The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Posted on November 30, 2010 at 3:59 pm

A pinch of movie magic makes this fantasy action movie a summer movie popcorn pleasure for kids and their families. The story goes back to an 18th century poem by Goethe that inspired a symphony by Paul Dukas a century later. But is best remembered as an animated chapter from Disney’s “Fantasia,” with Mickey Mouse in his most famous role, enchanting a broom to carry buckets of water and watching in dismay as things get very, very out of hand.

It is tempting to make the comparison to the hubristic overkill of stunts and special effects that is producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s trademark. But as Mae West once (or many times) said, “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful,” and if this movie doesn’t quite make it to wonderful, it is still a lot of fun, in part because even the most over-the-top effects can’t compete with the most special effects of all — a story that never loses its sense of fun and performances that keep it all grounded.

The very engaging Jay Baruchel plays Dave, an NYU physics nerd still traumatized by a childhood experience when he got separated from the group on a school field trip and had a scary encounter in a curio shop that seemed like it was magic. Humiliated in front of his class, he switched schools and never found out what Becky, the girl he liked, replied to his note asking whether she wanted to be his friend or his girlfriend.

Ten years later, he sees Becky (Teresa Palmer) again. Just as a more conventional kind of magic seems possible with her, he has a second encounter with sorcerer Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) and his nemesis, Horvath (Alfred Molina). Back in 740 AD, Merlin had three apprentices. Balthazar and Horvath both fell in love with Veronica (Monica Bellucci). When she chose Balthazar, Horvath swore his allegiance to evil Morgana (Alice Krige) and they tried to raise an army and destroy pretty much everything. For centuries, Balthazar has kept Veronica, Horvath, Morgana, and a couple of wizards who tried to free them sealed inside some Matryoshka nesting dolls as he sought The One who could defeat them for good.

That of course would be Dave.

And of course this is all just an excuse for some cool fight scenes. A Chinatown paper dragon turns real and a gargoyle flies. And there is a charming shout-out to Mickey and the buckets as Dave tries to clean up his underground research space before Becky arrives. It gets out of hand. Some things never change.

There are some nice humorous touches including sly jokes about “Star Wars” and Depeche Mode and pointy old man shoes. Cage is very good at meaningful thrusting of his arms as though he is conducting a universal orchestra and Baruchel is good at looking abashed but game. I liked the way they put science and magic on a complementary continuum. And the relationship between Dave and Becky is sweet.

The movie is more science than magic, more formula than inspiration. But there is something to be said for the formula: top talent in production design, stunts, and effects, capable pacing, and characters to root for. It’s harder than you’d think to stay out of the way of the audience’s fun; this movie makes it easy to sit back and enjoy.

Related Tags:


Action/Adventure Based on a book Fantasy

6 Replies to “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”

  1. This is clearly more an editor and producer’s film than the director/stars or even the writers. Getting the effects and the acting to coordinate and congeal is no easy task. Having the producer’s vision and the editor’s skills to make it all come together is one of the things the audience does not appreciate very much. I am looking forward to this movie.
    I love your shut-out for “Sword in the Stone” – one of my top ten favorite films. Madame Mim’s battle with Merlin is a lesson that many folks ought to take seriously – the biggest and strongest does not win the fight.

  2. Thanks for your review Nell. I was curious if you would enjoy the movie and I agree with your grade. My daughter and I loved this movie. We saw it last week at an advanced screening. Just an all around fun summer movie. My daughter really liked the fact that Becky (just a normal girl) was a big part of stopping Morgana – all while facing her fear. I liked that the writers/filmmakers brought science into the equation of magic, making it a part of the whole. I also thought they did a really good job with the fantasia scene – even bringing the mops back at the end of the movie to help defeat Morgana. I thought Cage was very good and contained his over-the-top craziness just enough. My only negative is that I didn’t feel that the movie did a good job of showing Dave’s growth at the end. He just suddenly had the power and didn’t need the ring anymore. While Baruchel plays a great nerdy,insecure guy, I don’t feel like he has the skill to pull off the transformation into a strong confident character. At least I haven’t seen it.
    2 days later, we saw Despicable Me, which we also loved. I asked my daughter which movie she liked more. She said that she couldn’t choose because she enjoyed them both and they are different and not comparable to each other.

  3. Thanks for a great comment, Jan! I love your point about Becky, played by Teresa Palmer. It was such a relief that she was a nice, bright, sweet girl with no silly misunderstandings who showed a lot of spirit and was there when Dave needed her. I think it was her appreciation of Dave as well as his recognition of his special powers that fueled his growth. And your daughter is exactly right! Both movies are a lot of fun.

  4. Nell,
    Thank you so much for this review. I make it a rule to always check your site before I take my kids to see any movie. After reading your review of Sorcerer’s Apprentice, I thought it would be OK for my 4th grader–but we had to leave after 30 or so minutes.
    I thought other parents who are trying to decide whether this is OK should know that “lots of fantasy violence” means nearly nonstop violence. It also means you will see a field full of dead people (most of whom have been impaled), lots of fights with swords/knives (including a close up of someone as they are being killed with a knife), threats of murder, and pretty much nonstop, super loud explosions and chases (by dragons, wolves, etc.). Most of the thirty minutes of the film we saw were very, very tense.
    Parents should also know that, in addition to talk about getting drunk, there is talk about needing to mate and needing to “hunt and grunt” (i.e., mate).
    In short, I am really sorry I took my kids to see this movie, and I hope that they won’t have nightmares tonight.

  5. Much appreciated, Jeni. This will be very helpful to parents trying to decide whether the film is appropriate for 8-12-year olds. I’ve amended the parental advisory and hope that is more clear. I hope they don’t have nightmares, too. I am so glad you left; that is exactly what I urge parents to do if they or their children are at all uncomfortable.

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