Why Sorcerer's Apprentice will be better than you think

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Dec 14, 2012, 4:31 PM EST

A kids' movie trying to make a two-hour action-adventure out of a Mickey Mouse short? Well, sure, when you put it that way, The Sorcerer's Apprentice sounds like a bad idea. But at least Jerry Bruckheimer produced it, so it has more explosions than the Fantasia segment it's based on.

Seriously, though, they did put some thought into making a movie out of this classic, and some of their ideas are pretty good. The movie stars Nicolas Cage as the sorcerer Balthazar, who takes an apprentice (Jay Baruchel) in present-day New York. Jon Turteltaub directs and made sure Cage got to play an unpredictable weirdo like he always does.

"It was really important that this sorcerer be daunting and an intimidating figure," Turteltaub said at a press conference on June 24 in Beverly Hills, Calif. "We always feel safest, I think, around the dangerous person who's on your side, more than the nice, good person who's on your side."

Just because the movie's rated PG doesn't mean it can't have some danger. Cage wants kids to be a little uncomfortable when they see him play Balthazar. "Kids, I think, want to have a little bit of scare," Cage said in a private interview. "They want to be scared sometimes, so that was important to me. By the way, one of my favorite combinations is scary-funny. The best example of that for me was American Werewolf in London, and then again Ghostbusters, but I felt that if we could get that, if we could achieve that, then we're really hitting the mark."

They also filled each scene with all sorts of weird artifacts. Keep your eye out in Balthazar's magic shop, packed with crazy pops crammed into the background. "We built the whole thing, because most stores don't want you to go and set them on fire," Turteltaub said during the press conference. "The trick to that set is not just the set, but the set dressing, and filling it with that much stuff. I kept saying, 'More, more, more,' and the [set decorators] said, 'Well, there aren't a lot more real crazy, weird things around. You want blouses, we can get you 8,000. Bear heads are harder to find.'"

But find them they did. Okay, if you're not sold yet, how about some good old-fashioned projectile beams shooting from the hands? When was the last good projectile light battle in a movie? Maybe Big Trouble in Little China. Cage actually helped rewrite the mythology of Balthazar to let him use his hands.

"In terms of the choreography, I remember early on we were talking about Balthazar wearing these two bracelets," Cage shared with the press conference. "Whenever he made magic, he'd put the two bracelets together, kind of like Sinbad pulling his belt, and then things would magically happen. I really felt that it was important my character use his hands, like a conductor, like magic is coming out of the hands. That's where [costume designer] Michael Kaplan so brilliantly offered the idea of all the rings on each finger, and using the power ring, as opposed to the bracelet. That was always present, on my mind, to use that kind of choreography, like a conductor."

As the apprentice, Baruchel gets to learn how to shoot plasma beams too. He had plenty of practice. Does that make him as method as Cage? "I'd be lying if I said I hadn't practiced shooting energy out of my hands my entire life," Baruchel told the press conference. "It's all Akira, or Street Fighter 2, or the end of Return of the Jedi. I've been groomed for this, and I just had to prevent myself from saying, 'Hadouken!'"

The Sorcerer's Apprentice opens July 14.