Sorcerer's Apprentice Plot
Someone only semi-qualified, the "apprentice"
, gets hold of the Phlebotinum
when its normal user, the "wizard", is away. The apprentice uses it for his own advantage, but soon ends up with far too much of a good thing
At the end of the episode the wizard returns and delivers a quick aesop
, which may often degenerate into a Fantastic Aesop
depending on how well it is delivered. Typically, it's either a hero misusing his mentor's
phlebotinum or a sidekick
misusing that of the hero.
Often causes a Me's a Crowd
or Literal Genie
Named for the old story best known today from its appearance in Disney's Fantasia
— Mickey Mouse, the Sorcerer's apprentice, uses his master's magic to bring a broom to life and make it fetch water for him. The broom obeys only too well
, and soon the whole castle is flooded and the sorcerer is forced to (quite literally) bail Mickey out. The Disney version is originally based on a poem by Johann Faust, and the oldest version of this trope is a story by Lucian, written around 150 CE, so the trope itself is Older Than Feudalism
Not to be confused with the 2010 film
(though that does
have an homage to the original Disney short, being also a Disney movie).
- This is essentially the plot of Bruce Almighty in which an ordinary human Nay-Theist is given God's powers.
- Dragonslayer does this a bit differently. The apprentice is lazy and doesn't develop his magic. The sorcerer is out of the picture, the apprentice takes his jewel of power, and suddenly has all the same magical competence without having to work for it. Three guesses what happens later...
- In the 2010 film of the same name, the literal sorcerer's apprentice Dave enchants mops to clean his lab while his master is away. It doesn't go so well. See the Fantasia example above.
- From the silent movie The Golem: In the Rabbi's absence, his apprentice rashly revives the deactivated Golem, but soon loses control over him. The resulting rampage of the Golem is the movie's climax.
- Trope Namer is Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's ballad "Der Zauberlehrling", made famous by Paul Dukas' Symphonic Poem L'apprenti sorcier, made still more famous by a certain mouse. Amazingly, considering that it went through not one but two transformations, the Disney adaptation is remarkably close to Goethe's original poem.
- The plot for The Wednesday Wizard, where the apprentice to a wizard in the middle ages accidentally sends himself through time to the modern day (The Nineties). Other than slight amounts of magic, the middle ages was normal, thus leading to the apprentice's amazing discoveries in the 20th century. Upon returning, the wizard doesn't find out until the sequel book, when stories of things like "a dragon named Trayne" and "terrible beasts called Kars" getting loose give the apprentice away. Also in the sequel, the second main character - a girl from the present that the apprentice met - was transported back in time before the wizard found out, meaning the apprentice did this twice.
- The Wild Bunch by Tom Dupree (Realms of Magic) had a rather ingenious use of almost unusable artifact.
- Terry Pratchett's Mort follows the basic plotline of the Sorcerer's Apprentice: a young man becomes Death's apprentice, is left to his own devices, accidentally saves somebody's life, creating two conflicting realities that threaten the balance of cosmos, and Death is forced to step in to fix things, first intending to claim lives of everybody involved as punishment to Mort, but eventually relenting to a more merciful solution.
- Basil St. Cloud has issues with this in The Fall of the Kings, but it's justified in that magic is just returning to the world.
- In The Eyes of Kid Midas, Kevin Midas borrows Reality Warping sunglasses from a mountain (a stand-in for God). Things get pretty screwed up, but in the end, he gives the glasses back to the mountain and everything works out okay.
- The first book of The Icewind Dale Trilogy has two examples of foolish apprentice wizards making a mess of things, one is tricked into murdering his master and ends up enthralled by the Shard, the other accidentally unleashes a Balor.
- In Tomie dePaola's children's book Strega Nona, a young man sees that the local witch can magically produce pasta from her cooking pot...but doesn't pay attention to how she gets it to stop. When he tries to use it while she's gone, the village is drowning in pasta by the time she gets back.
- In the Torchwood episode "Everything Changes", all the Torchwood employees (except Ianto) are shown as bringing alien technology home for selfish use. While the technology itself works well, Tosh and Owen return their appropriated technology after Suzie, driven mad with desire for power over the Risen Mitten, commits suicide.
- At one point in Warehouse 13, Claudia uses a lab coat that magnetizes her to climb up to a lightbulb that's come loose. It works too well and suddenly she finds herself stuck to a metal girder, with more and more metal objects (including a bicycle and Artie's glasses) attaching themselves to her; eventually she needs to get Artie's help to get down.
- Besides Fantasia, Mickey Mouse has done it again in Epic Mickey. Y'see, while the wizard was out, Mickey poked around and found a world for forgotten characters. He visited and had fun, but accidentally creates a monster while trying to put his own image into the world. Mickey erases the beast (briefly), spills paint and thinner on the world, and escapes. Years later, it comes back to bite him.
- Similar to above, Mickey was said to have been Yen Sid's apprentice in Kingdom Hearts II.
