Isn't it nice when something surprises you. Take for instance The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. When the House of Mouse announced its plans to adapt Goethe’s famous story into a full length feature, even the Disney fanboy in me couldn’t help but feel slightly concerned. After all, the tale of a mischievous ward whose foray into magic backfires with such disastrous results has become synonymous with a certain high-pitched rodent, forever enshrined in Disney lore alongside a wooden puppet boy and Never Never Land. Suffice to say, the risk of tainting this classic piece of animation was considerable. Jerry Bruckheimer? Nicholas Cage? A relocation to modern day New York? They say there’s a thin line between genius and insanity yet here’s a film that walks it with relish.
Admittedly, though not the most innovative thing this side of Inception (2010), Sorcerer nevertheless succeeds far more often than it fails. What could so easily have been a childish mess is in fact a largely mature piece of entertainment which caters far more to the older crowd than one would expect. Once we get past the expectedly expositional prologue (an obligatory staple of the fantasy film) the pace is brisk and there’s very little time to twiddle your thumbs, particularly with the excellent Jay Baruchel in the lead. It’s a uniquely comic routine which rejuvenates the tired science nerd cliché and even though his journey is a predictable one, it’s difficult not to enjoy it all the same. Nicholas Cage meanwhile gives crazy a break with a surprisingly restrained performance likely to win over even his most hardened critics. Sadly, Alfred Molina’s well spoken villain is a bit of a lame duck although you’re unlikely to notice amidst all the crash bang wallopery. Director Jon Turteltaub may not be able to accelerate an audience’s pulse rate, but he certainly knows how to stage a battle. The close quarter combat between our friends and foes is enthralling to watch as projectiles composed of flame and electricity rebound across the screen. Whereas the duelling wands of Harry Potter forever look outdated in a contemporary setting, here spells are conducted entirely with the hand, lending an organic sense of urgency to proceedings.
In fact, so imaginative and so damn entertaining is the film as a whole, that it’s easy to forgive the sometimes shoddy FX work and overly formulaic plot. Then again, the writers manage to do a pretty decent job of stretching out such limited source material, although ironically it’s the infamous broom sequence which feels most out of place. The inclusion of Paul Dukas’ original score as well as a clever nod to the Fantasia (1940) original is greatly appreciated, but it‘s a scene which feels arbitrary. Of course with enough time and effort one could nitpick through its many shortcomings, but such a joyless endeavour would only undermine how much fun The Sorcerer’s Apprentice really is. It may not have a red gown and bright blue hat, but this Apprentice is alright by me.
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