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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (review)

Magic the Blathering

Oh, how lovely to be wrong! Here I’ve been saying for quite a long while now that Hollywood has lost the capacity to surprise me, and then along comes this movie. When I heard that Disney was going to make a live-action Sorcerer’s Apprentice, of course I never supposed that that meant, you know, actually mounting a live-action duplication of the Mickey Mouse segment from Fantasia, in which Mickey, the titular sorcerer’s apprentice, gets into trouble with some cleaning implements, which he has magicked into life to do the janitorial work Mickey himself was instructed to do.

But lo and behold and WTF, here’s adorkable Jay Baruchel, New York University physics student/apprentice to sorcerer Nicolas Cage, getting molested by dancing mops as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, 2010 style, comes to a complete standstill so that the literal replication of a 70-year-old cartoon can force its way into a movie where it clashes tonally, interrupts the plot, and just plain makes no sense.

Bravo, Disney. Bravo.
What’s an even greater astonishment is that, up till this point, when magic mops start poking Baruchel in the ass about halfway through the film, Percy Potter’s Apprentice had already been pretty dismally slapdash, cheap looking — despite its rumored $175 million-ish production budget — and just plain idiotic. Wizards Balthazar (Cage: Kick-Ass, Astro Boy) and Horvath (Alfred Molina: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, An Education) have been feuding for a thousand years, to the point where the entire planet is now in danger of apoca-armageddon or something… all because a lady wizard, Veronica (Monica Bellucci: Shoot ’Em Up, Napoleon and Me), chose one of them over the other? Seriously? Grow the fuck up, dudes, and get over yourselves. And now Balthazar has to stop Horvath from doing something or other lest the entire planet be destroyed. And yet there’s still time for Dave (Baruchel: How to Train Your Dragon, She’s Out of My League) to go on a date and get goosed by magic mops.

The mind, she boggles.

I didn’t think it was possible for Jon Turteltaub and star Cage to make a worse movie than the National Treasure nightmares, which reduced cool concepts such an secret societies and ancient artifacts to the stuff of theme-park rides. (How ironic is it that Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean took a theme-park ride and made it sing out loud with charming goofiness and sneakily hum with deep-down universal themes about love and honor and living life on your own terms? Here’s a tip for Disney for the future: Take the existing crap stuff, like a really boring ride at Disney World, and make it better. Do that again. Stop taking the awesome stuff, like probably the best Mickey Mouse cartoon, and making it suck.) But they’ve done it. They’ve taken the magic out of magic — everybody was C-G fight-in’! sing along with me! — and striven so desperately for would-be humor that when poor Baruchel (who deserves better than this) gets a magic plasma bolt to the crotch, you have to at least laugh at the movie for thinking this is the best it could do.

Here is a movie that actually Mystery Science Theaters itself. It thinks you won’t notice — or maybe you’ll even think it’s cool! — when it shamelessly steals from far, far better similar stories and then has a random character make a quippy reference to those far better stories. It’s plagiarism as a virtue! Hey, kids, if you’re gonna pirate movies, the movies are gonna start doing it, too.

No, but see: Dave has to go on a date with Becky (Teresa Palmer: Bedtime Stories, December Boys), he just has to!, because otherwise she won’t be around to be his prize come the end of the film and the averting of apoca-armageddon. (Yes, I spoiled. It’s a Disney movie. Did you honestly think that armies of undead evil wizards would be allowed to roam the Earth? Warner Bros. does that. What, did you think this was a Harry Potter movie? Yeah, it’s an easy mistake to make.) It’s the same reason why the sorcerer who needed an apprentice couldn’t have been Veronica, because even though Bellucci is far more breathtaking and bodacious and totally takes over the screen when she get the rare chance to be on it here — kinda like a powerful sorcerer should do, just like Cage can’t — the screenwriters, all six of them, would have had to come up with a better reason for, you know, the entire fucking story than “He stole my girlfriend! Wah!”

