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Sorcerer's Apprentice Plot

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Can't handle the hat, get out of the broom closet.
Someone only semi-qualified, the "apprentice", gets hold of the Phlebotinum when its normal user, the "sorcerer", 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 sorcerer returns and delivers An Aesop. The exact relationship between the two isn't strictly apprentice and sorceror; it can be any "follower and leader" link, like that between The Hero and their Mentor, or a Sidekick and their respective Hero.

The general aesop this story suggests is "don't envy the power your leader has; you might not be as capable of using it as well as they can". That said, the exact phrasing or lesson may often degenerate into a Fantastic Aesop depending on how relevant it actually is to the real world.

Often causes a Me's a Crowd or Literal Genie plot. In the case of the former, even if the duplicates seem identical to the original in every other respect, the most notable difference is likely to be that they're just fine with making more and more duplicates, while the original looks on in horror.

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 Yen Sid is forced to (quite literally) bail Mickey out. The Disney version is originally based on a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and the oldest version of this trope is a story by Lucian, written around A.D. 150, so the trope itself is Older Than Feudalism.

Not to be confused with the 2010 film (though that does have a homage to the original Disney short, being also a Disney movie). Compare It Won't Turn Off and Radish Cure. Compare and contrast Accidental Incantation, in which an unqualified person calls up magic inadvertently.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Doraemon runs on this trope. In practically every episode (but not in the movies), Nobita gets ahold of one of Doraemon's gadgets either sneakily or by promising to be responsible with it, only to horribly misuse it and create far bigger problems than whatever he was trying to solve.

    Comic Books 
  • Doctor Strange: Strange's apprentice Rintrah shape shifted into Strange, in order to get closer to the Enchantress. When he did, Enchantress gave him the original Eye of Agamotto and a purple cloak of levitation. Thinking he was magically inclined enough to successfully utilize the items, Rintrah attempted to do so, but instead of achieving what he had tried, Rintrah accidentally turned a pile of garbage into a man eating monster, that had to be slain by Dr. Strange.
  • Green Lantern #162: The Tales of the Green Lantern Corps story "The Apprentice" does this with the Green Lantern Ring. Deeter, a young Lantern apprentice, steals his master's ring while he sleeps and quickly encounters a deadly enemy and finds that it takes expertise to be a hero.
  • An early Metal Men story involves Tina using Doc's notes to make a robot duplicate of him after he goes out on a date with a Rich Bitch and attributes her emotions to a faulty responsometer. The robot Doc loves Tina, but he makes his own Metal Men and tries to use them to take over humanity. The Trope Namer is explicitly referenced in this story for bonus points.
  • A distinctly adults-only version occurs in the XXXenophile story "The Sorceress' Appendage", when an apprentice sorceress summons a group of homunculi to satisfy her sexual urges and the situation gets out of control, forcing her mistress to step in and deal with things in a distinctly 'hands on' fashion.

    Fairy Tales 
  • There is a Norse fairy tale about a poor man who came into possession of a magic mill that can grind out everything its owner wishes for. The mill got eventually stolen by his rich, evil and greedy brother who took it on a ship and set it to grind out salt (which was very precious back in the medieval times). However, the poor brother didn't teach him how to stop it, so the mill ground out salt until it sank the boat, and then went on grinding in the sea, turning the sea salty. Similar stories exist in German, Polish and Greek folklore.
  • Another fairy tale, possibly Russian, has a young man working as an assistant to an elderly witch learn that her pot (which she had forbidden him from touching) has the power to generate an endless supply of pasta after he secretly sees her perform the spell to activate it, but he wasn't watching when she canceled the spell. When she goes on a trip without him, he copies the spell to activate it and shares the pasta with everyone in the nearby town, but when everyone is done eating, he can't stop the pot from generating more pasta since he didn't see how to cancel the spell and it creates a flood of pasta that threatens to destroy the town. The witch finally comes back before anybody gets hurt and cancels the spell. The angry townsfolk want to lynch the young man by hanging him with pasta for causing the disaster, but the witch convinces them to change the punishment to making him eat all of the pasta flooding the town.
  • The Brothers Grimm: Whether or not it's a cauldron or not can vary in the retelling, but a magic vessel appears in Sweet Porridge (aka The Magic Porridge Pot). It produces porridge ceaselessly unless the magic words are spoken, leading to a Sorcerer's Apprentice Plot.

    Fan Works 
  • Pony POV Series: As a young Concept, Celestia saw the three pony tribes of Equus warring with each other over food and territory. She wanted to stop them from destroying each other, and asked Entropy for help, who gave her the Windigos. Despite her family's warnings that it would end badly and their attempts to stop her, Celestia made it past them to the mortal world with Discord's and Luna's help, released them on Equus, and commanded them to "end hatred among ponies and make it as if hatred never existed on this world." They responded by creating an unstoppable Endless Winter to wipe out the biggest sources of hatred on the planet...the pony tribes themselves.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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...
  • From the silent movie The Golem: In the Rabbi's absence, his apprentice rashly revives the deactivated Golem of Prague, but soon loses control over him. The resulting rampage of the Golem is the movie's climax.
  • In the aptly named 2010 film The Sorcerer's Apprentice, 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.

