The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Successful Characterization (or Lack Thereof)

The Sorcerer's Apprentice
A week or two ago, Denisa and I watched the new Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the Nicholas Cage “remake/revision” of the Mickey Mouse classic. What did I think? Well, I didn’t rush right out and write a review, and that might tell you something. (Although I also saw the Coen Bros. True Grit, and I loved that one–4 stars easy. A perfect Bryce movie.) But in this case, I was a bit conflicted about my review.

The thing is, I loved the world of the movie. The special effects were fantastic, and the plot line is one I’m typically quite content with: boy learns he has magic powers and uses them to defeat evil. When you get right down to it, that’s the plot of a slew of successful fantasies. Fantasies I’ve read or watched again and again. The production value of this movie was good, the actors were decent, but . . .

I just couldn’t get into the characters themselves. You know how people tell you not to write stereotypes? If you’ve ever had a hard time understanding what that means, then you need to watch this movie. It should clear all that up for you. The sorcerers in the movie are cookie cutters: the Evil One. The Good One. Why is one good? Uh . . . ‘cuz he liked a girl. Why is the other evil? He liked the same girl, and she spurned him. The hero kid is your typical teen. There’s nothing to set him apart–although I guess he’s good with engineering and tech. There’s just nothing to grab hold of, character-wise. Every effort to make the characters round ends up being just another stereotype.

SORCERERS APPRENTICE (Disney's Wonderful World of Reading,)Contrast this with Disney’s original Sorcerer’s Apprentice bit–one that has gone on to be a classic. What does it have going for it? There’s no back story, very little in the way of setting and magic system development, and hardly any denouement to speak of. And yet everyone knows it and recognizes it right away. Why is that? I would argue it’s because in that short amount of time, Mickey’s established as a likable character people relate to. He’s got problems they understand, and he deals with them in understandable ways. He gets himself into trouble, and he’s childlike enough that we don’t mind when he’s rescued from that trouble by someone else.

In the new version, the same scene happens. And yet in this one, the character is a stereotypical teenage boy. He’s old enough to know better. He should be able to get himself out of the jam–and he never should have gotten into the jam in the first place. It’s like by providing all the back story to the Disney cartoon, the director broke what was working.

That said, I find myself wondering. There are plenty of movies and books out there that you could describe in stereotypical language, but they work. We like the characters. We connect with them. I can’t think of a way to adequately describe the difference, except to say that real characters come alive. They surprise us. Stereotypes do what we think they’d do. It’s the difference between a sculpture of a cat, and a living breathing cat that might reach out and claw you whenever it feels like it.

Is this making any sense? Have any of you out there seen the movie and care to comment? I’d love some more input here.

2 thoughts on “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Successful Characterization (or Lack Thereof)”

  1. My parent wanted to take us to a movie and this was the only one we could decide on as a group. I didn’t have very high expectations for it in the first place and it still fell flat for me.
    It had all the workings for a great movie like talented actors, cool special effects, witty jokes (I LOVED the reference to Star Wars!!!), but it was like the talented actors weren’t committed to their characters or didn’t put as much energy into the film as it needed. Also, it didn’t have any plot twists that surprised me or that I wasn’t expecting….

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