Walt Disney Pictures, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Jon Turteltaub, the team behind the “National Treasure” franchise, present “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”—an innovative and epic comedy adventure about a sorcerer and his hapless apprentice who are swept into the center of an ancient conflict between good and evil.
Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage) is a master sorcerer in modern-day Manhattan trying to defend the city from his arch-nemesis, Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina). Balthazar can’t do it alone, so he recruits Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel), a seemingly average guy who demonstrates hidden potential, as his reluctant protégé. The sorcerer gives his unwilling accomplice a crash course in the art and science of magic, and together, these unlikely partners pit their powers against those of the fiercest—and most ruthless—villains of all time. It’ll take all the courage Dave can muster to survive his training, save the city and get the girl as he becomes “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”
With a cast that also includes Teresa Palmer, Monica Bellucci, Toby Kebbell and Omar Benson Miller, and a screenplay by Matt Lopez and Doug Miro & Carlo Bernard from a screen story by Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal and Matt Lopez, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” opens on July 14, 2010.
The executive producers are Todd Garner, Nicolas Cage, Mike Stenson, Chad Oman, Norman Golightly and Barry Waldman. The associate producer is Pat Sandston. The remarkable team of artists behind the camera includes director of photography Bojan Bazelli (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” “The Ring”), production designer Naomi Shohan (“The Lovely Bones,” “I Am Legend”), costume designer Michael Kaplan (“Star Trek,” “Pearl Harbor,” “Armageddon”) and film editor William Goldenberg (“National Treasure” films). The visual effects supervisor is Academy Award® winner and three-time nominee John Nelson (“Gladiator,” “Iron Man”), the special effects supervisor is Academy Award winner and nine-time nominee John Frazier (“Spider-Man 2,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” films), and the stunt coordinator is George Marshall Ruge (“Pirates of the Caribbean” and “National Treasure” films). The composer is Trevor Rabin (“National Treasure” films, “Armageddon”).
A MAGICAL JOURNEY THROUGH TIME
From Goethe to Dukas to Disney to Bruckheimer
It must be magic.
“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” has sparked the imagination of some of the most creative minds in history—from Nicolas Cage, Jon Turteltaub and Jerry Bruckheimer to composer Paul Dukas and Walt Disney.
But it all started with a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a great German writer, thinker and natural scientist who penned “Der Zauberlehrling,” the enduring work of poetry, in 1797. Goethe’s 14-stanza poem is narrated by the apprentice himself, who, upon being left to his own devices by his old “Hexenmeister,” takes it upon himself to arrogantly demonstrate his own magical arts. The apprentice orders an old broomstick to wrap itself in rags, grow a head and two arms and, with a bucket, prepare a bath for him. The living broomstick fills not only the tub, but every bowl and cup, and the apprentice has forgotten the magic word to make it stop, resulting in a massive flood. The apprentice takes an axe to the poor old broom, splitting it in twain…resulting in two living broomsticks. The apprentice is finally bailed out, quite literally, by the return of the old hexenmeister, who quickly sends the broom back into the closet from whence it came, with an imprecation that it will return only when he, the true master, calls it forth once again to do his bidding.
A hundred years later, the poem was adapted into a hugely popular 10-minute symphonic piece, “L’apprenti sorcier,” by the French composer Paul Dukas. An immediate success for its brilliant musical coloration and rhythmic excellence, and its wonderfully jaunty “march of the broomsticks,” the scherzo has truly stood the test of time and is, to a popular audience anyway, Dukas’ most enduring work.
Walt Disney discovered it some four decades after that, creating an animated version for his immortal “Fantasia,” casting none other than Mickey Mouse in the title role of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” In the summer of 1937, while dining alone at Chasen’s restaurant in Beverly Hills, the still-youthful king of movie animation invited the famed conductor Leopold Stokowski to join him, and something extraordinary was conjured up between them.
Walt Disney had already utilized music as a foundation of his animated film series, Silly Symphonies, and hoped to collaborate with Stokowski on a cartoon short based on Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” The idea of putting classical music to animated segments was later expanded, ultimately creating the wildly risky but wonderfully ambitious “Fantasia.” The 125-minute film—unusually long even today for an animated feature—opened to great fanfare on November 13, 1940, at the Broadway Theatre in New York City. The music was enhanced by a multichannel sound system, especially developed for the film, called Fantasound, and “Fantasia” became the first commercial motion picture ever to be exhibited with stereophonic sound. The film now stands as an eternal testament to Walt Disney’s artistic ambitions and unshakable will to advance the art form of both animation and motion pictures by creating something which audiences had never before seen nor heard. “Fantasia” is one of the films selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” episode is generally considered the best and most beloved episode of all.
Now, 69 years after the release of “Fantasia,” Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films have created a fresh story for the big screen. While inspired by those that came before it, 2010’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is an all-new live-action adventure. The message remains simple and fun, yet timeless and profound. “What’s great about the story is this little lesson about cutting corners, doing things the easy way, trying to fulfill this desire we all have to grow up a little too fast,” says Turteltaub.
The cinematic rebirth of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” in fact, originated with a passionate admirer of the Disney version—Nicolas Cage. “The idea came to me and my friend Todd Garner,” he recalls. “I was making another movie at the time, and I wanted to explore a more magical and fantastic realm where I could play a character who had mystical abilities. I shared these thoughts with Todd, and the next day, we hit on the perfect project: ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.’”
