Home > Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy > The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)

In 1797, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote a cautionary ballad about an apprentice sorcerer who learns a hard lesson about calling up spirits he doesn’t know how to control. In 1897, Paul Dukas wrote a symphonic poem inspired by the ballad. In 1940, the symphonic poem was adapted into a segment in Fantasia, starring Mickey Mouse as the ambitious apprentice to a powerful sorcerer named Yinsed. It proved so popular that it was included in 1999’s Fantasia 2000. The next logical step, of course, was to make a Nicholas Cage movie about it.

Wait… what?

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a fantasy-adventure movie produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, directed by Jon Turteltaub, and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, inspired by all that stuff I mentioned before. It stars Nicholas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Monica Belucci, Teresa Palmer, and Alice Krige.

In the year 740, the sorcerer Merlin has three apprentices: Veronica Gorloisen (Belucci), Maxim Horvath (Molina), and Balthazar Blake (Cage). Horvath joins forces with Morgan le Fay (Krige, as herself), betraying Merlin and mortally wounding him before the other two can stop him. While Balthazar fights Horvath, Morgana tries to kill Balthazar, only to be stopped by Veronica, who sacrifices herself and absorbs Morgana’s soul into her own body. Balthazar is forced to trap the fused sorceresses in a device called the Grimhold, resembling a set of Russian nesting dolls, in order to prevent Morgana from killing Veronica from within. Before dying, Merlin gives Balthazar a dragon ring that will choose the Prime Merlinian, the one who will be Merlin’s successor and stop Morgana once and for all. Over the centuries, Balthazar is shielded against aging and death as he searches for a sorcerer worthy of this title, in the process hunting down those who would free Morgana and trapping them in successive layers of the Grimhold.

In the year 2000, 10-year-old Dave Stutler encounters Balthazar in a Manhattan antiques store. Balthazar offers him the ring, hoping he might hold promise, and it accepts him – but then Dave accidentally opens the Grimhold, freeing Horvath and getting a terrifying glimpse of the magic world that leaves Balthazar and Horvath trapped for ten years in a Chinese Urn. Nobody believes David’s account of the wizard battle, as there is no apparent evidence of any such thing left behind in the shop, and over the years he comes to the conclusion that he’d hallucinated it all. Ten years later, the two sorcerers are freed, and Dave is a physics student in college who just wants to be a normal guy. Too bad fate has other things in mind for him…

When I first heard about this movie, I thought, “Okay, feature-length film based on a segment from Fantasia. Starring Nicholas Cage. Made by Disney. This will most likely be flashy but mediocre.” Cage’s movies have tended to vary widely in quality, and the idea of sorcery in the modern world has been done before, with Harry Potter and The Dresden Files. Does it work here? Hells yes. The brief prologue quickly got me up to speed with the setting’s context, and once the plot was kicked off, it gave a perfectly good reason why wizard battles aren’t reported every day in the modern world: normal folk simply can’t see magic. Their brains come up with another explanation for what happened, regardless of how flashy it is, like in the Discworld books, because they “know” that magic doesn’t exist anymore. That said, the special effects were great, and while some of the sorcery looked like obvious CGI, it was okay because, well, it’s magic. Most of it was very subtle, though, and sequences like the car chase through the mirrors and the Chinatown dragon were very well done. And the giant metal eagle that serves as Balthazar’s aerial mount – wow! Dammit, I want a giant metal eagle! There is also a hilarious sequence near the middle that serves as basically an extended shout out to the Disney segment, and while the circumstances were slightly different, it is true to the spirit of the original.

The writing and acting were also spot on. Nicholas Cage as Balthazar was understated and looked a bit tired, but then, he’s been alive for over a thousand years. Alice Krige as Morgana le Fay is basically every character she has ever played: hauntingly beautiful, vaguely spooky, and perfectly willing to devour your soul. Alfred Molina, whom I’d previously seen as reluctant monster Dr. Octopus in Spider-Man 2, was gleefully evil as Horvath and left his share of bite marks in the scenery. Jay Baruchel as Dave is effective as an unwitting apprentice sorcerer who spend half the movie trying to wrap his mind around the news that magic is real, but once he gets into it (and after the, er, broom incident) you get the idea that he has great things ahead of him.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was an unexpected delight from Disney, and I would highly recommend it to fans of “modern magic” tales. It has action, magic, humor, and a well-developed plot that will delight any fan of modern fantasy.

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