  • The Trope Maker is a tale created by Ancient Greek satirist and writer Lucian of Samosata, in which the apprentice is supposed to be Lucian himself, telling his past misadventure with one of his friends who happened to be a sorcerer and agreed to teach him a few tricks. Like most of Lucian's works, it is a comical story not meant to be taken seriously at all. The Trope Namer is a Played for Drama reboot, 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 children's book The Golem's Latkes by Eric Kimmel blends this with folktales about the Golem of Prague. While the chief rabbi is away meeting with the king, he allows his housekeeper to have the golem help her cook and clean to prepare for Hanukah. She gets distracted, and fails to stop the golem from making thousands of pounds of latkes, until they're flowing out of the doors and windows.
  • 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, one that coincidently happens to be looking for the Shard.
  • 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.
    • Elsewhere, an inexperienced young Witch hits on the idea of enchanting domestic utensils to do the sweeping, mopping and domestic chores for her. The problem is that it worked too well and she wasn't able to work out how to stop the spell; she loses the soles of her shoes and a couple of toes.
  • Professor Branestawm: In one story, the Professor builds a cake-baking machine so that Mrs Flittersnoop can keep her promise to do the baking for the church garden party. He shows her how to use it, but neglects to tell her how to turn it off when she's finished.
  • Strega Nona: Big Anthony sees that the local witch, Strega Nona, 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. Several of the book's sequels have similar plots, such as Big Anthony uses a magic ring to make himself handsome so all the girls in the village will dance with him, but he ends up being completely exhausted from all the girls not giving him time to rest and the ring gets stuck on his finger so he can't go back to normal.
  • 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.
  • Miles Vorkosigan's first adventure, The Warrior's Apprentice, is a reference to this in both name and plot. Miles starts with a hastily-conceived get-rich-quick scheme while on vacation; this snowballs into a takeover of a mercenary fleet, breaking a wormhole blockade, and eventually to him being tried for treason due to owning a private army, all as Miles frantically tries to stay on top of things. Unlike the original story, he more or less succeeds in all of this: the fleet succeeds in breaking the blockade, and he gets out of the treason accusation by giving the army to the Emperor.
  • 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 '90s). 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Occurs in The Magical World of Disney special "Mickey's 60th Birthday". Wanting to make a good impression on the crowd for his birthday bash, Mickey considers borrowing the Sorcerer's hat once more, but is warned against it. He winds up doing so anyway after Roger Rabbit creates a mess by putting dynamite on a cake instead of a candle. At first Mickey just magically cleans the exploded cake off the crowd, but when they chant for more he gives in and unleashes a plethora of special effects, eventually going too far and frightening them with thunder and lightning. The Sorcerer steps in and decides to teach Mickey a lesson by enchanting him to be unrecognized by the people he meets until he finds "his own magic", kicking off the plot of the special.
  • 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.

    Theme Parks 
  • This was the plot of "The Enchanted Laboratory", a magic show at Busch Gardens Williamsburg that ran from 1986 to 2000. Northrup, reckless apprentice to the wizard Nostramos, tries to fill in for his master when Nostramos has to cancel a magic demonstration at the last minute, and Hilarity Ensues when he tries to pull off some off his master's more advanced tricks.
  • Mickey's PhilharMagic features yet another one involving Mickey and his sorcerer’s hat in a direct illusion to the most famous example of this trope, only this time the shoe is on the other foot; Donald Duck is the one to take the hat and end up being unable to use it properly, this time by ticking off an entire orchestra of magical, sentient musical instruments and getting sucked into various musical scenes from Disney movies, and Mickey is the one to take the hat back and use its powers to set everything right. To hammer this in even further, not only is the original “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” segment from Fantasia one of the scenes Donald goes through, getting drenched by the brooms in the process, but the climactic part of the song to which Yensid undid all the damage plays over Mickey setting everything right, with him even giving Donald the exact same stare he received from Yensid for good measure.

    Video Games 
  • In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, a Mages Guild quest involves investigating a disturbance at a fellow member's house. Inside, you find that her apprentice, desperate to impress her and prove himself as a sorcerer, summoned a Scamp (a minor form of lesser Daedra) while she was away but lost control of it. In this case, you act as the "mentor" and put the Scamp down to save the apprentice.
  • 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 way 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.
  • Psychonauts: Raz setting Sasha Nein's Censor outlets out of control certainly counts: the Censors were coming out too slowly, so Raz turned it up to max output, hoping to kill the 1000 Censors he needed for his merit badge, but everything devolves into chaos and Raz is forced to clean up the mess. Turns out that this was exactly what Sasha intended: both to teach Raz how difficult it is to cure an out-of-control mind, and to give him an actual combat situation. Things only went off the rails when Raz accidentally shut down ALL of the Censor outlets and created the Mega-Censor.
  • 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 the early 90s puzzle game Troddlers, the backstory 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.

    Web Animation 
  • 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.)

