the Lusitania" and a fantasy called "The Flying House" that's as bizarre as anything in McCay's popular "Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend" series. Lively music by R.J. Miller accompanies the show. (Milestone Film & Video, New York)

- David Sterritt

(Christian Science Monitor)