Voilà! Some fun facts about ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’

Based on a 1797 poem by Goethe, the story of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice has inspired many other works, including novels by Elspeth Huxley, Hanns Heinz Ewers, François Augiéras and a Doctor Who volume by Christopher Bulis.

Several movies and TV episodes have taken up Goethe’s mantle, including the 2010 film starring Nicolas Cage; a 2001 movie with Robert Davi and Kelly LeBrock; a BBC-TV series, running from 2007 to 2010 and spinning off from the “Harry Potter” films; a 1980 short starring horror master Vincent Price, and a 1959 TV musical treatment with Art Carney (Ed Norton from the TV classic “The Honeymooners”) and the Baird Puppets. The Goethe poem also inspired a 1962 “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” episode considered so gruesome, it was not broadcast until the series went into syndication.

Perhaps most famously, Goethe’s work took root in Paul Dukas’ 1897 tone poem of the same name, which received its debut, conducted by the composer at the Societé Nationale de Musique in Paris. (Two years later, the Chicago Orchestra, under Theodore Thomas, performed the U.S. premiere.)

But Dukas’ work achieved pop-culture immortality when it was used in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” segment of Disney’s “Fantasia” (1940). Goethe’s work, and the Dukas symphonic poem based on it, is showcased in one of the film’s eight animated shorts based on classical music. (The Chicago Symphony Orchestra will perform The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in concerts Dec. 15-18.)

Some other fun facts about the Disney version of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and “Fantasia”:

A hat tip to the sorcerer of animation: In “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” segment, the wizard is named “Yen Sid” — Disney spelled backward. If the name wasn’t a giveaway, the old sorcerer’s looks pointed to Uncle Walt, since his gaunt figure and raised brows were inspired by the way Walt would look at his artists.

Remake, remodel: The sequel “Fantasia 2000,” featuring the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, reprises the 1940 version of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” reconstructed and remastered for the new film. Though the colors were brighter and the imagery more clear, some critics thought the improvements detracted from the contrast of light and shadow in some scenes. 

Make room for ... : Though it’s now an iconic role for Mickey Mouse, the part of the apprentice almost went to went to Dopey from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937). Walt Disney, however, stood firm and gave the role to Mickey instead.

Sometimes a great notion: Originally intended to be a short subject for the Silly Symphony cartoon series, the short became more elaborate and expensive. Disney then decided to make a full-length film consisting of animated sequences set to classical music.

Leopold! The famed music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra had a huge impact on the project, recording almost all of the film’s segments. Stokowski even shakes hands with Mickey Mouse on screen, although he would later joke that Mickey Mouse got to shake hands with him. This footage of Stokowski was incorporated into “Fantasia 2000.”

An ardent fan of technology, Stokowski insisted that most of the music be recorded on special telephone lines  between the Academy of Music in Philadelphia and Bell Laboratories in Camden, N.J., via an early, highly complex version of multi-track stereophonic sound, dubbed Fantasound. Recorded on photographic film, the results were considered astounding for the late 1930s.