Yes, I know that there are people who on principle skip anything Jerry Bruckheimer produces. And yes, I know that there are those people who try to miss anything Nicolas Cage appears in because they simply don’t like him. And there are probably a third group who believe that Fantasia is sacrosanct and must not ever be touched again by human hands… But I’m evidently not one of those.
I’ll admit that I was skeptical that it could be done. Who could possibly write a script for a two hour film that’s based on the short animated feature as part of 1940’s Fantasia from Walt Disney? How could you take Mickey Mouse and the dancing mops, brooms, and buckets and modernize it for today’s audiences?
Well, I think they actually managed to pull it off. We went as a family and all of us really enjoyed The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with Cage, Jay Baruchel, and Alfred Molina playing the lead roles. Hopefully it will make more money than it has so far so that we can continue to see the adventures of “Dave the Sorcerer”.
What is it about? It starts in medieval times with the saga of Merlin (James A. Stephens) and his three apprentices – Veronica (Monica Bellucci), Balthazar (Cage), and Horvath (Molina). When Horvath turns on his friends and master to join the evil wizardess Morgana (Alice Krige) in an attempt to take over the world and killing Merlin – Veronica sacrifices herself and binds Morgana’s soul within herself, and Balthazar captures them both in a Russian Doll magic item. That starts a war between the Merlinians, with Balthazar at the lead, and the Morganians seeking to free Morgana to take over the world.
Balthazar spends the next thousand years trying to find what Merlin called “the Prime Merlinian” – an individual with the potential to take Merlin’s place in the world. Along the way, he captures other evil wizards in the doll as they continue to try to release their queen.
When young Dave stumbles into Balthazar’s magic shop while on a field trip, it’s revealed that he is the Prime Merlinian Balthazar’s been looking for all this time… But through a series of mishaps, Dave unwittingly releases Horvath and a battle ensues that eventually finds the two ancient enemies locked away for 10 years. That gives Dave some time to get some therapy for what nobody believes he saw.
And that brings us to the present day, with Dave having become a physics geek working with electricity and plasma. I won’t spoil the rest, but suffice it to say that it’s a wild ride where Balthazar and Dave must work together to try and save the world from Horvath and Morgana.
Before I saw the film, I read a few reviews chastising the exposition at the beginning that sets the stage for the transition to the modern day. As such, I was a bit concerned. Turned out that I need not have been. Though director Jon Turteltaub might have chosen to “show, not tell” that section of the story, I think it would have added another 30+ minutes to the already two hour long film. As such, to keep it short enough to play frequently at most movie theaters I think it was a good choice to avoid the lengthier storytelling option.
It was obvious that Cage and Baruchel had a good time working together. The relationship between Balthazar and Dave seems genuine and the Master/Apprentice ties that bind them together lead to some touching moments. Molina simply ate up the screen as Horvath and cut a dashing figure in what looked like a late 18th century/early 19th century suit, hat, and cane. Even Teresa Palmer as Dave’s eventual girlfriend Becky played the “fish out of water” character well, even going so far as to play a pivotal role in the climax.
The only character I didn’t like was Toby Kebbel’s magician Drake Stone, the evil wizard who helps Horvath set Morgana free. Stone played a Criss Angel-type stage magician who was in it more for stroking his ego than for any perfection of his art. But I think we were supposed to dislike the slimy character – so if that was the case then bravo to Kebbel’s acting chops.
The special effects were spectacular. From the dragon in Chinatown to the car chases on the flip side of a mirror, the effects seamlessly transported me into a world where magic exists. I found myself watching, wide-eyed and enjoying every minute in that world – wishing there was a bit more magic day to day in our own.
For me, Bruckheimer has struck again as he did with films like Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and National Treasure. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice offers escapism and a big budget popcorn movie where you can just sit back and enjoy the ride.
If you don’t like Bruckheimer, Nick Cage, or the idea that a Mickey Mouse cartoon could be made into a big budget live action adventure movie, I’d recommend that you stay home. But I’m certainly glad I went to see it.
This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.
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