In 740 AD, the sorcerer Merlin (James A. Stephen) has three apprentices: Balthazar (Nicholas Cage), Veronica Gorloisen (Monica Bellucci), and Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina). Horvath betrays Merlin by joining with the evil sorceress Morgana le Fay (Alice Krige). Morgana fatally wounds Merlin before Veronica can rip Morgana’s soul from her body and absorb it. Morgan tries to seize control of Veronica, but Balthazar stops her by imprisoning both of them in the grimhold, which is a nesting doll. Before he dies, Merlin gives Balthazar a dragon figurine called the Merlinean, which will identify Merlin’s descendants. Balthazar searches the Merlinean throughout history and imprisons Morganians—those who wish to release Morgana from the grimhold. This includes Maxim Horvath.
In the year 2000, the Prime Merlinean turns out to be a 10-year-old Dave Sutler (Jake Cherry), who runs into Balthazar in his New York City antique store. When Balthazar gives the dragon figure to him, the statue comes to life, becomes a ring, and wraps around Dave’s finger. Dave accidentally opens the grimhold and releases Horvath. Balthazar and Horvath battle for possession of the grimhold and are imprisoned in an ancient Chinese urn for ten years. When Dave tries to tell what happened, he is bullied and his experiences explained away as hallucinations.
Ten years later, Dave (Jay Baruchel) is twenty and a physics student at NYU. He meets his childhood crush Becky Barnes (Teresa Palmer) and is smitten all over again. He repairs the transmitter mast at the radio station she works for, after it is struck by lightning. The ten-year seal on the urn expires and Horvath and Balthazar are released. Horvath pursues Dave and the grimhold, but Balthazar rescues him, riding an animated steel eagle from the Chrysler Building. Dave refuses to help Balthazar, not wanting to be considered psychotic anymore, but Balthazar agrees to leave him alone as soon as he finds the grimhold.
They track it to Chinatown, where Horvath has released Sun Lok (Gregory Woo). Dave defeats Sun Lok and Balthazar seizes the grimhold. Dave decides he likes magic and agrees to be Balthazar’s apprentice. He also falls heavily for Becky. Horvath recruits a young Morganian—a celebrity magician named Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell). They try to kill Dave but Balthazar saves him again. Dave asks what is going on and Balthazar tells him about Morgana and Veronica trapped in the grimhold. If Morgana gets out, she will raise sorcerers from the dead and enslave mankind. Dave is the only one who can stop her.
Wanting to impress Becky, Dave tries to clean up the lab but loses control of the animated mops. Balthazar saves him again and Dave decides to give up magic until Becky, without knowing it, changes his mind. He returns to his lab just as Drake and Horvath try to kill Balthazar and steal the grimhold. Horvath releases a witch named Abigail Williams (Nicole Eringer) and uses her to kidnap Becky. He tries to kill Becky and forces Dave to surrender the grimhold and his ring. Balthazar goes after Horvath in Battery Park. Horvath releases Morgana and animates the Wall Street Charging Bull Sculpture to attack Balthazar. Dave attacks and stuns Horvath with a Tesla coil while Balthazar’s eagle flies away with the bull.
Becky disrupts the rising spell, stunning Morgana. Balthazar takes Morgana from Veronica into himself, but Morgana escapes and tries to incinerate them. Dave stops her. Morgana kills Balthazar with a plasma bolt. Dave warps lampposts and power lines into a bigger Tesla coil and destroys Morgana with a plasma barrage. He revives Balthazar and he reunites with Veronica. Dave and Becky kiss and fly to France for breakfast on Balthazar’s eagle. In post credits, Horvath retrieves his hat from Balthazar’s shop.
The film was directed by Jon Turteltaub, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, and released by Disney—the same team that created the National Treasure series. It is based, of course, on the scene from Disney’s 1940 Fantasia featuring the Paul Dukas symphonic poem from the 1890s, which in turn was based on a ballad by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The film premiered at the 2010 Fantasia Film Festival. It was a box-office disappointment and received mixed reviews. It was mostly shot on location in New York City.
A car in a chase scene crashed into a pizza shop in Times Square and injured pedestrians. The 1945 Rolls Royce Phantom used in the film belongs to Nicholas Cage. Real wolves ran in the streets, but they were tame and CGI was used to give them scary faces. Horvath summons from the dead Abigail Williams, whose accusation of witchcraft in 1692 triggered the Salem Witch Trials that killed at least twenty people. It’s not an important film, but Nicholas Cage is fun to watch and there are some startling and cool special effects.