Disney's 'Fantasia'

When I told a friend that I'd caught an advance screening of The Sorcerer's Apprentice last week, the conversation eventually drifted to the inspiration for the movie. And he told me that he thought the movie was based on a young adult novel. Which gave me pause.

My friend is not entirely ignorant of the history of movies. But he's never seen Walt Disney's Fantasia, which began life as a cartoon short, titled The Sorcerer's Apprentice, in which Mickey Mouse gets into some hot water with a mop and an errant magical spell. (The sequence is recreated in the live-action version, out tomorrow). It's been some time since Disney stopped re-releasing their classic animated movies into theaters every seven years. They have slowly but surely been remastering the films for DVD and Blu-ray. Fantasia was released on DVD in 2000, but has since gone out of print; a new edition is rumored to be coming in December, as our own Erik Childress reported.

Yet that means an entire generation has never seen Fantasia. And so when they see a trailer for a movie starring Nicolas Cage as a modern day sorcerer dressed in a long trench coat and Jay Baruchel as his reluctant, college-aged apprentice, naturally it looks and feels like an adaptation of a young adult novel or series, likely patterned after the Harry Potter series.

Who's to say that J.K. Rowling wasn't inspired, at least a tiny bit, by Fantasia in her depiction of a young wizard learning the tricks of the trade from wise, powerful teachers? Fantasia has melted into the collective consciousness, at least among people of my generation and older, and even when we're not aware of it, it seeps out in conversation and fires the imagination.

The truly discomfiting aspect of remakes and adaptations is not their mere existence -- The Sorcerer's Apprentice cartoon short itself is said to have been inspired by a Goethe-penned poem -- but when they threaten to wipe their original inspiration out of existence. Happily, Fantasia will be coming back, and then new comparisons can be made with the live-action version, and everyone can decide on their own favorite Sorcerer's Apprentice.