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Thursday, 4 February 2016

REVIEW: "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"

So, as we know, it all started with a mouse. 

« A rabbit ! RABBIT ! »

Yes, I hear you, Oswald. See you next review. Anyway, they say it all started with a mouse, so despite my preference for Duck characters, let’s start with a mouse story, shall we ?

Here is 1953’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, written by God knows who and drawn by talented mouse artist Paul Murry. As the title implies, it’s an adaptation of sorts to the 1940 Fantasia segment, though it does take some liberties that I’m going to pin point as we see them. The first being, obviously, that the characters talk in this version, since Paul Dukas’s music can’t be there to fill the soundtrack.Another difference that you can see in this (beautiful) opening splash panel is that, in spite of all the talking, Yen Sid is never named: he’s just The Sorcerer. You can’t blame Unknown Writer, however, since Yen Sid’s name just started as a joke between the animators and never really caught on until Kingdom Hearts.

Second big difference is, here, we don’t begin with Mickey already working at Yen Sid’s: we witness the process of him suddenly thinking about the Sorcerer and getting the idea of postulating to be his apprentice. It’s executed rather well, though it does raise the question — where does Mickey come from ? Why is he randomly hanging around the Sorcerer’s castle when there’s no village or anything in sight, if it was not purposely to come to the castle ?… Yeah, I’m overthinking this. Globally this little intro is pretty enjoyable, and emphasizes Mickey’s mischievous, childlike nature rather well.

Ladies and gentleman, Yen Si… I mean the Sorcerer. The butterfly he creates is much more of, well, a butterfly than the glowing… thing we see in the movie, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing, since the time’s somewhat loose printing quality wouldn’t have allowed for the colorful nuances the movie’s butterfly was made of. Also, Murry's butterfly is very cute if nothing else.Also, notice that broom in the background. Foreshadowing, fellows. I don’t know if Unknown Writer or Paul Murry is responsible for it, but whoever it is, I congratulate him. You can actually enjoy some more foreshadowing  in the first splash panel, as you can see the well that Mickey’s going to use to fill the tub, later.

So anyway, Mickey’s hired and starts doing chores as he should (including chopping wood, a minor addition to the cartoon) and this happens. You know, you can always assume it happened offstage in the movie version, but I think that this scene was somewhat missing in said version. Yen Sid leaves his hat on the desk with no instruction, Mickey uses it… and Yen Sid blames Mickey for that ? Sure, he did not verbally allow Mickey to take it, nor had Mickey any reason to believe he had such right, but Yen Sid did not warn Mickey, either, or told him not to mess with his stuff. Here, the sorcerer gives Mickey a fair chance, making him more likable. When it comes to the art, still nice shadowing.

Did I mention the shadowing was awesome already ? Yes I did, but since it’s getting more and more awesome as the story progresses, I’m going to be repeating myself. And it’s nice that it is, since the artistic beauty of the thing was much of the original cartoon’s appeal; the exact same script, but drawn by a less talented artist, would have made a dull story that was trying to cash on a movie that it can’t rival, while this story is really trying. Also, Mickey’s thought balloon is totally right: why doesn’t he ? The cartoon doesn’t dive into this question at all and the comic doesn’t really make it the centre theme, but one could argue that the point is not to have the tub filled, but to have the apprentice deserve what he’s going to learn… to avoid having him feel that magic comes easy. This is supported by later changes.

So Yen Sid goes to the village, instead of going to sleep upstairs as in the original. I think this is a mistake of sorts: Yen Sid going to sleep emphasized his humanity in a way you rarely see in cartoons — ‘yes he’s got tremendous powers, but he’s still a physical living being with physical restrictions’ —.  Nice to learn there is a village though, must be where Mickey is from.

That’s still excellent art on the water, but here’s the second change I’m not please with: this narration box is all we get of Mickey’s iconic dream sequence where he commands to the skies and stars. It might not have rendered well in comic form, so I can understand why they cut it, but meh. It’s technically speaking the best-looking part in the short, and that was Walt Disney’s personal opinion, too !

WHACK ! BANG ! OUCH ! Contrary to the original version, Mickey « murdering » the Broom happens onscreen, like it was supposed to be before they cut the scene and redid it with the shadows. And I think they were right in deleting it the first time; it does look a bit disturbing to see Mickey Mouse actively hacking a walking, moving being in half, like that, whack.

Yen Sid is back, awesome art is awesome, « Aba-Ka-Zow-GOOM-Bah » sounds a bit silly a magic word in the mouth of a realistic character such as Yen Sid.

What was I saying earlier ? Yen Sid could have easily kept the tub filled instead of blasting its water away with the rest of the flood, if the point was to get the tub filled. But the point is to get the tub filled by Mickey, you see ?

Culmination of Yen Sid being made into a nice guy here: instead of spanking Mickey with the broom, we get this hope-filled ending that echoes Mickey’s wishes at the beginning.

Thus ends The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which I might call something of a hidden gem; hidden for two reasons. First, Paul Murry’s regular Mickey comics tended not to be all that exciting, as GeoX pointed out once or twice. Second, the cartoon’s popularity actually contributes to making the story more obscure, since it’s so much more famous than its comic adaptation; the poor thing really has no way to shine by itself. And that’s a shame. Hearing me at IDW ? Probably not, but if you are in spite of all probabilities, here’s a tip: reprint that presto. 


  1. Nice Review. This is probally the most youthful-Gottfredson-esque Mickey Murry ever drew. (Correct Me If I'm Wrong)

  2. Interesting to see this, but I'd guess it's unlikely to be reprinted since Marv Wolfman, Stephen DeStefano & Gary Martin did another comic adaptation of the Sorcerer's Apprentice for Fantasia's 50th anniversary--printed in Mickey Mouse Adventures 9 (Disney Interregnum). That one does include the dream sequence, quite gloriously. No dialogue, but the narration boxes have the wizard telling the story. He's not named there, either; the kids he's telling the story to (first page frame) call him "Sir Mage."

    1. For what reason did they ? Weren't they aware of this one ? Whatever the case may be, it would be interesting to reprint both in the same issue to allow comparison.

    2. I assume they knew about the earlier one, but did another adaptation because they felt they could do better--which they did. Though I agree with you that the earlier one has its charms. Still, the Wolfman & Co. one is visually terrific. The editorial commentary in the letters page in that issue says how much of a labor of love that story was: "Everyone involved with the "Sorcerer" adaptation performed above and beyond the call of sanity in producing it. A number of us even donated services for free in order to guarantee that you would see the best possible presentation of this story. And we'd all do it again in a second. We all feel honored to be able to produce something that would give others the same feeling of joy and wonder that we feel being a small part of what is, in our opinion, the pinnacle of Disney animation." (written in 1991)

    3. Thank you. I wish I could read that story… Sadly, it hasn't been published in France, (I'm French), but I might order the book in which this story was published…