“I love the world of magic, and to be able to bring that to a contemporary audience was really appealing to me,” says Bruckheimer. “I’ve always liked stories that have a magical element, and ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ is one of the great magical stories of all time. We thought it would be tremendously exciting to develop the core of that concept into a brand-new story set in the modern world.”
Turteltaub has known Cage since they were classmates at Beverly Hills High School. “Jon is absolutely the perfect director to bring the movie to life,” says Bruckheimer, “based not only upon the long professional relationship and friendship that he has with both Nic and myself but the sense of wonder and joy that he has, both personally and artistically.”
All of the major players behind “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” were fans of Walt Disney’s “Fantasia.” “To me,” says Cage, “it’s the most beautiful movie ever made. I think ‘Fantasia’ might have been the first movie my parents ever took me to see. It was my introduction to the movies, to Walt Disney animation and also, naturally, to classical music. The imagery throughout the entire film just transported me, and even at that young age, I think it influenced my life. Disney movies, and then going to Disneyland itself, really inspired me. I still watch ‘Fantasia’ annually, lower the lights and lose myself in the movie.”
And while the film isn’t a remake of the classic Disney piece from “Fantasia,” “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” pays proper homage to it, a fact that didn’t escape the director. “‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ has such a great Disney pedigree to it,” says Turteltaub, “and I knew right away that I’d be dealing with something that had to be excellent, had to be special, had to live up to its important role within Disney and the history of film. That piece from ‘Fantasia’ is as iconic as any eight minutes of film that has ever been created, so to be part of that was really exciting. You think, ‘All right, where do you go with that’—and that’s where all the creativity starts jumping.”
Matt Lopez, who hails from the studio’s writer’s program, contributed to the story and screenplay, creating an epic fantasy about Dave Stutler, a college student trying to pass physics and get a date with Becky, the girl of his dreams. Dave’s world is turned upside down when the eccentric Balthazar Blake suddenly enters his life. Balthazar is a sorcerer embroiled in a centuries-long battle which pits the followers of two powerful sorcerers—the good Merlin and the evil Morgana—against each other for either the destruction or salvation of the world. When arch-nemesis and longtime Morganian rival Maxim Horvath threatens not only Balthazar and Dave but the entire world, Balthazar recruits Dave as his reluctant protégé. Together, they must stop Horvath and the Morganian forces.
“It’s a story about two quests,” explains Bruckheimer. “Balthazar has been searching the world through the centuries for his apprentice, and Dave then has to discover his true potential as a human being. Dave is a very serious student and doesn’t need or want Balthazar in his life, or to be a sorcerer. But Balthazar is like a fly that keeps buzzing around, tormenting this poor kid until he succumbs to becoming this magical character. But if someone showed up at your door and said that you’re really a sorcerer, you wouldn’t believe them either.
“But in the course of the story,” continues Bruckheimer, “you see the relationship build between the two of them and how Balthazar gives Dave the confidence that he needs, not only with his sorcery, but also his personal life.”
Says Lopez, “The challenge was how do you reinterpret magic and show it on screen in a way that people haven’t seen before? Dave Stutler is grounded in science and dedicated to the pursuit of physics. He’s devoted to the rational world, and explaining everything in objective, scientific terms. And you put him together with Balthazar, the sorcerer, who sees everything in magical terms. These two worlds are actually one—that sorcery is to physics what alchemy is to chemistry. There’s a key line in which Balthazar tells Dave that everything they do as sorcerers is within the laws of physics—he just doesn’t know all of the laws yet. That is the core creative idea behind sorcery in the movie. I love science, and I think grounding it in that way is unexpected and will be really exciting on screen.”
Lopez, who coincidentally completed his work from the old animation building in Burbank’s Walt Disney Studios, where the “Fantasia” sequence was animated, notes that in Goethe’s original story of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” poem, and even in the “Fantasia” episode, “it ends with the apprentice once again relegated to essentially the sorcerer’s janitor. You never get to see the apprentice grow into the role of becoming a sorcerer himself, which we thought would be fun to see. We also don’t get to see the sorcerer teaching the apprentice magic, so we have Balthazar do that with Dave. Except that because of the circumstances, something which should take 10 years to learn must be taught in a few days.”
Notes Jon Turteltaub, “Balthazar and Dave both wish the other wasn’t in their lives. Balthazar needs an apprentice, but he certainly doesn’t need Dave. Dave, for his part, doesn’t want to have anything to do with this crazy person who intrudes on his life. So they annoy each other. But they’re both bright and able to see the right way to tease and bother the other person.
“Dave’s an intellectual who just wants to know the factual truth about everything,” continues Turteltaub. “He needs to open up and see that there’s a whole world that he didn’t previously think could possibly exist, and then continue to take that and realize all the possibilities in himself. That’s a huge part of Dave’s journey.”
Writers Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro introduced some key ideas. “It’s a classic hero story,” says Bernard. “Dave’s journey is ultimately of someone who doesn’t believe in himself and doesn’t think he’s capable of accomplishing something great, and realizing over the course of the story that, to his great surprise, he actually is capable of being a hero. His relationship with both Balthazar and Becky serves to take him on that journey. For us, in the structure of that story was our guiding light.
“I also think that Balthazar embodies the idea of putting mankind above yourself,” continues Bernard, “the idea that there are greater things out there that mean more than any individual. That’s a great concept, a warrior who has fought for man for 1,000 years.”