So you work at Disney, or more specifically for Jerry Bruckheimer, and he comes in one day and goes “we have done a movie about a theme-park ride and a movie about a videogame…what’s next? Ideas anyone?” This has to be how The Sorcerer’s Apprentice came about, with the idea to make a live action feature based on a scene in Disney’s famous 1940 animated movie Fantasia. Granted it’s an iconic scene, featuring Mickey Mouse as an apprentice wizard using his gifts to animate mops and brooms to help him short-cut his chores, but it would need to be more tangible to become a full-length movie. So how did they get on?
The movie opens with Dave Stutler aged 10, an average enough kid whose sole focus is getting one of his classmates, a pretty young blonde named Becky, to like him. So he passes her a questionnaire with the simple question Friend or Girlfriend? Brave boy! Before he can read the message however it is whisked away by a gust of wind that brings both the paper and Dave to the door of Balthazar Blake. Turns out old Balthazar is a wizard and he’s been searching for Merlin’s heir for hundreds of years. As luck would have it that’s Dave, but before any training can begin Dave accidentally sets Balthazar’s arch-nemesis Maxim Horvath free from prison in a Russian doll. Cue the first of many battles with ends with Balthazar and Horvath stuck in a Chinese vase for 10 years. This experience traumatises young Dave and the intervening years are just enough for him to have comes to terms and moved on. Now a college grad working on experiments he finds his life turned upside down again when Balthazar and Horvath re-emerge from the jar. Balthazar must make Dave realise his potential so that the pair can stop Horvath releasing his mistress Morgana and destroying the world!
Suffice to say that there is a lot going on in this movie (that story above is the first 20 minutes) so it’s good that there is some real acting talent on hand. Nicolas Cage, who is always watchable (even when he’s rubbish), as Balthazar is only a slightly more crazy version of himself but he exudes an easy charm and likeability, and provides almost all the comic relief by playing straight off Jay Baruchel. Baruchel too manages to make his awkward character likeable. With Dave he’s playing the nerdy character once again but his reactions to the weirdness are spot on and the banter between him and Cage feels real. Alfred Molina turns up in usual scene-stealing style as Horvath, and though he is a tad over the top at times, he is a villain you can boo and hiss, whilst secretly rooting for more. The rest of the characters are wasted against the central trio. Teresa Palmer’s Becky is so two-dimensional it’s boring. How is it that she never questions Dave’s assertions that he is a wizard? Monica Bellucci is not in the film long enough to have any impact and Alice Krige’s Morgana has all the latent threat of Sponge Bob. Criminally wasted is Toby Kebbell, who shows glimpses of comic ability. The stage magician turned evil sorcerer has so much potential, but he’s relegated to being the errand boy of Horvath.
There is perhaps too much plot in this movie as everything from the opening narrative, to the wizard training, to the climatic battle is rushed. Maybe it should have been split in two. Certainly seeing more of Horvath and Balthazar’s back-story would be welcome as they are by far the most interesting characters and it is their feud that powers the movie. All those writers, there are 5 credited (Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal, Matt Lopez, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard), have given the movie a strange feel. Yes it rips by but there is never enough time given to any one scene or story point, and this leads to the under-developed characters and lack of emotional entanglement in the action. Mind you the CGI looks amazing. The Chinese dragon scene is a particular highlight. The action sequences too and nicely interspersed so as to keep the momentum and offer a new distraction for kids. That this is aimed at kids is very obvious but there are a number of things that adults can relate to. Perhaps the inevitable sequel will fare better on the writing front, but for now we should be happy with a competently directed, well-acted, decent summer blockbuster.
There is magic here, but the rushed and convoluted plot stop it becoming magical. A pleasing diversion and one the kids are sure to enjoy.