Synopsis: Caesar offers the Gauls a deal: if they can perform twelve special tasks successfully, he will hand over the Roman empire to them. If the Gauls fail, they will have to surrender to the Roman Empire. Asterix (fortified by Magic Potion) is ready to take on the challenge.
eyelights: the story. the tasks. the gags. the animation.
eyesores: the petered-out ending. the animation.
‘Les 12 travaux d’Astérix’ is the third film in the animated Astérix motion pictures series, and it is the undisputed masterpiece of the lot. Unlike its predecessors and subsequent entries, it was a brand new adventure that was designed by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo specifically for the big screen – it was never published as a comic book (although a companion storybook was released).
The central conceit of this one is rooted the twelve labours that Heracles had to perform in order to achieve immortality. In this story, the Gauls are challenged by Julius Caesar to take up a similar challenge – should they succeed, they would become rulers of Rome, should they fail, they would have to lay down their arms and submit to his rule.
It basically comes down to egos: the proud Gauls refuse to turn down such a dare, wanting to prove themselves, and Caesar wants to claim victory once and for all. Evidently, the Gauls have decided to send their brightest and their strongest as their representatives: Astérix and Obélix. However, Caesar expects to win: he deviously put together a series of unusual hurdles for the pair to overcome.
- A foot race against Mérinos, a man so fast that he break the sound barrier. 7.75
- A javelin throw against Kermès, a Persian man with an unusually muscular right arm. 8.0
- Wrestling Cylindric, a German with special martial arts skills. 7.0
- Confronting the seductive Priestesses of Pleasure Island. 7.5
- Endure the powerfully hypnotic gaze of Iris, an Egyptian magician. 8.5
- Consuming every bite that Mannekenpix, Belgian chef of the Titans, prepares. 8.0
- Entering the belly of the Beast. And escaping it. 3.5
- Gathering permit A-38 in the House That Renders Insane, a bureaucratic Hell. 8.5
- Crossing an invisible wire, hung over a ravine filled with crocodiles. 7.0
- Climbing the highest peak just to solve an old sage’s riddle. 6.5
- Sleeping in the ghostly Plains of the Dead. 5.0
- Surviving the games of Circus Maximus. 7.0
What I like about the film is that it’s just an excuse for putting together a series of vignettes. Some are better than others but, as a whole, they make for a truly entertaining -and memorable- experience. While, separately, they may seem as meaningless as a Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoon, they are linked by purpose and serve the overarching thread of the picture.
That is not to say each segments are of equal worth: Whereas the first three are visual gags, likely designed to amuse the kiddies (and young-at-heart!), there are also more satirical ones, such as 8 (a fan favourite!) and 10 , and the absurd ones, such 5 and 6. The problem is that some will work with certain audiences while others won’t. Combined, however, they cover a lot of ground – as evidenced by the film’s appeal.
There does seem to be a lack of inspiration along the way, however. Number 3 is silly in its resolution and will only appear clever to the youngest viewers, number 9 feels underwhelming after all the other obstacles they’ve faced, 11 is kind of grim and boring, and 12 feels as though they ran out of ideas and just gave up, giving us a plain ol’ circus scenario – nothing too novel for the series. And as for number 7… well, it just doesn’t make any sense.
The animation is the best that the series had seen to date, and possibly the best it ever would, given that Goscinny and Uderzo no longer oversaw the cartoons’ development after this. The look of the film is generally quite good, the motion is fluid and the voice acting is pitch-perfect. However, strange as it may seem, it’s also inconsistent, being fully-fleshed in one moment and then turning into scrawls that look like sketches in the next.
But the bottom line is that the animation is secondary to the story and the exuberance with which it is delivered; even though the artwork feels somewhat incomplete at times, it remains that ‘Les 12 travaux d’Astérix’ is a hilarious romp from start to finish. Even the conclusion is perfectly satisfying in its own way, despite some protests about its historical inaccuracy and justification.
‘Les 12 travaux d’Astérix’ is original, witty, silly, and loads of fun. It has endured the last 30 years because of its freshness, cleverness and irreverence and will continue to because there is nothing else like it. It’s a standout on many counts and it deserves its status as a landmark animated adventure for all ages.
It would be one of the last works by Goscinny, who would pass away the following year. He left the world having completed one of his greatest achievements.
Date of viewing: March 1, 2013