The Sorcerer's Apprentice

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

I don't go to McDonald's for delicious, nutritious food. If I ever go there, it's because I want something fast, inconsequential and horrible in all those ways we tell ourselves we don't like, even if we do. In the same sense, I don't go to Disney movies for inventive, artistically meaningful cinema. Just like everyone who ever complained that McDonald's isn't healthy, everyone who knocks Disney for making empty, pandering spectacles is really missing the point. That's why The Sorcerer's Apprentice isn't exactly deserving of all its lukewarm reviews. It never makes any pretensions to being anything but an amusement park ride, so it's not exactly worthwhile to compare it to the better movies of the summer.

All told, a Disney movie produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, directed by Jon Turtletaub and pitched by Nicolas Cage, based off an older Disney short which was itself based off a lesser Goethe poem has every reason to be worse than The Sorcerer's Apprentice actually is. My biggest complaint about the movie is that it's very obvious how much of it was left on the cutting room floor. Clocking in at just under two hours, the film suggests at least another half hour of content that never materializes. It's especially obvious when characters reference small events that were neither on screen nor in exposition and when whole scenes are dedicated to, say, powerful magic spells nobody actually uses. It's loose ends like these that make an otherwise very slick production feel slapdash.

On the plus side, The Sorcerer's Apprentice mostly delivers on its promises. It's a movie about a nerdy nebbish who inherits incredible magic powers in modern-day New York and the old master who teaches him. The script takes practically no time at all to establish this idea and it never much deviates from it. There are plenty of nifty spells and colorful characters, especially a delightful villain in Alfred Molina. Again, there's not nearly enough content in this department. The central conflict of the story involves a stacking doll that contains progressively more powerful, evil sorcerers from the past. The film spends so much time nursing an unnecessary romance plot that there's not enough time to enjoy characters like a 17th century child witch from Salem or a creepy Chinese wizard with a pet dragon.

The cast does a pretty decent job, even if a lot of them don't seem aware that they're in a picture that requires so little of them. Jay Baruchel has classic comic timing that manages to make even the most hokey one-liners in the movie endearing, if not actually funny. Nicolas Cage seems almost too dedicated to his role as ancient sorcerer Balthazar, reining in his trademark crazy more than he should have in favor of an unnecessarily complex, brooding take on the character. Like much of the movie, this isn't bad so much as it's ill-fitting. In different (re: not Disney's) hands, The Sorcerer's Apprentice could have been surprisingly compelling cinema. But then again, why on Earth would you want a movie like this to be compelling cinema? It's an action comedy with pretty effects. Popcorn, in other words. See it if you want cinematic junk food, skip it if you're in the mood for something more nutritious.