Balthazar Blake, master sorcerer and apprentice of Merlin, must find and train Merlin's descendant to destroy Morgana le Fey, the darkest sorceress of all time.
In 1940, Walt Disney released Fantasia, a film made up of eight short films based on classical music. In one of these shorts, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Mickey Mouse chooses to bypass his chores by donning his master’s wizard hat and using spells on various brooms and mops. The sequence is based on a 1797 poem by Goethe and the 1897 symphonic poem by Paul Dukas. In this modern-era of cinema then, where studios attempt to remake everything, Disney have opted to take this sequence and extend a wider story around it.
Dave (Baruchel) is young boy at school when he passes a note to a girl he likes asking her to be his girlfriend. As Becky returns with her answer, the note flies off into various parts of the town and he makes chase, desperate to see her answer. The note conveniently falls in an old magic shop run by Balthazar Blake (the sorcerer, played by Cage) who has his a bit of a back story…
Hundreds of years earlier, Blake was one of three great apprentices (along with Veronica and Maxim Horvath) to Merlin – which was an apparent love triangle waiting to happen. Maxim got angry that Veronica chose Nicolas Cage’s gravelly drawl over his own and decided to team with Morgana, an evil witch (literally) to take out Merlin. Blake managed to stop their reign of terror by trapping Morgana, Maxim and various other villains in a nesting doll at the expense of losing Veronica inside it as well.
Snap back to the present then and Dave – remember he accidentally chased a note into a shop – bumps into Nicolas Cage who realises that Dave is the chosen one, the protégé, the sorcerer’s apprentice (as it were). Just after this realisation, Dave accidentally opens the nesting doll to release Maxim and then, after a duelling sequence, Maxim and Balthazar are trapped inside an urn for ten years.
Ten years later, Blake and Maxim return and Dave is now a physics student at college where bumps into Becky, the girl who nearly became his girlfriend if it wasn’t for that damn note. He reluctantly agrees to help Blake stop Maxim and, potentially Morgana (that evil witch), save Veronica, win Becky’s heart and save the world.
The film begins with the back-story about Merlin, Morgana and the apprentices and, although the scenes appeared to have all been filmed in full, there was a sense that they just decided to scrap the dialogue and have a hokey voiceover explain it all. This felt a bit patched together and, as a child, I’m certain I would’ve been bored and uninterested. As an adult, I felt I was in for a long ride.
What it grew into, though, was your classic Disney film. Yes, it’s far from perfect, the acting is cheesy and everything seems obvious from the outset. On the other hand, though, the film is well-cast, there are more than a handful of genuinely funny moments including a nice homage to the sequence on which the film’s title is based.
It will certainly not live as long in the memory as Fantasia, Dukas’ symphony or Goethe’s poem but it is a harmless, family film that knows its audience. The audience just needs to show up in the first place.