For more than a thousand years, the sorcerer Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage) has searched for the Prime Merlinian, the person who will succeed his master Merlin and defeat the evil Morgana (Alice Krige). Currently Morgana lies imprisoned inside a magic vessel called the Grimhold, her soul trapped inside the body of heroic sorceress Veronica Gorloisen (Monica Bellucci), who happens to be the love of Balthazar’s life. Finally, after years of fruitless searching, in the year 2000, Balthazar believes he has found the Prime Merlinian when ten year old Dave Stutler (Jake Cherry) stumbles into his antiques shop in Manhattan. Unfortunately, Dave clumsily opens the Grimhold, releasing Horvath (Alfred Molina), an evil sorcerer in league with Morgana. Battling for possession of the Grimhold, Balthazar and Horvath are locked together in an ancient Chinese urn with a ten year lock, leaving poor Dave to endure the mockery of his classmates. Not only for telling “tall tales”, but because an accident makes it look like he wet his pants.
Ten years later, the now grownup Dave (Jay Baruchel) is a physics student, newly reacquainted with his childhood crush Becky Barnes (Teresa Palmer) when the sorcerers are finally released from their enchanted prison. Now Balthazar must teach Dave how to wield his magical powers in the hope he can prevent Horvath from unleashing Morgana upon the mortal world.
It was Nicolas Cage who approached Disney with the idea for a feature film inspired by the classic, same-titled, Mickey Mouse segment in Fantasia (1940), itself drawn from the symphonic poem by Paul Dukas and the Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ballad. At one point in the film Jon Turteltaub, Cage’s regular collaborator on the National Treasure movies, stages an ingratiating recreation of the animated version’s most celebrated sequence, wherein a spell gone awry leaves the ever-hapless Dave at the mercy of hundreds of marching mops until Balthazar sorts out the mess with a masterly flourish. No doubt Disney had visions of jumpstarting a Harry Potter style franchise, but the irreverent tone is closer to the studio’s popular sitcom and movie Wizards of Waverly Place with its witty juxtaposition of magical goings on against a mundane New York milieu. The script, co-written by Matt Lopez, Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal (and one suspects, several others) also lifts a concept from Peter S. Beagle’s fantasy novel The Flight of the Dragons, with a hero who adopts a scientific approach towards sorcery and spell-casting, forshadowed in a charming sequence where Dave programs his science project to serenade Becky with a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”
Typically for a Jerry Bruckheimer production, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice has plenty of sound and fury, but little in the way of substantial drama or narrative ambition. It is as fun and lively as a theme park ride but while the world is supposedly in danger, the presiding levity leaves little sense of impending doom. Still, Cage and Baruchel latch onto the script’s puckish humour and co-stars Molina and Palmer add some welcome zest to their stock roles. The eye-catching visual effects are executed with panache and some of the satirical touches do amuse. For example, Horvath discovers his earthly minion Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell) has reinvented himself as a preening, Criss Angel style stage magician. It may not give J.K. Rowling any sleepless nights, but The Sorcerer’s Apprentice has enough wry humour and excitement to entertain younger fantasy fans.