Look: Balthazar tried to find an apprentice — the “Prime Merlinian,” and yes, it took six screenwriters to come up with that — who wasn’t a skinny whiny white guy. You can see for yourself in flashbacky opener, which sucks all the drama out of what might have been a thousand years of decent story to show us Cage interviewing little black kids and little Indian kids and all sorts of nicely diverse would-be magicians. Is it Balthazar’s fault that the savior of the planet is yet another white American? Of course not! No one can understand the ways of magic, and it is not our place to question them.

MPAA: rated PG for fantasy action violence, some mild rude humor and brief language

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • Nate

    Maybe Disney should take a hint from Tron Legacy and just submit all their live action screenplays to Pixar. Surely they’ve noticed by now that there’s a massive disparity in quality between their animated and live-action output.

  • Magess

    I thought Prime Merlinian was a reviewer’s snarky invention when I saw it elsewhere. :(

  • LaSargenta

    Actually, why couldn’t Veronica’s thing have been

    “He stole my girlfriend! Wah!”

    That could have been really cool…then she could have vanquished Cage.


  • I hate it that Disney went and took my ancient-wizards-battling-for-eternity dreams from when I was 12 and used them in a Nicholas Cage movie. :(

  • gensing

    Prime Merlinian – is he related to the true leader of the Decepticons? Maybe a hybrid Transformers/Sorcerer’s Apprentice would improve both

  • CB

    But lo and behold and WTF, here’s adorkable Jay Baruchel, New York University physics student/apprentice to sorcerer Nicolas Cage, getting molested by dancing mops

    Wow. I wish the trailers would have alluded to that, so what little hope that the movie wouldn’t be ass on a stick that I had left after seeing it starred Nick Cage could have been completely abandoned.

    Frankly I’m betting that was a deliberate choice by whoever crafted the trailers.

    Director: But we just gotta have the broom sequence! Sure this movie has nothing to do with the Mickey Mouse cartoon but the name, but we gotta have it!

    Advert Producer: Yeah, we’ll be leaving that out of the trailers. We’ll let that be a … pleasant… surprise for the audience.

  • CB

    Oh, and LaSargenta, that’s exactly what I was thinking, but let’s face it: There’s less chance of Disney having a lesbian sorceress than there is of the white male protagonist not saving the day or getting the girl.

  • lorraine

    Your reviews are becoming a terrible mess of your own imagination and shortcomings in life. Awful.

  • MaryAnn

    a terrible mess of your own imagination and shortcomings in life.


  • Barb

    Not surprising. The trailer was lousy.

  • Nicolas Cage is EASILY one of the most eccentric people in Hollywood right now and at the same time one of the most successful box office draws of all time. He’s awesome! He’s responsible for Johnny Depp being an actor, owns/owned a DINOSAUR SKULL, and just rocks. Here’s more than enough proof:


    How can you not like the guy or at least not find him extremely interesting after reading that?

  • MaryAnn

    It would be easier to like Cage if his movies weren’t shit.

  • CB

    I liked Nick Cage back when he was making movies like Raising Arizona and Leaving Las Vegas (which he was amazing in). The last movie he was tolerable in was The Rock, and there only because his character was such a fish-out-of-water that it worked.

    Unfortunately he and/or Hollywood somehow decided that made him an action star, and ever since his movies have been garbage with a capital Suck and a lower case donkey scrotum.

    Liking the guy has nothing to do with the fact that his movies have been horrible for the last decade.

  • The last movie he was tolerable in was The Rock

    I disagree. That overlooks last year’s Bad Lieutenant, which at the very least is interesting, the vastly underrated dramedy The Weather Man, and one of the best performances of his career as Charlie and Donald Kaufman in Adaptation. It’s just a shame he keeps doing these paycheck pictures.

  • CB

    I should have said “the last movie I saw him in“, though even then I forgot about Adaptation which was great.

    See, Nick? Forget your action hero career and return to doing quirky characters with depth. You can act! Do so!

