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Video Reviews

Plugged In Rating
MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Drama, Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Cast
Nicolas Cage as Balthazar; Jay Baruchel as Dave; Alfred Molina as Horvath; Teresa Palmer as Becky; Toby Kebbell as Drake Stone
Director
Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure: Book of Secrets, National Treasure, The Kid, Instinct)
Distributor
Walt Disney
In Theaters
July 14, 2010
On Video
November 30, 2010
Reviewer
Paul Asay
The Sorcerer's Apprentice

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

A calling can be such a bummer.

Do you think Moses really wanted to talk smack to Pharaoh? That Frodo wanted to cart that goofy ring all the way to Mount Doom? That I wanted to slave over a dim computer screen, typing out brilliant movie reviews only to have them edited for no apparent reason?

No, all of these people would have rather slept in, eaten bacon and worn sweats all day than worked so hard and sacrificed so much.

Dave Stutler knows this. It was 10 years ago when a creepy-looking antique peddler named Balthazar told him he was destined to be a powerful sorcerer. The encounter was an unmitigated disaster. No sooner had he learned his "calling" before another sorcerer—the dastardly and downright evil Horvath—instigated a magical cage match with ol' Balthy, causing Dave to spill something on his pants and flee the building, screaming about fire and death. Who should he see outside? Why, his teacher, and his friends, and this cute girl named Becky. All of them, naturally, assume Dave simply had a nervous breakdown and wet his pants.

Dave's still dealing with that meltdown. Oh, sure, he switched schools (to another state) and got counseling (his episode supposedly being the result of a glucose imbalance). He's managed to find a niche in college—he's the resident physics geek with a yen for Tesla coils—and, when he discovers that Becky's now going to New York University, too, he doesn't immediately tuck his tail and run. In fact, he does her a solid by using his physics powers to get the college radio station back on the air. It's the sort of good deed Dave thinks may turn Becky's (perceived) tolerance to, maybe, possibly, a form of affection. Maybe, possibly, she might even like him. How weird would that be?

But just when Dave looks like he's about to finally recover from his image-shattering brush with fate a decade earlier—Balthazar and Horvath brush up against him again. Balthazar still believes Dave's been chosen to become the magical world's next superstar sorcerer—the sort of wizard not seen since King Arthur's famous magician, Merlin. The sort of wizard who can stop Horvath from destroying the world.

The thing is, he's going to have to work really hard to do it.

Positive Elements

Balthazar likes the fact that Dave is a lousy liar. In fact, he thinks it's part of why Dave's worthy of Merlin's long-vacant mantle. The inference is that, to be truly great, one must be truthful.

Indeed, Balthazar regularly tells Dave that character counts—that to be great, one must be good. Ingenuity, love and strength of purpose are what separate the good guys from the bad ones, he says.

Those aren't just idle concepts to Balthazar. For about 1,300 years he's been pining for his one true love, Veronica—a sorceress who's been locked in a nesting doll with the evil witch Morgana, also called Morgan le Fay. When both women are finally released, Balthazar tries to sacrifice himself to save Veronica. He understands both the beauty of love and the need to fight evil, and he holds these two elements in balance. When Dave winds up giving Horvath an object of great power to save his own true love (Becky), Balthazar—who's spent several lifetimes fighting Horvath and the evil he represents—says he would've done the same thing.

Some might quibble with Balthazar's understanding: Horvath is, after all, playing along with Morgana's plan to enslave humanity with an undead army. And by getting this object—Dave's wizarding ring—he seemed to have the tools to do it. To paraphrase Spock, don't the needs of the many (society) outweigh the needs of the one (Becky)?

Still, the way this story sets things up for Dave, sacrificing Becky to keep the magical ring safe would be a viciously cold-hearted act, even if it was done for (potentially) the greater good. Instead, Dave chooses more hard work: saving Becky while still trying to stop Horvath.

Spiritual Content

As you've gathered by now—even if you somehow missed the film's title—The Sorcerer's Apprentice contains quite a bit of magic. Sorcery, spells, magical rings and the like are rarely pushed off the screen. And, as is common in Disney films, that magic is shown as an amoral force, utilized for both evil and good.

Unlike most Disney films, though, this one offers a bit of an explanation.

Balthazar (the traditional name of one of the Nativity's "wise men" who are sometimes purported to be magicians) tells us that sorcery is, essentially, the channeling of unused brain power. Sorcerers use that usually untapped gray matter to manipulate the molecules and energy around them. The appearance of solidity, Balthazar notes, is an "illusion" itself. And so magical happenings are explained using such words as "electrical energy" and "fusion." The reason Dave was drawn so much to physics, Balthazar says, is because physics and sorcery share so much in common.

