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Disney conjures up a modern-day “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”

Disney conjures up a modern-day “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”

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For several generations, Disney’s “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” has been best known as one of the most famous sequences in animation and for its iconic image of Mickey Mouse.

But Nicolas Cage, director Jon Turteltaub and producer Jerry Bruckheimer may soon change all that, especially among younger movie viewers who’ve never seen the 1941 masterpiece “Fantasia.”

“Obviously, we’re not going to do a cartoon for two hours with a mop, but it does play in the story,” Turteltaub said recently during a promotional visit to WonderCon with Bruckheimer, Cage, and costars Jay Baruchel and Teresa Palmer.

“As you may know, Nic really developed this,” Turteltaub continued. “Nic hired me, he came to me and when we talked about it, the notion of taking advantage of CG and new technology to do this was great. That’s the excitement of it. But we also spent a lot of time looking at the cinematography of ‘Fantasia’ and in wardrobe and things like that to suggest a nod to ‘Fantasia.’ ”

Cage always wanted to play a magician, a sorcerer and he was talking about this desire with producer Todd Garner while they were working on ‘Next.’”

According to Cage, Garner returned the next day and said, “‘Hey, Nic, I’ve got it. Let’s do ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice.’ ”

Then Cage went to his business partner at the time, Norm Golightly, and the two of them put together a script.

Nicholas Cage stars in the latest Jerry Bruckheimer film, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"
Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry
Bruckheimer, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Once Cage and Golightly had a script in hand, they thought “who would really put this on the fast track and give it panache and big entertainment style? Nobody better than Jerry Bruckheimer,” Cage said. “So we went to Jerry and being the good friend and great producer that he is, he read it and said, ‘hey you know what, we’re doing it.’ ”

Bruckheimer already had a successful film development deal with Disney, producing not only Cage’s earlier films like “The Rock” and “National Treasure,” but also the wildly popular “Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise.

At that point in time, Cage had just recently completed work on “National Treasure 2,” calling it a “great experience.” So he turned to Turteltaub, the “only man who could really do it and make (‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’) unique ... and bring the comedy and humor into it and make it really connect with big audiences, like kids and adults. And that’s how it happened.”

Bruckheimer added, Turteltaub “is an amazing, brilliant director who also finds humor in just about anything and that’s what we love about him.”

And, turning the compliment back on Bruckheimer, Cage said “one of the things I love about Jerry is that he is always looking for the X-factor or the Y-factor in the formula. I think one of the reasons he has this genius ability to make these movies so successful is that he looks for actors who provide alternative ways of delivering dialog or alternative contributions that give that X-factor or Y-factor. He puts it in a formula that appeals to a lot of people all over the world."

“I always prefer working with my friends,” Cage continued. “And hopefully when I work with new people I can become friends and make new friends. But there’s a shorthand when I work with Jerry, when I work with Jon. I know what to expect, so we get a lot done very quickly. We trust each other. There’s a confidence level and a comfort level there. I can get to set and know what’s expected of me.”

In the film, Cage plays Balthazar Blake, a “very cool sorcerer” who’s been alive for centuries waiting for the right person to take his place. Baruchel plays Dave, a college student who becomes Balthazar’s “apprentice”; Palmer plays Becky, Dave’s budding romantic interest; and Alfred Molina plays the dark sorcerer, Maxim Horvath.

Nicolas Cage in Disney's "Sorcerer's Apprentice"
Nicolas Cage in Disney’s “Sorcerers’ Apprentice.” Photo by Robert
Zuckerman. Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Jerry
Buckheimer, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Balthazar “needs desperately to find this apprentice to take over and become the next great sorcerer or really bad stuff is going to happen,” Turteltaub said. “And bad stuff does happen; but there’s good stuff, too.

“This movie is massive. It’s certainly the biggest thing I’ve ever done,” Turteltaub said, responding to another question. “There are well over 1,000 visual effects shots in this movie, a lot of CG and all of it to serve this notion that magic is alive and well, that sorcery is alive and well today in New York City.

“We don’t want the movie to be so unrealistic that there’s nothing to grab onto. You don’t want it to be, ‘oh, look at the cool visual effects’ and who cares about the story, the characters. What you want is a movie that feels very real. Then the magic feels like it’s entering our lives and we can all relate to it.”

But what about that famous sequence with Mickey Mouse and the mops?

Well, displaying his wit during a press conference punctuated by laughter, Turteltaub said, “Mickey Mouse wasn’t available and Jay was cheaper (but) not a lot."

“... There’s a segment of the movie that somewhat recreates that relevant section (of ‘Fantasia’). We didn’t want just to do a little nod and say, aren’t we cute, here’s a little nod to ‘Fantasia.’ We wanted to make it have some sort of relevance to the plot.

