Suspended Animation #377
“The Satanist’s Apprentice” was first aired in the United States on on June 6, 2021 as part of the television series Legends of Tomorrow. It is part live action and part animation. It was written by Keto Shimizu and Ray Utarnachitt.
The series that began in 2016 features a group of DC comic book heroes who are brought together to travel through time to defeat deadly menaces that are sometimes supernatural. The roster of the crew has changed over the seasons.
The title of the episode is a parody of the Johann Wolfgang von Goethe poem “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” but is more familiar as the basis for the Mickey Mouse segment in Fantasia (1940) where an apprentice magician tampers with magic beyond his abilities and chaos ensues.
Showrunner Phil Klemmer stated, “Originally we broke it down as live-action, and then there’s a point in the story where it becomes so outlandish that I was really having a difficult time seeing it in my head as live-action. I was like, ‘Guys, this feels like a ’90s Disney movie.’ It was sort of a joke. ‘What if we hired a bunch of Disney animators from the ’90s who have all retired and did a ’90s feature thing?'”
In the episode, Astra (Olivia Swann) who spent her childhood in Hell but is now a mortal feels frustrated with the real world with its unpaid bills and broken plumbing. In the attic a portrait of Aleister Crowley has trapped the dark magician inside it. He offers to teach her magic to fix her problems and hopefully free himself from the painting.
The Legends barge in, complicating things for Astra so that she turns them into household objects just like in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and they are depicted in animation.
Ava (Jes Macallan) becomes a ring binder because she is so organized; Behrad (Shayan Sobhian) a candlestick because he fries his head with drugs; Zari (Tala Ashe) a flip-phone because she is always on her phone interacting with her followers; Nate (Nick Zano) a wheel of cheese because he always behaves “chessy” and his defense is full of holes and Spooner (Lisseth Chavez), ironically into a fork instead of a spoon that would be a silverware pun on her name. Behrad as a candlestick uses his fire to torch the bad guy in the butt like Lumiere did to Gaston.
When Astra refuses to follow Crowley’s instructions to take the soul of her neighbor, he turns her into a princess reminiscent of Princess Tiana in The Princess and the Frog. Later in the episode Crowley turns himself into Chernabog from the “Night on Bald Mountain” segment of Fantasia.
Earlier Astra had found a notebook from her mother but was unable to read the music in it. Now, that she is a Disney Princess she is able to sing it and it expunges all magic in the area defeating Crowley.
Caity Lotz who portrays Captain Sara Lance in the series directed the episode. Her character was in another storyline where she had been captured by an alien. Lotz wanted the Astra storyline to seem like a romantic comedy.
Lotz said, “I have no idea why they asked me to direct this one. I was like, ‘How the hell are we going to do this?’ I had no experience in animation whatsoever. Actually, I reached [out] to a few TV directors and I’m like, “Hey, uh, do you know how this works? How do I even prep for this?” I couldn’t find one person who was like, ‘Yeah, this is how it goes’.
“As soon as I talked to Tony Cervone, who was the Warner Brothers animation director, all of my worries went away. It was such a fun process. And we started [prepping the episode] pretty early because animation takes a lot of time.
“At first, I was like, “Do I have to tell them every single shot [I want] and exactly what to do with this and that?” But Tony’s got years and years of experience and they know what they were doing.
“Basically, I get to do the fun part of broad strokes things where I’m like, ‘Oh, I’d really like in this moment for Astra to be turned into animation, but the house is still in live-action. I’d like to have a moment of that to see it coming down’, and just the bigger ideas of things I’d want to see.
“In the same [way], Olivia and I talked a lot about what the princess would look like. She really wanted to make sure she had freckles because Olivia’s got these great freckles, and making sure her skin tone matched what her actual skin tone looks like.
“They did so much great stuff and then when they’d send things back — they’d basically do a moving storyboard — and then it’s just giving notes on things. ‘Can we make the coloring more saturated? Like crush the blacks?’ The stuff they were coming up with was so cool. Also, I don’t even know what they can do. Tony would be like, ‘We’re going to make him giant and bust through the house! And it’s like, ‘Yes!’
“Once we all got on a call with Tony Cervone, he was just super knowledgeable, and so sweet, and awesome, and excited to play with us. I would definitely highly recommend working with Tony. He was very nice and very open to collaborating, and patient with my lack of experience in the animation space.
“Animation is expensive. It was a really cool process. It took a long time, so we actually had to start prep early. Before we were even in prep for this episode, we already had to have all of this figured out. It was so fun because you get to design the look of the characters and the animators were just amazing.
“There’s so much that goes into it. I was so excited that we did this in an old school animation style. Those were the Disney movies that I grew up with, so those are my favorite. I’ve always loved things like Space Jam, where they mixed animation and live-action. We got one moment of that, in the beginning. As soon as Astra gets hit and turns into the animated character, you see her within the real world still for a second. That was really fun.”
Swann recalled, “They had all of the objects placed around the way they would be, so I had points of reference, which is fantastic. Then they actually played the dialogue from all of the actors in the speaker system. So it was actually amazing to have those things to play off. That can be quite rare! So it was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be.
“When I read the script, I think I maybe passed out from excitement and nerves or something like that, because it’s a dream come true. I’m sorry… I get to be a Disney Princess? Are you kidding me? I was thrilled! But then obviously came the thing of, ‘Oh, I have to sing and I have to do all that side of it.’ So then came the nerves and a bit of stress and anxiety.
“We recorded the voices and the singing months before we saw any animation. So it was really interesting going in blind and only going off the script, but when it all came together? Oh my gosh. It was just phenomenal! I was in tears! I thought it was one of the best things!
“When I saw that I had not just a solo, but also little bits of solos… She essentially sings the whole thing. So there was a level of panic. But Daniel [James Chan], he’s the composer, is phenomenal. So he sent over one of the songs that he’d written the tune, and the lyrics were written by the writers, and he sent that all over well in good time, so I’d have time to prep it and practice it. Obviously, if I had an issue with it, I could message him and we’d tweak it and so I worked with him on that.
“So in the script, it said that she spoke with a Snow White cadence. So I went straight on to Disney+, watching Snow White, and obviously Snow White has that absolute, almost a [trills] kind of voice to her. So I started with that, and then we pulled it back a little bit, because yeah, there was a sense of we really wanted to make sure it was still Astra.
“That was actually kind of a challenge, because Princess Astra is not Astra at all, not even close. She’s everything Astra doesn’t want to be. So it was really interesting trying to find moments of that. She’s still strong and can fend for herself, but there is an element of damsel in distress and it was fun finding those dynamics.
“But ultimately, I wanted to have a princess voice that was very, very different from what we know. We were able to stick with that, but in the singing, we toned down the princess voice and had a little bit more Astra in there.”