The summer of mediocre kid’s movies continues with Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Yes, it is better than Avatar: The Last Airbender. No, it’s not nearly as bad as you might think. Yes, Nicolas Cage’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad wig is actually worse than his real hair.
I have a very ambivalent relationship with Nicolas Cage. I love that he’s a comic book geek but hate that he has a Ghost Rider tattoo (that, ironically enough, had to be airbrushed out of the Ghost Rider movie). I love Con Air, Face/Off, and Adaptation but hate City of Angels, The Wicker Man, and National Treasure (aka The Da Vinci Code for Walmart shoppers). I love that he named his kid Kal-El and that he took his own name from Power Man, but hate that he built himself a fraking pyramid mausoleum even as he’s tumbling toward bankruptcy.
But mostly I hate his hair. I really, really, really hate his hair. The depth and breadth of my hatred toward his hair knows no bounds. You could power a 747 on just my Nic Cage hair-related virulence. If the Chocolate Cheerios Scottish genie showed up in my kitchen my first wish would be for world peace, my second for naked Lee Pace to feed me pie in bed, and my third for Nicholas Cage to just go bald already and spare the world the horror that is the Ke$ha-esque grease factory he calls a haircut.
Almost as bad as his hair in this movie (the segue queen strikes again!) was his costume. I think the costume designer was going for steampunk with a touch of Harry Potter, but all that resulted was a shirt that was half potato sack and half shag carpeting and the sort of trench coat leather fetishists dream about. At least Alfred Molina, Jay Baruchel, and Teresa Palmer came out on top in terms of fashion choices; Monica Bellucci and Toby Kebbell weren’t nearly as lucky.
I’d like to recount the plot, but there really wasn’t one. The screenwriter somehow managed to develop an annoyingly complicated backstory and ludicrously Rube Goldberg-like third act. Something about science and magic being one and the same and Tesla coils being able to produce bland pop music. There was also an unnecessary romance between Baruchel’s Dave and Palmer’s Becky (and, for that matter, between Cage’s Balthazar and Bellucci’s Veronica), but it never progressed beyond mild declarations of attraction and never-ending lurve. Framing all that is the idea that Dave is the Chosen One (more irritatingly known as the Prime Merlinian) who may or may not also be Merlin reincarnate whose sole purpose for existence is to assist Balthazar and his gross hair in defeating Morgan le Fay and her evil minion Morganians (ugh). For some reason this requires Dave to wear old man shoes.
But it’s still not a bad movie. It’s not great—and it most certainly could have been worse, wink wink and nudge nudge—but kids will enjoy it and there are enough jokes aimed at adults that it’s not entirely insufferable. My two favorite quotes both involved Kebbell as Drake Stone, the hellspawn love child of Criss Angel and David Blaine. In the first quote Dave fails to recognize Stone as a famous magician and Stone gets pissed when Dave asks him if he’s in Depeche Mode. The second one occurs as Molina’s Horvath does the magical whammy on a college student who insists that he has to see a faculty identification card before he can give him Dave’s address and Stone quips, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” There’s also a nice blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nod to the other Disney Merlin movie, 1963’s The Sword in the Stone. (Side note: Is there a rule that says every kids’ movie has to have a farting dog? If so, isn’t there a law Obama can pass or something? Surely someone can convince Arizona that this is a more pressing issue than immigration reform.)
The action scenes are taut and exciting, the magic is well CGI-ed, and the remake of the crazed brooms scene from the cartoon is more or less enjoyable. Both Molina and Cage are in full ham mode, as if scenery chewing was an Oscar category, but Baruchel balances Cage nicely and manages to tone him down to a respectable level. On the Disney scale of quality entertainment, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice ranks somewhere between Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion. And that’s about the nicest thing anyone could say about it.
Alex Brown is an archivist in training, reference librarian by day, writer by night, and all around geek who watches entirely too much TV. She is prone to collecting out-of-print copies of books by Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen, and Douglas Adams, probably knows far too much about pop culture than is healthy, and thinks her rats Hywel and Odd are the cutest things ever to exist in the whole of eternity. You can follow her on Twitter if you dare...