  • stchivo

    but but but there’s a car that drives through a mirror, and thats cool, I want to see the movie just for that! But nooooo, mary ann has to go and spoil it by reminding me of hollywood white washing and insulting stereotypes and poor writing…
    why mary ann? why must you bring me out of my happy ignorance?

    seriously though, I was hoping it would be at the level of pirates of the Caribbean, i mean, a car drives through a mirror…ok, i like movies with magic or some kind of fantastical element but the gimmick only goes so far when everything else is bad.

  • Jurgan

    I loved Cage in Lord of War, and I actually saw him as a forerunner to Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark. The scene in the first Iron Man (it was in the previews, too) where Stark spreads his arms and there’s a huge explosion behind him looked right out of Lord of War. And I liked him back in Face/Off, and still think that was a pretty good movie, though admittedly over the top. My brother told me that Nicolas Cage is a trained stage actor, which could explain his screen persona- on stage, you have to exaggerate your gestures so everyone can see it. With a camera in your face, you have to use considerably more subtlety (I’ve heard the same theory as to why Tyler Perry’s stuff is popular on-stage but tends to bomb in theaters). Point is, I like Cage a lot, but I recognize that he can go too over the top (I don’t think I’ve seen many of his bad movies, but I’ve seen plenty of youtube clips). He needs a strong director to rein him in when he goes off the deep end, and then he’s very enjoyable to watch.

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    What’s simultaneously admirable and heartbreaking about Cage is that in interviews he talks about all the effort he puts into each role and how seriously he takes them. And that’s a large part of why his performances in stuff like Wild At Heart and Bad Lieutenant* are so great.

    But at the same time he keeps starring in these action movies where the makers just want a bankable star to play a vaguely relatable blank of a character, and he looks completely out of place. He’s putting more thought into the character than the writers or directors did. He should never, ever, EVER play anyone ‘normal’ again, even just “movie-normal” or familiar. It’s not his place.

    I agree with LaSargenta’s suggestion for livening up this movie, though. Charlie Kaufman was right, lesbian witches are genius.

    *Did you know he ad-libbed all that stuff in Bad Lieutenant about football players growing antlers? I can’t think of another actor who could even deliver that, let alone invent it.

  • Rusty Broomhandle

    i mean, a car drives through a mirror…ok, i like movies with magic or some kind of fantastical element but the gimmick only goes so far when everything else is bad.

    For that sort of thing, Day/Night Watch is prolly your best bet. Sadly though, the DVD release of Night Watch that I bought did not have the cool dancing subtitles that the cinema screening had. (a gimmick yeah, but a fun one)

  • RogerBW

    MAJ Watches The Movies So You Don’t Have To. I’d pay for that.

    I thought Hollywood had realised by now that the Harry Potter cash-ins have pretty much all sunk without trace. (Even Percy Jackson, which some people quite enjoyed, hasn’t made back its production budget even in gross takings.)

  • stryker1121

    The Cage hate comes from his ubiquitousness and his Sam L Jackson-like paycheck whoring w/o the Sam L Jackson charm. But Cage really was good in Lord of War and Adaptation. It’s just that he does nine movies a year (as well as Japanese pinball machine commercials–YouTube it) to pay for his crazy purchases like dinosaur skulls and pyramids. He seems to pick any script that moves and hence most his movies stink.

  • JoshDM

    Open Letter to Disney

    I will never, ever, ever watch your Small World After All : The Movie.

  • JoshDM

    Coda: or Spinning Teacups

  • CB

    Hey, say what you will, but Teacups: The Reckoning looks awesome!

  • Linda Binda

    This movie cost $175 million? Why? If Hollywood really wants to know why it’s so hard to invest in an original project for a movie, it’s because they’re over-blowing their budgets on unoriginal crap like this. This movie’s story does not warrant a film that costs almost $200 million — it hardly even warrants a FILM, period — you could get whole cities out of debt with money like that. What a fucking waste.

    (No, I haven’t seen the movie. The trailer I saw while watching New Moon and/or Kick-Ass looked awful, enough.)

    But, yeah, I agree that Nic Cage is pretty interesting. When I was coming of age in the ’90s, I saw movies like City of Angels and Con Air on TV, and I was convinced that he was almost worse than Keanu Reeves (this is pre-Matrix, BTW) until my brother and I watched Raising Arizona together, and I LOVED the movie, and I was like, “what the hell happened?”

