Synopsis: How can lovely Queen Cleopatra show Julius Caesar that ancient Egypt is still a great nation? Her architect Edifis recruits his Gallic friends to help him build a magnificent palace within three months.
There are villainous saboteurs to be outwitted, but Asterix, Obelix and Getafix still find time to go sight-seeing – and leave their mark on the Pyramids and the Sphinx’s nose.
Astérix et Cléopatre 7.75
eyelights: the story. the humour.
eyesores: the musical numbers.
‘Astérix et Cléopatre’ is the first animated Astérix adventure that was produced with creators René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo’s involvement – amazingly, the previous film, ‘Astérix le Gaulois‘ was produced without their consent.
The first masterpiece of this enduring series, it is often cited as a fan favourite, along with ‘Les 12 travaux d’Astérix’ – so much so that it was the inspiration for one of the live-action films, ‘Astérix et Obélix : Mission Cléopâtre’.
It follows the original book closely, conveying the key plot, but excising some material for time considerations and in order to include a few musical numbers along the way. While I’m not keen on them, these musical numbers have been extremely popular with fans. And the film doesn’t really suffer for them.
I remember seeing ‘Astérix et Cléopâtre’ for the first time, as a kid. I don’t think that I had ever enjoyed myself quite as much as I did then. I had already been exposed to some of Astérix’s adventures via a few books that my dad had picked up, but this movie really sealed the deal: I was a convert.
Astérix and Obélix’s adventures remain an indelible part of my childhood, and are some of my fondest memories: the days I spent poring over the same handful of books time and time again, the string of Christmas seasons filled with Astérix cartoons (they were a television tradition in my neck of the woods), they cemented Astérix in my life.
To this day, I love the notion of watching an Astérix cartoon or reading one of the books (well, the classics, anyway – not so much the post-Goscinny ones). And it’s all due to the then-freshness of ‘Astérix et Cléopatre’.
Right from the first few moments, we get a taste of the wry humour that would engage us throughout: As a sort of intro, a narrator explains to us that Egyptians spoke in a very different language – as articulated by an animated Egyptian “speaking” in hieroglyphs. The narrator then proceeds to tell us that, for the sake of the viewer, the film would be hereforth translated.
It may come off as corny, but it got a lot of laughs back in the day and it effortlessly draws chuckles now. It’s likely all in the delivery and the eye-pleasing animation, I suspect.
From that point onward, the tale of Astérix and company’s trip to Egypt is recounted in a similar fashion as the book: First we go to Egypt, where a tiff between Julius Caesar and Cleopatra start the ball rolling, as she is challenge to build an awe-inspiring palace in 30 days. She then hires a bumbling architect, putting his life on the line. Knowing full well that he won’t manage this feat in time, he seeks help from our merry band of Gauls.
Astérix and Obélix make their way to Egypt and, with the help of Panoramix (a.k.a. Getafix) proceed to help in the construction of said palace and also maneuver around the many impediments posed by the architect’s chief rival, who would like to see him fail, as well as Julius Caesar himself. Along the way, they also see the sights and get into some minor mischief before finally returning to their village triumphant.
The animation is pretty good, if imperfect. We are talking about a French/Belgian co-production from the mid-’60s, after all – this is not a massive Walt Disney production featuring all the best animation and equipment money can buy, so the film has its limitations. But it is a massive improvement over the first Astérix film and it looks pretty good all things considered.
The unfortunate issue with the film is in the adaptation. Astérix books ride on two elements: Goscinny’s flair for language and sharp wit as well as Uderzo’s impressive rendering. Thankfully, the character designs remain the same here, but it’s natural that the look of the piece would change, being a different medium. Unfortunately, though, the script has chopped out a lot of the book’s dialogue, focusing mostly on the main lines.
While this has been done with enough precision that it may not be apparent to non-readers, the result is that they removed many of Goscinny’s flourishes, as well as accelerated the pace far beyond the original’s. In this animated version, it seems as though there isn’t a moment to breathe: scenes zip into one another at a brisk pace – likely one that is well-suited for younger audiences. Lost are many of the nuances and knowing winks that make the comic so delightful.
Still, this cartoon remains a very good motion picture, even as it pales in comparison to its progenitor. There’s a reason why it remains an extremely popular animated film, and not just with fans of the series: it’s original, it’s funny, and it’s load of fun. I would obviously recommend the book over the film, but if one wanted to take a glimpse at the world of Astérix and Obélix, I think one would be off to a good start with ‘Astérix et Cléopatre’.
Date of viewing: February 19, 2013