We jump into The Sorcerer's Apprentice seemingly aboard a bullet train, with back story whizzing by at a dizzying blur. And this is way-back story, as in 740 A.D., when Merlin and the evil Morgana Le Fay are duking it out sorcerer-style with spells and wands and magical flashy things. Helping Merlin are his three apprentices—well, actually only two, as the third turned on him. The good ones are Balthazar (Nicholas Cage) and Veronica, the latter of whom is both beautiful and selfless, which leads to two inevitabilities in movie-world: She's embroiled in a love triangle, and tragedy will befall her.
The tragedy comes when she uses her magical mojo to transport the evil Morgana into her own body, then the two are trapped in a jumbo Russian stacking doll thing for thousands of years. During that time Balthazar is desperately looking for The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the kid Merlin mentioned with his dying breath was the only one who could stop Morgana. So lovelorn Balthazar and his silly leather trench coat travel agelessly through the centuries looking for the child who will stop this baddie (and maybe even bring his babe back).
And, yeah, that's just the first five minutes of the film.
After a musical montage of watching Balthazar check out kids in remote Mongolian villages and mystical looking African huts, it's a bit underwhelming when he meets Dave, the ten-year-old present-day New York nerd-boy. But the little dragon figurine Balthazar has been placing in countless young palms over the years comes to life in Dave's hand, and wraps itself into a wicked-cool ring that's just itching to cast some spells.
At this point we—both Balthazar and we watching folks—are thinking Dave? Really? Unfortunately, one of the flaws of the film is that we never really lose that really? feeling. (More on that in a bit.) The question is underscored when Dave accidentally unleashes Horvath (Alfred Molina), the Turncoat Apprentice and third point in the love triangle, who's trapped in another layer of that Russian-stacking-doll prison. While Horvath and Balthazar have a CG-filled fight-scene reunion, Dave wanders back into the school field trip this whole little interaction interrupted. Unable to explain his disappearance and his fanciful stories, he becomes a bit of a fourth-grade laughingstock.
Somewhere during that Horvath-Balthazar fight, they get trapped in an urn for ten years (seriously, where do these people get their knick-knacks?). So fast forward ten years to when Dave (Jay Baruchel) is now a nerdy physics student and Balthazar has to convince him that incident ten years ago wasn't just a dream. And once he convinces him of that, he also has to convince him that studying as his apprentice is more important than trying to woo cute coed Becky (Teresa Palmer).
The problem is that Dave's heart isn't really in it—partly because he doesn't believe in his science-geek self, and mostly because Balthazar never really explains all the history to him and pretty much fails as a hey-kid-you-gotta-believe-in-yourself mentor. Balthazar fails to get Dave emotionally invested in this quest. And that's the problem with the overall film.
The opening blur of back story is such a jumble of magic and characters with funky names that we don't really get invested in anyone. Balthazar, our tour guide through the story, is an emotionless taskmaster with old-man shoes and the trademark Nicholas Cage monotone. Dave is somewhat endearingly nerdy, but he never quite connects with Balthazar (he has much more chemistry with Becky) and never really owns his magical identity. There's no emotional connection or soul in this fantasy story, leaving us with special effects and wacky characters we don't really care about.
And then there's the scene with a nod to the film's title and the famous Fantasia sequence—complete with magical brooms, swirling water, and the familiar music. But the real magic is missing. Seeing this scene played out with real brooms and mops and water just isn't the same. The imagination and wonder are lackling, and the scene just feels forced and interrupting to whatever flow The Sorcerer's Apprentice had going.
For a film about magic from a company known for its Magic Kingdom, The Sorcerer's Apprentice is sadly lacking in the main ingredient that makes these kinds of stories a fun and fanciful adventure: magic.Discussion starters
- Do you believe Dave as the Sorcerer's Apprentice? What special qualities do you see in him?
- Balthazar keeps telling Dave that love is a distraction. Do you think that's ever true?
- How does Dave change and grow over the course of the film? What does he gain from his interactions with Balthazar?
The Family Corner
The Sorcerer's Apprentice is rated PG for fantasy action violence, some mild rude humor, and brief language. Though billed as family fare, there are a few action and fight scenes that could scare younger kids. We see a few characters melt into their ultimate demise, and Morgana Le Fay is kinda scary. Her plan is to bring a bunch of other evil folks back to life, so we see corpses and bones getting reanimated. And there are hints of mysticism and other powers in some of the symbols on the Merlin's Circle both Balthazar and Morgana create.
Photos © Walt Disney Pictures
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