    Web Comics 
  • In El Goonish Shive, a wizard apprentice whose master was killed by a werewolf created an enchanted artifact, to fix a man who killed this werewolf but was bitten in process. This thing... didn't exactly work as planned. In a later arc the same guy appears personally and acts like "Didn't Think This Through" incarnate.
    Every properly trained wizard has heard of Abraham, the idiot apprentice who recklessly enchanted a massive diamond instead of selling it to pay someone more skilled to fix his cursed noble friend.
  • Ennui GO!: After Len teaches Max to make sigils, she makes the mistake of telling him it works like logical connectors in programming. Max ends up creating a servitor, a magical being that does what he says rather than what he wants (also much like programming).

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: In the Origin Story episode "Evergreen", the little dinosaur Gunther wanted to be like his ice elemental mentor Evergreen, despite the fact the latter was an abusive jerkass, who stole his egg and gave him sentience only to make him his personal slave, and had no intention to teach him magic. It came to bite his butt, when he ordered Gunther to wear a magical crown he created and to use its power to destroy the upcoming Comet (implied to be The Lich's first incarnation). But since Gunther had never learned how to control magic, the crown turned him into a crazy caricature of Evergreen himself, as the latter realized too late his mistakes as they are about to be killed by the Comet.
  • 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.
  • Code Lyoko:
    • Invoked 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.
    • Probably the best example of the trope happening in the series is the episode where Jérémie creates a self replicating monster that acts like a swarm of army ants in order to fight Xana's monsters, but he loses control of it when it mistakes Aelita for one of Xana's monsters, and then it goes berserk and starts destroying Lyoko when the Lyoko warriors attack it in response. Xana and the Lyoko warriors have to team up to destroy the original monster to stop the swarm.
  • In the Defenders of the Earth episode "A Demon in His Pocket" Kshin, wanting to get his own back on the school bullies without breaking the Defenders' Code of Honour by fighting unnecessarily, disobeys a direct order to stay away from Mandrake's sorcery books and finds a spell for summoning a demon named Shogoth. However, once Shogoth has dealt with the bullies, he refuses to return to his own dimension and goes on a rampage through the streets of Central City. With Shogoth increasing in size (and power) with each passing minute, Kshin eventually has no choice but to tell Mandrake what he has done.
  • Jackie Chan Adventures has Jade's constant use of the talismans for mischief or honest attempts to help. More than once she attempted a spell without fully understanding it and getting results beyond what she wanted such as accidentally making herself endlessly duplicate or grow into a giant because she didn't know to set a limit on the spell.
  • 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. In "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.
      • Despite Twilight's impressive skill in magic, this is very much a Justified Trope. Most unicorns' powers are limited to basic telekinesis and maybe a couple of signature spells related to their special talent (which usually ties into their chosen occupation) and are therefore used often. These unicorns are really good at what they do, but not much else. Twilight suffers the opposite problem - she is able to learn any spell with almost no effort, even compared to other unicorns whose talent is magic, such as Starlight Glimmer. However, this means she ends up learning a ton of spells for niche situations that she never actually tests or tries out. When the situation does come up, Twilight winds up messing up because she either is unable to control the spell properly due to lack of practice or just fails to understand exactly what the spell does because she has never cast it before and only had the spell's description in whatever spellbook she took it from to go by.
    • In "The Cutie Pox", Apple Bloom finds and consumes a Heart's Desire flower in Zecora's hut, which causes her to develop progressively more cutie marks and constantly perform their respective talents, and only Zecora can provide the cure in the form of the Seeds of Truth.
    • In "Too Many Pinkie Pies", Pinkie uses a Magic Mirror pool to clone herself so she can have fun in multiple places at once, but ends up with a crowd of clones who can do little more than shout "Fun!" and wreak havoc. It's up to Twilight to ferret out the real Pinkie and dispel the clones.
    • Twilight has another one in "Magical Mystery Cure" when she switches her friends' cutie marks by reading Starswirl the Bearded's unfinished spell, resulting in Ponyville descending into chaos and ruin from the Mane Five's mismatched talents. In this case, she has to bail herself out, by showing her friends what they mean to each other so that they regain their normal marks.
    • In "Every Little Thing She Does", a post-Heel–Face Turn Starlight Glimmer, desperate to get a bunch of friendship lessons done in a hurry, decides that the best way to hang out with Twilight's friends in an efficient manner is mind control. This backfires when the mind control makes Applejack, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, and Fluttershy Literal-Minded, and Hilarity Ensues from Starlight's hastily-worded instructions. Twilight has to undo Starlight's spell and show her where she went wrong.
  • 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.
  • Several early episodes of Steven Universe are based on Steven trying to use his gem powers or gem technology with things spiraling out of control. For example "Frybo" is about Steven animating the Frybo costume so Peedee doesn't have to wear it, but the thing goes crazy and start Force Feeding people fries.
  • An episode of Timon & Pumbaa had this happen with Rafiki's nephew.
  • 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.
  • The various times the Dragons misused Shen Gon Wu for pranks or personal gain in Xiaolin Showdown.

    Real Life 
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): Phlebotinum Joyride