Sunday, 4 March 2012


“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” - Albert Einstein
I am quite interested in children’s literature and as a consequence also interested in children’s TV programs and movies. In these times when it is difficult to get young children to read, it’s quite important to be able produce books that can engage young minds and motivate them to do more reading. Any children’s book that is read with pleasure by kids is to be commended, never mind what topic it covers, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. I remember the controversy that erupted when the first “Harry Potter” book was released, given its immense popularity with children of all ages. A certain subgroup of the population was objecting to it as being quite unsuitable for kids as it was unchristian and dealing sympathetically with pagans, witches and warlocks. And yet, the same group of the population did not object to the hundreds of fairy tales that can be regarded as belonging to the same genre of children’s literature, and are similarly unchristian. In the end Harry Potter was victorious and remained in the bestseller list. Great! As long as kids read, it is all for their good.

When it comes to TV, videos and movies, the matter becomes a little more complicated.  The visual medium is more accessible, much more easily manipulated, more likely to become the harbinger of propagandist messages and much more likely to be junk food for the mind. Where reading generally stimulates young neurones, the visual medium may more easily dull them or deaden them. Hence, I tend to be more critical of the visual media than the written word. A long introduction to introduce this film review today, in the way of a justification for what is to follow!

At the weekend we watched the 2010 Jon Turteltaub film “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, starring Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina and Teresa Palmer. We watched it and wondered if this was the Disney studios attempt to duplicate the success of the “Harry Potter” movies or the finesse of “The Chronicles of Narnia”, or the brooding darkness of “Golden Compass” or the quirkiness of the “City of Ember”? Unfortunately, the film fails on several counts to be even comparable to any of these. Plot inadequacy and irritating lead actor peppered with special effects do not make a successful fantasy movie.

In short, the plot unwinds in modern-day Manhattan, where Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage) is a master sorcerer trying to defend the world from his arch-enemy, Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina). Balthazar is not able to defeat Horvath alone, and he needs to find the Prime Merlinian in order to overcome the powers of evil. Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel) is a physics nerd who shows Balthazar the sign of the Prime Merlinian, thus allowing the Sorcerer to enlist him as his apprentice. Together they must not only defeat Horvath but prevent him from releasing the evil Morgana (Alice Krige) from her magic prison and save Veronica (Monica Bellucci) from her unjust confinement. Teresa Palmer play Jay’s love interest, Becky, who often gets in the way of Jay’s apprenticeship, but ultimately is important in helping Balthazar and Jay save the world…

This was a pretty bad movie. It was cliché-ridden, full of predictable special effects and explosions, car chases and a woeful casting choice with Jay Baruchel as a lead. He is quite unlikeable in this role and he delivers his lines with an annoying nasal twang and the most awful grimaces, which just ruins every scene he is in. Nicolas Cage manages to salvage the scenes he is in and Monica Bellucci looks quite gorgeous as does the likeable starlet Teresa Palmer. Alfred Molina relishes his role and plays his scenes with aplomb, but even he fails to save the film from mediocrity. The storyline failed to stir the imagination, the jokes were woeful and being a Disney film there was reference to the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” sequence in the 1940 “Fantasia” animated feature. This further annoyed me for some reason (attempt at reflected glory? Self-referential tribute? A hope that this would make the viewer accept the paucity of the plot?).

Now, I happened to find out that there is another movie called “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and it is David Lister’s 2002 film that also has references to Merlin and Morgana. It stars Robert Davi, Kelly LeBrock and Byron Taylor. I have not seen this, but I am curious now to watch it and see how it compares to the film I’ve just reviewed. If we believe IMDb, the 2010 version is better as it has a score of 6.2/10 and the older version has a score of 5.1. However, I am not convinced that IMDb is always reliable – it has sometimes bagged films I considered very good and has sometimes given high scores to absolute trash. However, overall on average IMDb is more or less OK in its assessments.

Children’s movies (for children of all ages) are a dicy matter. They have to be quite good to please me and I demand that there is a point, some moral, some purpose to them (while they are engaging and fun to watch too). A simple of good vs evil will not please me and the mostly intelligent children that watch these movies nowadays expect something more sophisticated.

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