Western Animation: The Twelve Tasks of Asterix
So imagine this: Julius Caesar conquers all of Gaul territory, with the exception of one tiny village, whose people just so happen to have a magic potion that can make them invincible. Due to this, the Roman soldiers start to wonder whether the village's inhabitants might actually be gods. So Caesar - who considers the whole idea idiotic - challenges the Gauls: If they - like Hercules - can carry out twelve tasks he invented (the original 12 labours are outdated), Rome will surrender and the Gauls will rule it as the new supreme masters. The chief picks his best men Asterix
and sends them off for an exciting adventure dealing with old hermits and sirens, facing beasts and ghosts and even ... retrieving bureaucratic writs.
It has been the only Astérix
movie (animated or live-action) to date, that is based on an original screenplay rather than drawing its story from any of the comic books. It can still be considered a "legitimate" installment of the series, since it was co-written by Asterix authors (and French comic book legends) René Goscinny
and Albert Uderzo along with Pierre Tchernia. The story was also adapted into a written book with illustrations.
While the story starts like any other Asterix adventure, it quickly shifts into much more surrealist, fantastic and at points downright trippy
territory, leading to an ending so bizarre you have to see it to believe it. However the original series' trademark humor (pun-filled historical satire mixed with some well-placed jabs at contemporary issues) is still present for the entire flick. It was generally praised by critics and fans of the series alike.
The movie provides examples of:
- Alternate History: While the comic series as a whole dabbles in this, this movie in particular has history taking a truly different course, as Asterix, indeed, conquers Rome. In particular, things end up a whole lot different (and better) for Caesar, who, rather than being murdered, gets to enjoy a happy, quiet retirement in the country with Cleopatra. The ending is non-canon in both history and comic book continuity.
- Animation Bump: The dance sequence on the Island of Pleasure uses some rotoscoped scenes. They are integrated well enough though and the extra bit of smoothness works well in the context of the scene.
- Army of the Dead/Lost Roman Legion: The last task before our heroes are allowed to reach Rome? Spending the night on an old creepy battlefield... with a legion of Roman ghosts showing up.
- Art Shift:
- When Caesar tells the story of Hercules' Labors, the deeds are presented in the style of Greek black-figure pottery.
- The monsters/ghosts Asterix and Obelix encounter in the cave of the beast are all drawn and animated in a much more artistic and surrealist style (not unlike the animated passages in Pink Floyd – The Wall) than the rest of the movie.
- Batman Gambit:
- Asterix pulls a large one during The-Place-That-Sends-You-Mad sequence.
- The way Asterix outsmarts Cylindric the German also counts.
- Big Eater: Obelix as usual, except he goes to the extreme this time, eating a boar with fries, a flock of geese, several sheep, an omelette made with eight dozen eggs, a whole school of fish, an ox, a cow and veal ("because to separate ze family...zat would not be right!"), a huge mound of caviar (with a single piece of toast), a camel, ("and before we start on ze main course") an elephant stuffed with olives... and considering it all starters!
- Bilingual Bonus:
- Much like the books, the movie uses Latin quotes (in this case "Post equitem sedet atra cura" and "Ave Caesar, morituri te salutant!") Note that Romans in "The place that send you mad" use a lot of Latin terms in their dialog - for example, they use "Cubiculum" instead of "Bedroom".
- During his introduction scene, Asterix says "Hello” in various languages (English, Japanese, German etc.) while the flags of the countries are shown. As the flag of France appears Asterix makes a rooster-like sound as a reference to the fact that the rooster is a national symbol of France.
- Bizarre Taste in Food: Most of Titans' Chief's menu is made of those.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall:
- The narrator notices a pile of 20th century junk and wishes it to be removed, because the story is set in the Ancient Roman Age, whereupon it is instantly zipped away.
- The narrator asks the audience: "Who doesn't know the Gauls?", whereupon several fingers in the cinema audience rises and cover the screen. The Gauls for their part look depressed that the audience doesn't know who they are.
- When Julius Caesar explains Hercules' 12 tasks he pulls down a screen over the movie screen showing 12 individual vignettes explaining each task.
- During the running contest the Greek runs so fast that the scenery falls apart.
- Asterix remarks near the end that this is only a cartoon and you can do what you wish. So Obelix wishes himself to be back at the Island of Pleasure.
- Butt Biter: Dogmatix does this twice!
- The Cameo:
- Oumpah-pah, another Goscinny and Uderzo character from the series Oumpah-Pah, is seen among the Indians seen during the second task.
