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The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: A Misunderstood Triumph, and a Fun Summer Blockbuster

July 12, 2010

By John C.

What do a 70-year old art picture and a slick, summer blockbuster have in common?  The answer is simple.  Absolutely nothing, yet at the same time, so much.  Disney’s latest, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – reviews coming Wednesday – was, as the credits say, “suggested by” the iconic segment of Walt Disney’s Fantasia.

Fantasia was a misunderstood film when it originally opened in 1940.  It was met with mixed reviews, and was largely a commercial failure.  It was like nothing anyone had ever seen before, and it remains to this day a unique vision – a concert film of classical music, set to enchanting visuals.  People weren’t receptive to it, because no one quite knew what was possible to achieve through animation, let alone what to expect from a trip to the theatre.  It was more a fear of the unknown, as people wanted something familiar from the studio that had just released the widely acclaimed Snow White.  If it was released today, it would probably still be met with mixed reviews.  Since it’s initial release, many versions of it have existed, some drastically edited, others with the music re-recorded.

The film featured psychedelic visuals of swirling colours and shapes, moving in motion to classical music, as well as some segments driven by a casual narrative, including a half-hour sequence set to The Rite of Spring, showing the evolution of life up to the dinosaurs.  It stills remains some pretty bizarre stuff, and it’s understandable why many would have considered it a vanity project by the animators.  But it remains as so much more.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was a standout 10-minute sequence in the first half of Fantasia.  Perhaps added in to make it more accessible to mainstream audiences, the sequence featured the iconic images of Mickey Mouse controlling a bunch of mops through the use of magic.  And, at the end, Mickey came out and shook the hand of the conductor, Leopold Stowkowski. To this day, it remains an image implanted into the minds of most Disney fans.  In 2000, Disney released a sequel of sorts to Fantasia, featuring new segments, but still including The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Fantasia is a groundbreaking, revolutionary film, that paved the way for so many more great animated films.  It still holds up today, not only as an important part of Walt Disney’s legacy, but also, technically, it’s just as strong a film as it ever was.  No matter your theories on why it was produced in the first place, it’s undeniable the impact it still has as a phenomenal artistic vision of the visual power of music.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a cool, slick summer popcorn film, and it’s one of the finer live-action blockbusters to come out this season.  The filmmakers have added back stories, as well as more characters, expanding the story of a Sorcerer and his Apprentice far beyond what the cartoon would allow.  The two stars, Nicholas Cage and Jay Baruchel, are perfectly cast in these roles.

But the only clear similarity between the two, besides the title, is a sequence that is sure to gain cheers from most audiences.  It lasts under 5-minutes, and it’s one of my favourite scenes in the movie.  I won’t spoil the circumstances, but as the famous music starts to play, the mops start to clean up the room.  Not only is it a classy throwback, but it also exists as something new, and fits in seamlessly with the rest of the movie.

In some small way, the latest offering from Jerry Bruckheimer has resurrected one of the most famous sequences from an animated classic.  And in some ways, both films will be met with mixed reviews, albeit for completely different reasons.  Fantasia because it was so unexpected, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice because what you see is what you get.

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