Nic Cage is Balthazar Blake, an ancient wizard, charged by Merlin with the task of finding the one child, "The Prime Merlinian" that can succeed him. Sounds like a fake trailer from Funny or Die. But it's not. It's the basic premise behind Sorcerer's Apprentice — well, if we ignore the core premise, only slightly less ridiculous, that involves building a feature film around a 10-minute, dialogue-free cartoon from 1940 about Mickey Mouse and some mops.
How, I wonder, did someone at Disney come to the conclusion that this 70-year-old scene needed to be repurposed for a feature-length film? It’s certainly not an obvious choice. A complicated back-story would have to be created, original characters introduced, and the stakes would need to be a little higher than an enchanted basement flood can warrant on its own. After all of that, the film would likely bear little resemblance to the famous original.
I love that old cartoon. In fact, Fantasia was one of only two Disney films we owned when I was growing up. And so iconic is the Sorcerer’s Apprentice scene from Disney’s Fantasia, that the music from the scene alone (Paul Dukas’ L’apprenti sorcier, composed in 1897) conjures up specific images of brooms, mops, and watery soap suds. It would be a shame to mess with that by popping a bastardized version of the scene into an virtually unrelated film of the same name.
Such a scene is squeezed into the middle of this summer's Sorcerer's Apprentice, but sloppily, as if the original script has been rejected by producers because the scene had been omitted. Plotwise, it comes out of nowhere ,and has virtually no impact on the succeeding events. It just reminds us that this is a silly, ill-conceived movie, designed merely to capitalize on the universal popularity of its forerunner. Whatever talent and joie de vivre Jay Baruchel (as Prime Merlinian Dave), Cage, and Alfred freaking Molina (as meanie wizard Maxim Horvath) can bring to the project just can't overshadow the lameness of it all.
There are a few redeeming points in this strange film, and I'm not just talking about "Prime Merlininan," the most giggle-inducing secret moniker since "Matrix of Responsibility." Its digital effects are cool and well-executed, and Dave's passion for physics is cited as an embodiment of his magical gifts. The latter isn't just an empty claim — he manages to use optics to foil part of an evil wizarding scheme, and his big school project is a set of giant, mesmerizing Tesla coils, one of the most magical scientific discoveries in history.
But these elements of scientific coolness can't overshadow the movie's eye-roll-inducing remainder. The plan that Dave foiled using optics was an attempt to keep a reanimated Morgana le Fay from bringing baddy sorcerers back from the dead, to rule Earth with their zombie black magic. It sounds pretty silly, but it's also derivative. Ever hear of Death Eaters or Voldemort? Yeah. Even the Tesla-coil-as-vaguely-magical thing feels awfully similar to The Prestige. Nice try, guys. Next time, stick with Mickey and a giant hat.