“Part of our feeling was that if we try to do exactly what they did (in ‘Fantasia’), we could get slammed. ... You certainly can’t take that piece and do a better version than that. And the same time, that was a 2D cartoon vs. a live-action movie and now we have 3D effects.

Nicolas and Alfred Molina in Disney's "Sorcere's Apprentice"
Nicolas Cage (L) and Alfred Molina in Disney’s “Sorcerers’ Apprentice.”
Photo by Abbott Genser. Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. and
Jerry Buckheimer, Inc. All Rights Reserved

“So what can we do? As long as it’s integral to the story and is part of the story, then it’s OK. Then it makes sense. It’s not just paying lip service to it,” Turteltaub said. “We just had to use it and the way to make it part of the movie is that you have Jay Baruchel himself dealing with it and using people in green suits pretending to be mops.”

Turteltaub explained that the mop sequence is used to illustrate how the magic has gotten ahead of Dave and how he’s not quite ready to use it. It also “screws up a big date” that Dave was planning with Becky.

“I will infuse any part I’m playing with physical comedy,” Baruchel said. “So when I get to do something to pay homage to one of the great funny sequences in film history, I was just champing at the bit. I tried my best to give my respects to that sequence and what Mickey did, but to do my own thing as well.”

Cage was asked about creating Balthazar, which may become one of his more memorable wild characters.

“Listen, actors work with their look,” he said. “I come from the Lon Chaney Sr. school of acting. I want to transform myself every time I can. I’ll wear a wig, nose pieces, I’ll wear a green contact lens in my eye. I’ll do whatever I need to do to create a character. That’s what it’s about. That’s the fun of it. And I wanted Balthazar to have a look like, well Jerry says it’s like an ancient rock star, but he has that cool style that harkens back to the 500s or 600s, which is where he came from. Merlin was his teacher. So I wanted him to have that look of an ancient magician when you meet him in New York City.

“When you’re playing supernatural characters, like ‘Ghost Rider,’ ‘City of Angels,’ ‘Next’ and now ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice,’ there’s an infinite number of possibilities that you can do with the character,” later adding that all of his characters “have a glint of madness in them.”

Supernatural stories can also provide “really wonderful entertainment for the whole family,” Cage said. “You don’t have a high body count, you don’t have to if that’s not to your tastes. The children and the parents can congregate together and ... share that experience. And it entertains the adults as much as the kids. You can do that with a film like ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice.’ ”

Nicolas Cage and Jay Baruchel in Disney's "Sorcerer's Apprentice"
Nicolas Cage (L) and Jay Baruchel in Disney’s “Sorcerers’ Apprentice.”
Photo by Abbot Genser. Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. and
Jerry Buckheimer, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Baruchel was thrilled to be co-starring alongside Cage as someone with supernatural powers.

“Playing a magician is something I’ve been waiting to do my whole life,” Baruchel said. “ ... All acting is play acting. It’s all cops and robbers. And when I was a kid, if I wasn’t playing cops and robbers, I was playing superheroes or something, flying around and killing monsters and shooting energy from my hands. So I have been waiting my whole life to get a chance to do something like this. And the role also lends itself to doing what I like to do, which is pratfalls, standing awkwardly and getting to shoot plasma out of my hands at the same time. It was a marriage of my two passions.

“Nic is one of the great actors of our time ... and he has such a unique distinct way of doing everything. So, to be in conversation with him, let alone doing scenes with the man that I grew up watching in movies ... it wasn’t lost on me. And I just get on with him so well,” Baruchel said.

“The legacy of this movie for me is that I walked away with two pretty great friends in Teresa and Nic and I really enjoy their company. So the most fun to be had by me, aside from shooting the plasma, was being able to talk nerdy stuff with Nic.”

“That’s so true ... everything he said, because we had great conversations,” Cage interjected. “Teresa and Jay had more to do than I did and I spent most of my time with Jay. I got to know Teresa a little later on and she’s a marvelous actress and also a really good friend. She’s terrific in the movie. But Jay and I have a lot of similar interests, we both like mythology and history and have an open mind about things and possibilities.”

“We’re both odd birds,” Baruchel said.

“Yeah, we are,” Cage added.

Finally, I asked Cage — a fan and student of Walt Disney’s life — about what becoming one of Disney’s stable of stars with the “National Treasure” films and now “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” meant to him.

“I’m honored,” he said. “I feel greatly privileged. I call him to myself Uncle Walt. I grew up watching his movies. I love what he stands for ... I like the entertainment that comes out of that studio. In the spirit of Disney, it truly is a dream come true. It’s magical.”

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” opens July 16.

  • I know a lot of people may look down on this movie, but I'm excited for it. I'm a big fan of the National Treasure films, and if this movie is as much fun as those are, I think it could be a hit.

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