Is this then science? Is it magic? "Yes and yes," Balthazar says.

While the film is offering such pseudo-scientific explanations for sorcery, viewers are constantly barraged by traditional magical trappings that would appear to have nothing at all to do with physics—including pentagrams and other arcane symbols, incantations, and magical happenings that even the most tortured twisting of the natural world would be hard-pressed to explain. A witch from Salem makes an appearance. And Morgana's near-resurrection of the dead smacks of full-on necromancy.

There are very tiny hints that other, greater powers are at work. During a magical showdown between Merlin and Morgana (in flashback), Merlin tells her, "We are but servants." Morgana, killing Merlin, says she's "no one's servant."

Sexual Content

Dave and Becky share a kiss. He also ogles her legs and looks up her skirt after falling, literally, at her feet. Dave's roommate encourages him to find a mate—perhaps by spending some time with some drunk co-eds.

A dress or two is low-cut. We see a painting of a scantily clad woman crouching before a man. Balthazar and Veronica kiss.

Violent Content

You'd think that sorcerers, given their lofty understanding of physics and all, would be smarter than your average gadabout. You'd think they, of all people, would understand that magical battles tend to be zero-sum games, and that it might be wise to sit down for coffee sometime and discuss their millennia-old differences—like regular folk have to do.

Yeah, that doesn't happen here. Magicians battle like over-tired toddlers, trying to skewer each other with knives, blast each other with plasma balls or push each other into magical mirrors. It's all quite chaotic, really. Folks get smacked with flying and flaming trash cans; stabbed; electrocuted; chased by wolves (and a dragon and a metallic bull); thrown into walls and ceilings; almost sucked into magical carpets; nearly skewered by needles; practically crushed by dump trucks; and beaten by animated mops. They threaten each other with the glee of a cyberbully. They drive like Tony Stewart would if he were drunk.

For all that mayhem, the body count is surprisingly low. Horvath does the heavy lifting here, dispatching two evil sorcerers (to get their rings) and one innocent driver (by shooting objects through his windshield). The deaths are quick, "clean" and, in one case, offscreen—but he kills with no apparent remorse, and he threatens to kill others, telling someone he'll grind them up "into chunks and feed them to the cat."

Dave also "kills" someone, though his "victim" isn't exactly solid at the time. (It's an evil sorcerer who evades bolts of magic with an indistinct, misty body.) Dave tries to chop up a mop (but the mop keeps dodging). Magical-warfare training sessions are intense.

Crude or Profane Language

Three or four misuses of God's name. One use each of "d‑‑n" and "h‑‑‑."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Dave's roommate tells him he should celebrate his birthday at a party because girls from Princeton University will likely be drunk there. That same roommate shares some wine with his girlfriend. Balthazar, in an effort to cover up the fact that a dragon just turned up in Chinatown, tells a pair of police officers that the bystanders must've been "hitting the sake pretty hard."

Other Negative Elements

One sorcerer materializes from a pillar of cockroaches, another from a pile of black muck. Dave's dog releases both gas and a stream of urine in Dave's laboratory. Dave talks about "peeing." Bolts of plasma hit someone in the crotch.

Conclusion

You've heard that the film industry is hard up for ideas. And it's true. We've recently seen films based on amusement park rides (Pirates of the Caribbean), toys (Transformers), bad Saturday Night Live sketches (MacGruber), one-panel cartoons (Marmaduke) and the dubious appeal of Ashton Kutcher (Killers). Rumor has it that we'll soon be subjected to flicks predicated on Monopoly, Facebook and the Magic 8 Ball. (How will it do? Reply hazy, try again.)

So the idea of Disney taking a classic, 11-minute snippet from the film Fantasia and re-crafting it into a two-hour film is little more than predictable. But while Dave does spend several minutes trying to rein in some delinquent mops and brooms, this new Sorcerer's Apprentice is really a stand-alone piece of work. Mickey, as far as I know, doesn't even make a cameo.

Dave is more responsible than the ubiquitous mouse, giving moviegoers a glimpse of what hard work and sacrifice look like. Still, the film's kinda disturbing and scary near the end. And its inherent occult compulsions aren't altogether dispelled by supposedly scientific underpinnings. So think of it as Twilight meets The Lord of the Rings meets Harry Potter meets … Goofy.

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