If toys, video games, comics and TV cartoon specials can serve as sources for Hollywood action flicks, why not Mickey Mouse?
Nicolas Cage and Jay Baruchel's "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," as "suggested by the animated short" of the same name starring Mickey, may not work any bedazzling magic.
Yet the family fantasy that reunites Cage with his "National Treasure" producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Jon Turteltaub stirs up a pleasant-enough potion whose effects, action and comedy should send parents and kids home happy.
They will have to put up with the whine of Baruchel's voice, which seems to grow more nasally as he ages.
But the often stodgy Cage, fresh from a couple of deliriously manic performances in "Kick-Ass" and "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans," has rediscovered his inner goof, hamming it up as a 1,500-year-old sorcerer who can claim Merlin the magician as a mentor.
He's still a bit stiff and self-serious, but then, centuries of futile searching for some chosen kid called the Prime Merlinian will do that to you.
The story developed by a team of five writers from the Mickey Mouse short — part of Walt Disney's 1940 collection "Fantasia" and itself inspired by a Goethe poem — essentially is a variation of the King Arthur Chosen One tale told with wizards.
A clunky narrated prologue lays out the conflict in more detail than parents or kids are likely to want. The gist of it: Back around the 8th century, Merlin had three apprentices, lovers Balthazar Blake (Cage) and Veronica (Monica Bellucci), and Maxim (Alfred Molina), who turned rotten and sided with evil sorceress Morgana (Alice Krige) in her attempt to raise dead wizards and end the world.
Balthazar manages to put a cork in it by trapping Maxim, Morgana and unfortunately Veronica in this thing called the Grimhold, sort of a Russian nesting doll to imprison sorcerers. It's only a temporary fix, and Balthazar sets off on a quest to find the Prime Merlinian, the successor to Merlin's power who can destroy Morgana for good.
Yes, the mops are back
Cut to present-day Manhattan, where Balthazar finally has found his boy in physics geek Dave Stutler (Baruchel). With Maxim newly freed and aiming to release Morgana from the Grimhold, Balthazar's on a tight deadline to train klutzy Dave in the tricks of the sorcery trade he'll need to take down the baddies.
Complicating matters, Dave's just rediscovered the love of his childhood, Becky (Teresa Palmer), and his efforts to win her over prove a distraction to his apprenticeship.
The effects and action are fine but mostly unremarkable, consisting heavily of sorcerers hurling fiery balls of plasma at one another or mad scientist Dave zapping arcs of lightning around in his lab.
The filmmakers cleverly recreate the scenario of Goethe's poem and Mickey cartoon's in a sequence where Dave brings an army of mops to life in a misguided attempt to save time on cleaning chores.
Baruchel's twangy voice aside, he and Cage forge an engaging student-teacher relationship, while Molina's dapper villain routine adds some class. Bellucci's role is little more than a walk-on, but Toby Kebbell grabs some laughs as a stagy protege to Maxim.
Cage, Turteltaub and Bruckheimer clearly are aiming to create another "National Treasure"-style franchise to feed the family action comedy market.
Are there big laughs and great action in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"? No, but it's a fairly fun time for families, and Hollywood can — and continually does — build franchises out of far worse concoctions than this.