- The goddess Venus (while appearing among other Gods) is in fact a caricature of the French actress Brigitte Bardot.
- The buxom priestesses of the Island of Pleasure (especially the high priestess), in turn, appear to be modeled after Italian movie star and sex symbol Sophia Loren.
- One of film's co-creators, Pierre Tchernia, appears as a Roman Prefect in the "Place that sends you mad" sequence.
- When the chicken in the Roman arena goes insane she lays several objects, one of them a mini image of Donald Duck!
- Cleopatra appears near the end.
- The Chessmaster: Asterix!
- Near the end, the entire village (with the exception of Asterix and Getafix) appears to be this...
- "The Place That Sends You Mad" appears to be like a factory for those...
- The Cuckoolander Was Right : After Vitalstatistix and the rest of the village accept Caesar's challenge, Getafix the druid (and typically the village's voice of reason) calls them fools, arguing that Caesar will never keep his word. Throughout the entire movie it's hinted that Caesar might back out at the very last minute (which also seems most likely, since the comic books are usually somewhat historically accurate). However, in the end Caesar is actually true to his word and the Gauls become the rulers of the Roman Empire.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: The Gaulish village drunken on magic potion against the Roman legions, as usual. And this time, they also fight in the Circus.
- Deadpan Snarker: Caius Tiddlus.
- Dem Bones: Some walking skeletons and skulls are seen in the Cave of the Beast.
- Demoted to Extra: Dogmatix (Idefix), while one of the main characters in the books, only makes a few brief appearances in the movie.
- Disney Acid Sequence / Big Lipped Alligator Moment: The hypnosis scenes, and some other Art Shift moments.
- Driven to Madness: The-Place-That-Sends-You-Mad.
- Duck Season, Rabbit Season: How Asterix defeats the hypnotic gaze of Iris the magician.
- Enthralling Sirens: The priestesses of the "Isle of Pleasure".
- Evil Laugh: When Caesar tells the senate that the protagonists will have to face the priestesses of the Island of Pleasure he bursts into a fit of demonic laughter that sends the other senators shivering.
- Gainax Ending: You have to see it to believe it...
- Genre Savvy: Asterix proves this at the end.
- Genre Shift: Unlike the comic books, this movie is much more fantastic, surreal, nonsense and fourth-wall-breaking than the comic book series ever was...
- Getting Crap Past the Radar:
- It is strongly indicated that the "pleasure" that the priestess from the "Isle of Pleasure" talk about is in fact... well... sex!
- When Caesar tells the story of Hercules' twelve labors, you can clearly see that the Amazon women are breast naked...
- Venus is also wearing nothing whatsoever...
- Gratuitous German: Cylindric the German speaks with a thick German accent with a fair number of German words and phrases ("Ja, ja, sehr gut! Wunderbar!") strewn in.
- Hell Is That Noise: A windy storm is blowing with a creepy sound while our heroes and Tiddlus are reaching the entrance of the Cave of the Beast.
- Human Knot: Cylindric the German ends up with all his limbs tied into knots via judo.
- Invisibility: Asterix and Obelix have to cross an invisible tightrope.
- Invisible Monsters: We never see the Beast from the Cave that Caius Tiddlus warns Asterix and Obelix about. All we learn is that Obelix thinks he was "tasty".
- Lotus-Eater Machine: The "Isle of Pleasure".
- Manipulative Bastard: Asterix wins a few of the tasks by manipulating his opponent. For example, he tricks Cylindric the German into teaching him martial arts and defeating him in the course of the "lesson", distracts Iris the hypnotist by asking him if his glowing eyes are good for reading in bed and lures him into hypnotising himself instead, and turns the tables on the Place That Sends You Mad by asking for a permit that doesn't exist.
- National Stereotypes:
- The Greek is an athlete.
- The Egyptian is a hypnotist.
- The Belgian is a cook.
- The only real aversion is the German, who is cast as a jolly judo expert.
- Nightmare Face:
- Julius Caesar makes one that even scares the rest of the Roman senators.
- Isis the hypnotist counts too.
- In the Cave of the Beast some of the faces are creepy too.
- Obfuscating Disability: The elderly man at The Place That Sends You Mad appears to be only pretending to be hard of hearing, as he has no problems hearing his boss who is speaking quieter than Asterix is.
- Punny Name: This IS Asterix after all!
- Rolling Pin of Doom: Impedimenta during the finale in the Circus. She's chased by a gladiator while searching something in her bag. Then she finds her rolling pin, chases the gladiator back and hits him in the butt.
