Review: Sorcerer's Apprentice Expands in Smart, Exciting Ways
by Jeremy Kirk
July 17, 2010
Taking a small story and building on it for the purposes of feature film making is nothing new for Disney or Jerry Bruckheimer. With ample success in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, you knew there would be more and more re-teaming. Bring in the success the Jon Turteltaub/Nicolas Cage collaboration found with both National Treasure films, and you've got a four-tiered consortium just looking for a property to expand.
Enter The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the animated short from Disney's 1940 classic Fantasia, which, itself being based on the 1797 German poem, Der Zauberlehrling, is no stranger to interpretation. But you can't have 90 to 120 minutes of a young apprentice, with Jay Baruchel stepping in for Mickey Mouse, in the new film, creating living brooms and subsequently chopping them to bits. So you expand on it, make the powerful sorcerer, played here by Nicolas Cage and one of his many, ever-changing hairstyles, one of three subjects of Merlin himself, and have him living in modern day Manhattan. Of course, you have to have a villain of the piece, so you create Horvath, played by Alfred Molina, and set him with the task of releasing an all-powerful sorceress that will create chaos throughout the world. Sounds like a feature length film to me.
But The Sorcerer's Apprentice doesn't just expand on the original poem and animated short in interesting ways. It certainly does that. The screenplay does a fine job including science into the world of sorcery, and there is far more of interest here than simply good guys trying to stop bad guys. Turteltaub's direction here, stylish and quick paced, is perfect for the story being conveyed. The film doesn't sit idle for long stretches of time, but the action never feels shoe-horned in just for the sake of having an action set piece. With the story at hand, put together by five different screenwriters so there's no telling who is responsible for what, it calls for every bit of action, and Turtletaub executes it all skillfully. The special effects, CG and all, are top notch save for a chase through Chinatown involving a dragon. That was CG heavy and not particularly good CG.
I did say the action never feels shoe-horned, but one scene in particular should have been left on the cutting room floor and, possibly, stomped on a couple of times. There are many references in the film to the story told in the animated short from Fantasia. There are references to other properties, as well, and a slight nod to Raider of the Lost Ark was a favorite considering Molina's presence here. However, taking the overall story of the apprentice using his magic to create living brooms to do his bidding and pasting it in some random spot in the film was not the way to get the point across. I understand why the scene is there. This was the entirety of the original poem, so, at the very least, a passing reference was necessary. But playing out the entire story in a scene that has very little bearing on the rest of the film comes off awkward and ends up the clunkiest aspect of the entire film.
The comedy doesn't work its magic all that much, either. There are definite moments of levity that work. A lot of this comes from Cage, believe it or not, and Molina and Toby Kebbell as Horvath's own Criss Angel-esque apprentice get their own moments lightness. But Baruchel ends up being the instigator for a lot of it, and it grows tired fast. Much of this stems from the subplot of Baruchel's love interest, played by Teresa Palmer. Like the scene mimicking the original story, it simply doesn't seem necessary until far too late in the film when the idea of balancing love and wizardry actually becomes the catalyst for something. It isn't introduced until late in the game, and, up until then, it feels out of place and distracting.
There's an interesting dynamic to the film between Cage and Baruchel, though. There is chemistry between them, but it's played out with a father/son mentality that genuinely surprised me. Cage plays the mentor role well, even if it feels he takes a back seat late in the story. Everyone does a fine job here, with Molina and Kebbell absolutely shining in every scene they appear in. Cage's line reading isn't the best it could be. It never is, but he gets the job done particularly in the action scenes. You can't blame Baruchel for the level and frequency of the comedy, and he works as best as he can with what he is given.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice, shoddy structuring and snippets of unnecessary frivolity scattered throughout, is still an exciting ride, an interesting idea considering it wasn't even based on one of Disney's numerous rides. It expands well on the source material at hand, and does so in surprisingly intelligent ways. Much like Cage's hair (sorry, enough can't said about the history there), it finds ways to work its own magic, and, when all is said and done, the entertainment level supersedes any lingering problems the rest of the film might have.
Jeremy's Rating: 7 out of 10