- In Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, we get some more details, including Mickey having ran off with an object that let him travel through worlds...without even knowing how to operate it properly. And in the prologue, we see a remade clip from the original Fantasia segment: Mickey is struggling to keep afloat on a book in a flooded room, no doubt caused in the same was as in Fantasia.
- Kingdom Hearts 3D shows the Mickey that Sora and Riku find in the Symphony of Sorcery world was in the middle of abusing his master's power before a Dream Eater trapped him in sleep. Subverted in that by the end, Sora and Riku rescue Mickey and set things right instead of Yen Sid, but Mickey still changes his mind about using magic to do his chores for him.
- Played with in Neverwinter Nights henchmen stories. The intellectual gnome sorcerer tells a story of his apprenticeship which starts as if it would be this played straight, then subverting it and being frankly astonished that the player would think he'd try to use his master's equipment without permission. Tomi's story, on the other hand, plays this completely straight as it is actually more of a retelling of the Disney version, in detail.
- In the early 90s puzzle game Troddlers, the backstroy has two lazy apprentices of a wizard create hundreds of little humanoids to do their chores, but of course things don't go as planned and when they escape through a strange portal, the wizards orders his apprentices to go after them and collect as many as possible. The story is similar to the Fantasia segment while the gameplay bears some resemblance with Lemmings.
- In the second game of The Spellcasting Series, you can use the PRENT spell to enchant a banana to carry water. The banana multiplies rapidly if then damaged in an obvious homage to the trope codifier. You can get rid of the bananas after they've filled the tub but before they've flooded the place by casting a second spell that turns them all into a giant daiquiri.
- In one Sunshine Warriors story, Arrowstar's nephew Ralph discovers his uncle's Powered Armor and takes it for a spin. He does okay for a little while, and actually manages to stop a crime without causing too much property damage. But then he accidentally hits the suits afterburners and puts himself into orbit. Luckily, he's rescued before the suit's oxygen supply runs out.
- The Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse episode "Rhapsody in Buttercream" has a variation using technology instead of magic: When Teresa bets that Lethal Chef Barbie can't bake a batch of cupcakes, Barbie tries to use her "Little Miss Cupcake-ilator" to whip some up. Unfortunately, she doesn't remember how to make it stop producing cupcakes. (Unplug it.)
- Jackie Chan Adventures had Jade's constant use of the talismans for mischief or honest attempts to help.
- The various times the Dragons misused Shen Gon Wu for pranks or personal gain in Xiaolin Showdown.
- Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!: In "Wubbzy's Magical Mess Up", Wubbzy borrows Moo Moo the Magician's wand while the latter is away from the shop and ends up creating a mess of chaos.
- An episode of Timon & Pumbaa had this happen with Rafiki's nephew.
- Pinky from the Pinky and the Brain segments of Animaniacs had done something like this in the 'The Brain's Apprentice' cartoon, parodying the Disney Sorcerer's Apprentice short.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Twilight Sparkle sort of deals with this. As the student of a Physical Goddess, she's capable of performing amazing feats of magic, but she often messes up and makes things worse. "Lesson Zero" in particular, she tries to create a problem she can solve by enchanting her old doll with a "Want It, Need It" spell that quickly affects everyone in town. The ensuing riot keeps her from disenchanting the doll. It isn't until Princess Celestia herself shows up that the problem is fixed. And just like the Trope Namer, she is not happy.
- And then there's the resultant fan works. "Twilight messes up a spell and Hilarity Ensues" is probably in the top three most common plot outlines.
- Invoked in Code Lyoko, when Franz Hopper calls Jérémie "the sorcerer's apprentice" and accuses him of screwing up Lyoko and endangering his friends' lives by using untested technology. Actually, it's not Franz Hopper. The Big Bad is trying to get Jérémie out of the way so he can launch his latest Evil Plan.
- In a more general sense, Jérémie really is Franz' apprentice, though they rarely communicate during the show. He's taking control of Applied Phlebotinum that he didn't build and doesn't fully understand, and whenever he tries to develop something new, odds are better than even that he'll screw something up.
- In the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Deserter". Aang discovers a Firebending master and is eager to learn firebending. The master is reluctant because he knows Aang has not mastered water and earth (and true focus) yet. To start with baby steps, the master gives Aang a tiny leaf to burn a little. But an impatient Aang yearns to show off his potential and creates giant flames that badly burns Katara, much to his horror.
- Sometimes happens in Steven Universe, for example when Peedee Fryman lets Steven animate the Frybo costume.
- Computers, especially email servers, can suffer from Sorcerer's Apprentice Mode, where an improperly-configured system sends out multiple messages in response to a single message. Two such misconfigured systems talking to each other results in a traffic explosion, typically requiring the intervention of a guru to sort thing out.
- While it hasn't actually ever happened (at least not to our knowledge), this is basically the premise behind a popular hypothetical end of the world scenario called "Grey Goo", in which nanobots programmed to consume matter and convert it into clones of themselves are allowed to run free, eventually turning the entire planet into nanobots.