Saturday, July 17, 2010

Disney's The Sorcerer's Apprentice

"Aw, I'm Sappy..."

I was beginning to think producer Jerry Bruckheimer could do no wrong. 

(I know, I know...) 

My head was turned by that particular exec spear-heading grand entertainments out of such slight germs of ideas as a Disney Animatronic Ride ("Pirates of the Caribbean"-the first one) and a 2-D video game ("Prince of Persia").  I'd forgotten the Bay films, and I hadn't seen the "National Treasure" collaborations with director Jon Turtletaub and star Nicolas Cage.  My expectations weren't high going into "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," and, indeed, for most of its length, it's quite a clever little entertainment, even if its source is the Mickey Mouse sequence of "Fantasia."

It reminded me of other Disney programmers, like "Emil and the Detectives" and "That Darn Cat" (the original one) that had just enough flash and talent behind it to get by and convince you you'd been entertained.  "Sorcerer's Apprentice," the tale of a nerdish NYU physics student, Dave Stuttler, (Jay Baruchel, whose mannered hummings and hawings remind one of a weaker-chinned Jerry Lewis) who finds himself designated by one of Merlin's three apprentices, Balthazar Blake (Cage), as "The Prime Merlinian," the last in the blood-line of the Arthurian wizard's followers.  It's a good thing, too, because Dave sets in motion a series of events that can lead to the resurrection of Morgana LeFaye (Alice Krige), who will bring about "The Rising," the bringing back from the dead of all the evil sorcerers who will...are I say it?..."rule the world."

Pure cheese in the summary,* but it's quite a bit of fun in the telling, aided and abetted by a fine cast, particularly Alfred Molina as the villain of the piece, Maxim Horvath, and Cage, who has never looked more in control of a movie as he does here.

Looking for all the world like a rangy Tim Burton** "in a 350 year old rawhide coat," Cage plays a sage authoritarian figure with ease, especially as Baruchel is dithering all over the place, he can sit back and be the calm center of the storm, the hub around which all the activity revolves.  That one moment, repeated in all the commercials and trailers (and spoiled by a "cutesy" sound effect in the film), where Stuttler yells at Blake "You're crazy!!" and and he responds with a tiny "this much" gesture—Cage does very little with that, but the "I'm serious here" look in his eyes is a model of selling more by doing lessThis is Cage's best part in years, and he does wonders with it.

But, as good as he is—as good as everybody is—the film is, ultimately, a disappointment.  So much is dependent on the Stuttler kid doing everything right, when he previously was such a klutz, that when everything goes as scripted, it's a huge let-down, all buttoned-up and Disneyfied, with everything except animated birds communicating a cloyingly happy ending.  After attempting to make its own way for much of the movie (and largely succeeding), the film ends with an uninspired thud, by recalling it's source from the Magic Kingdom...and being so Mickey Mouse.

"Disney's "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" is a Rental...and barely that.

* The screen-story is credited to a pair of "franchise-killers" Laurence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, two Hollywood hacks who've managed to pen the final entries in many a previously successful film series (they must have a very good agent or be in good with the Writer's Guild) as well as Matt Lopez, who wrote Disney's recent "Witch Mountain" entry and Doug Miro and Carlo Bernard, who managed to breathe some life into "Prince of Persia."

** It struck me: why haven't Burton and Cage ever worked together?  Probably because if you have Johnny Depp, you don't need him.  But, if Cage can restrain himself from his acting eccentricities (like his trying-too-hard" early roles), he could be as useful as he is here, a cornerstone of practicality in Burton's fractured Universe.

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