Synopsis: A sorcerer leaves his workshop in the hands of his apprentice, who gets into trouble when the broomstick he's tasked to do his chores for him somehow develops a mind of its own.
Why We're Excited: Nicolas Cage is a movie star when Jon Turteltaub is behind the camera, and the sense of humor present in the trailers is refreshing after years of Harry Potter heaviness. And we love Alfred Molina in villain mode.
Why We're Not: Turteltaub's behavior at WonderCon was a turn-off; he joked that Disney kept saying that no one knows who Jay Baruchel is, then moaned that Apprentice is opening against Inception. Have some pride in your performers and your work, man! Also, we're unsure who this film is for -- teenage boys? Potter fans who can't wait for November to come?
Yet even in this potentially limitless realm of adaptable, creative ideas, Jon Turteltaub's kid-focused fantasy The Sorcerer's Apprentice boasts a unique muse. It owes its existence to an eight-minute animated sequence found in a 70-year-old film. Granted, both the film and the clip are famous in their own right. We're talking about Mickey Mouse's magical "Sorcerer's Apprentice" routine from the 1940s classic, Fantasia. But it's still an odd clip to use as a springboard for an effects-laden 21st century summer blockbuster.
Not so odd that it doesn't work, however. Turteltaub and his screenwriting team start deep in the past, where apprentices of the legendary Merlin find themselves in a battle with Morgana (Alice Krige), a vicious foe. Former ally Horvath (Alfred Molina) has gone rogue, siding with Morgana in the fight. Balthazar (Nicolas Cage) tries to stop them, but doesn't act fast enough to rescue his beloved, Veronica (Monica Bellucci), from an elaborate prison. Our distraught hero is told only one person -- the Prime Merlinian -- has the power to defeat Morgana, so Balthazar spends centuries looking for this fabled individual.
Having established the mystical elements, Apprentice quickly modernizes its story. Stepping in for Mickey is the mousy Jay Baruchel, the lanky guy from Tropic Thunder and Knocked Up, who stammers through the part of Dave, a book smart teenager with a nose for science and a knack for magic only Balthazar can see. Together, they dance through a traditional formula of teacher and student combining talents to defeat a greater power.
Apprentice succeeds because Turteltaub rarely forgets the age-range, and attention span, of his target audience. Cage tailors his gonzo riffs to the film's family-friendly antics and finds sizable laughs. Perhaps inspired by his cartoon source material, the star makes for an animated master tutoring an eager Baruchel in all things sorcery. Neither he nor Molina unleash their inner scene-chewer, allowing Turteltaub the freedom to fill his canvas with vibrant effects. Showing a good eye for grand spectacle, the director brings a dragon to life in a memorable parade scene, conjures villains made of creepy crawly cockroaches, morphs vicious wolves into adorable puppies, and soars over Manhattan's skyline on an iron eagle ripped from the side of the Chrysler Building. The requisite Fantasia tribute -- complete with dancing mops and buckets -- feels forced. But it's not long before Cage is piloting a sports car through a floating mirror, and Apprentice is right back in its turbo-charged, entertain-at-all-costs mode.
It's safe to say that imaginative kids who felt deflated after trudging through M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender will find the movie-making magic tricks they've been waiting for here. Parents may find certain sequences loud and overbearing. That, of course, will make the kids like it even more.