I really didn’t expect to enjoy this movie as much as I did. For starters, there’s the Nicolas Cage factor (for me he takes any movie down a notch), but he’s not bad when he’s just having fun (see also National Treasure). This time he plays Balthazar, an apprentice to the original Merlin, who’s been searching for Merlin’s successor for over a thousand years. Who would have guessed he’d be found in 2010 New York city as awkward, science nerd David, played by Jay Baruchel. After his voice performance in the wonderful How To Train Your Dragon, earlier this year, Baruchel is really cornering the market on geeky, spindly nerd-heroes (at least on the big screen). Once master and apprentice find each other, don’t worry, we don’t spend 90 minutes watching Baruchel try to light a candle with his mind or anything like that. The action kicks in immediately as Horvath, an evil sorcerer (played smugly well by the versatile Alfred Molina), sets into motion his plan to release evil sorceress Morgana (apparently there’s going to be a convention or something) from imprisonment in a nesting doll (a very special one).
Despite his scruffy face and stringy hair, Cage comes across as somewhat likeable and Baruchel too has an endearing quality to his bumbling (especially around his childhood crush, Becky, who re-enters his life just in time for the magical fireworks, and to distract him from his apprenticeship). When she’s on her way over for a date, he uses magic to try to clean up the place and in a delightful homage to the original, animated short movie, the brooms and mops run amok and end up spoiling his plans. There’s plenty of humour in this movie (mostly courtesy of Baruchel), but it’s not all farce and parody. There’s still a good vs evil clash and the goods guys still need to save the day.
The visual effects in this movie are top-notch. There are magical bolts of fire, lightning flung every which way; animal statues come to life; cars and people fall in and out of mirrors, and all kinds of other fun stuff. This is a Disney movie, after all, and they have the budget to prove it. As a Disney movie, it’s still pretty kid-friendly. Nothing gets too dark or malevolent. It’s pretty much a nice fantasy adventure flick in the old fashioned vein (and I hope they make more of them). (4 out of 5)