    That said, I liked him in Kick-Ass for whatever reason; I don’t like hearing about him in almost anything else; and I’ve never seen Leaving Las Vegas or Moonstruck. Talk about a man who’s wasting his talents in terrible movies. I have an online friend who’s much younger than me; he’s 18, so he’s never really gotten to see Nic Cage in good movies since he’s been alive, and he makes it a point to watch a Nic Cage movie to make fun of it — sarcastically calls him the ‘greatest actor ever.’

    And I feel so sorry for those from the UK who liked the Willow Man before Neil LaBute and Cage helped ruin everyone’s good memories of it. I haven’t gotten to see that one, either.

  • Nitpick: Wicker Man, not Willow Man. The latter sounds like a less harrowing movie.

  • Linda Binda

    Heh, heh. Good catch. Sorry about that. If only the remake were titled differently than the original. XD

  • Mel

    owns/owned a DINOSAUR SKULL

    Who cares? Anyone with money or land in Wyoming can own a dinosaur skull, or a whole dinosaur. I guess studying paleontology and having some idea of the seamier side of commercial paleo kills whatever glamor is attached to owning part of a dinosaur.

    What Cage collects–because he has money–doesn’t have any bearing on his acting. He’s made some spectacularly awful movies in recent years. Just because he’s weird and makes weird movies doesn’t make him a good actor or (most of) the movies any good.

    I also don’t buy that his problem is that he’s a stage actor. Most of the British masters are classically trained stage actors, there’s a lot more crossover between British film/TV and stage, and they’ve almost all managed to figure out how to dial it down in front of a camera.

  • Matt C

    Maybe Disney should take a hint from Tron Legacy and just submit all their live action screenplays to Pixar. Surely they’ve noticed by now that there’s a massive disparity in quality between their animated and live-action output.

    Jerry Bruckheimer is much too proud to let Pixar criticize and proof the screenplays he buys. Shame, I think Bruckheimer taking advice from Pixar would be the smartest thing in his career. After this movie and the failure that was Prince of Persia, he’s going to need some guidance.

  • David Conner

    Now I want to write Hall of Presidents: The Movie, in which the spirits of all the presidents get transmigrated into their audio-animatronic duplicates. (They fight crime!)

  • Jennifer G

    Flickfilosopher –
    Your language is crude and appalling and indicates you are someone that hates everything so I give your review no credit. I haven’t seen this film nor have an opinion about it one way or another – I just clicked on your review site to see if this was a film I should consider taking my son and his friends too. And speaking of kids, since this is a children’s flick, you ought to have a care for your language about it since kids could easily go to your site to read about a movie of interest to them.

    Take some meds and get a better attitude, seriously. Get some class while you’re at it. YOu’re reflecting badly on your upbringing.

  • Jurgan


    That was in response to Jennifer C’s hilarious “take down” of MAJ. I’m going to have fun and translate the comment:

    “You have a potty-mouth and are an old crank. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul. I have never been to this site and don’t know anything about it, but I will express strong opinions about the way it should be run. Won’t somebody please think of the children?

    You probably just need to get laid, you bitter old hag. What would your parents think? They ought to wash your mouth out with soap.”

    Sheesh, does every website that’s not for kids have to have a giant flashing banner saying so? I doubt kids would get much out of these in-depth intellectual reviews anyway.

  • MaryAnn

    YOu’re reflecting badly on your upbringing.

    Gots me a new tagline!

  • Anne

    Your language is crude and appalling and indicates you are someone that hates everything

    Remember to put that as a disclaimer in your next reviews. I mean, we all thought you LOVED Dr. Who, but actually you hate it, apparently.

    Also, where does “that woman” get the idea that any child has the patience to read a review?

    Also, I originally was going to say something about the movie: What is up with Cage’s hair?!?!? I think it’s an excellent metaphor, they pretend Cage has long wavy blond hair just as they pretend he has charisma and can act.

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