- Running Gag: Whenever Cacofonix the bard is about to sing, Fulliautomatix, the village's blacksmith, will smash him into the ground with his fist. This happens three times (one time off screen) but the fourth time, Cacofonix quickly puts on a spiky gladiator helmet and Fulliautomatix hurts his hand.
- Shout-Out: Much like most Asterix stories, the movie contains plenty of Shout Outs:
- One of the Native Americans is Oumpah-pah, a character from another comic strip series René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo worked on: Oumpah-Pah.
- Caesar's senate features Brutus, who constantly plays with a knife. Caesar remarks: "Stop playing with that knife, you'll end up hurting someone!" which is ironic due to the fact that Brutus was one of the men who stabbed and killed the historical Caesar.
- At one point, while wandering through the Cave of the Beast, our heroes suddenly find themselves at a metro station. The sign at the station reads "Alesia". Historically the Battle of Alesia was the last major engagement between Romans and Gauls and the turning point of the Gallic wars. The battle effectively marked the end of Celtic dominance in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Northern Italy.
- While insane, Obelix breaks the arms off of the famous statue of Venus de Milo.
- Near the end of the movie you can notice the sign "Via Asterixa" (this is a reference to Roman road "Via Latina").
- A rare musical example occurs during the protagonists' ascent to the Old Man of the Mountains, when the score takes on a notably Wagnerian feel (as opposed to the more jolly score heard throughout the rest of the movie) using motifs that are clearly inspired by both, the "Ride of the Valkyries" and the prelude to "Das Rheingold".
- The riddle of the Old Man of the Mountains, and subsequently Asterix's answer and the Old Man's reaction, all make fun of laundry detergent advertisements.
- When the chicken in the Roman arena goes insane she lays several objects, one of them a mini image of Donald Duck!
- Spared by the Adaptation: At the end Julius Caesar loses all the power and starts a new life as a farmer... which means no death by stabbing for him!
- Spiritual Successor: La Ballade des Dalton ("The Ballad of the Daltons") (1978) is an animated adaptation of Lucky Luke directed by the same animation studio and again with René Goscinny as the script writer. Just like The Twelve Tasks of Asterix the Daltons have to fulfil several tasks to obtain a certain goal.
- Spoiler Title: The German title: "Asterix erobert Rom" ("Asterix conquers Rome").
- Super Speed:
- The first task is out-running a super fast Greek athlete, in which Asterix eventually succeeds.
- When Obelix' spear reappears the Persian runs away in fear for it and runs so fast that he runs to America!
- Sure, Let's Go with That: you can actually hear Caius Pupus imply this when Asterix asks him if the 8th task (getting "laissez-passer A38" from The Place That Makes You Mad) is a simple administrative formality.
- Surreal Horror: Plenty during the Cave of the Beast sequence! And even the wind that is blowing outside of the cave sounds horrific...
- Trademark Favorite Food: Obelix's fondness for roasted boar ends up saving our duo from the "Isle of Pleasure". Once they have seemingly succumbed to the charms of the isle, Obelix starts to feel hungry and asks for boar. The high priestess then replies to him that there's no boar on the isle, which upsets him and prompts him to leave the isle.
- Traveling at the Speed of Plot: It is implied by the scene on the Haunted Plain, that ten of the twelve tasks have taken place within one day; Asterix claims they haven't slept since they began. Apparently, they got from their village in the west of Gaul to Rome in that time, fulfilling their tasks along the way. What's more, when they wake up after sleeping on the Haunted Plain, they've somehow reached the outskirts of Rome, which was nowhere in sight when they went to sleep. Obelix lampshades this, claiming that the Romans can build very fast.
- Vast Bureaucracy: In what might be the most memorable task of the story (the seemingly unobtainable "laissez-passer A 38" has since become a cultural trope in France, whenever tedious bureaucratic issues are concerned) Asterix and Obelix need to get a certain paper from a bureaucratic agency. All previous attempts to do so have ended in insanity: going up and down stairs, being informed that the form you need doesn't exist/is the wrong color, the person you need to consult with is out to lunch, and so forth. The method Asterix uses to win is sheer elegance in its simplicity. He turns the bureaucracy against itself asking for a paper that doesn't exist, "laissez-passer A 39", in a corridor that nobody knows about, B 65, but which the employees try to find anyway, exposing the weaknesses of a system where everyone has a task but no one knows how the whole, or even how the part not involving them, works. In the end, the employees themselves go mad.
- Wheel o' Feet: Happens during the race (first task).