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- challenges the Gauls: If they - like Hercules - can carry out twelve tasks he invented (the original 12 labours are outdated), Rome will surrender and the Gauls will rule it as the new supreme masters.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 Obelix and sends them off for an exciting adventure dealing with old hermits and sirens, facing beasts and ghosts and even...retrieving bureaucratic writs.

Released in 1976, Les Douze Travaux d'Astérix (The Twelve Tasks of Asterix) 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.

See also The Ballad of the Daltons, also created by René Goscinny and the same studio.

The Twelve Tasks of Asterix 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, of course.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • A metro station appears briefly in the cave of the Beast. The Alésia station, to be precise.
    • One of the victims of The House That Sends You Mad suffers from a Napoleon Delusion, others seem to pretend being a steam train.
  • 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.
  • 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! A little later in the movie, he's implied to have eaten what appears to be some kind of Eldritch Abomination that is only shown offscreen and that no-one was even able to defeat.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Much like the books, the movie uses untranslated Latin quotes (in this case "Post equitem sedet atra cura" note  and "Ave Caesar, morituri te salutant!" note ) 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".
  • Bizarre Taste in Food: Most of Titans' Chief's menu, at least in the quantities used.
  • 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.
    • During his introduction, Asterix says "Hello" in various languages (English, American English, Japanese, German, etc.) to make the point that the comics have been translated in all of them. 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.
    • When Julius Caesar explains Hercules's twelve tasks, he pulls down a screen over the movie screen showing twelve 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 Isle of Pleasure.
  • Butt Biter: Dogmatix attacks Romans by the fundament twice! One at the beginning in your typical Roman battle and the next in the final battle at the Coliseum.
  • The Cameo:
    • One of film's co-creators, Pierre Tchernia, appears as a Roman Prefect in the "Place That Sends You Mad" sequence.
    • One of the Native Americans glimpsed during the second task is Oumpah-pah, a character from another comic strip series René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo worked on: Oumpah-Pah.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Near the end, the entire village (with the exception of Asterix and Getafix) appears to be this...
  • The Cuckoolander Was Right : Zig-Zagged. 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). And it seems he was right, as the final task was designed to get the entire village to come willingly to Rome and be put into the Circus. But after the village pulls together and makes a complete mockery of the task, 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, a tiny stoic Roman who thinks of the Tasks to be impossible to finish.
  • 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: The Pleasure island montage and the going-mad montage.
  • Double Take: A Roman bureaucrat does one after realizing Asterix tricked him into giving him the permit, just before going mad himself.
  • Driven to Madness: "The Place That Sends You Mad", which is a tall bureaucratic building filled with absent-minded and selfish employees that makes you impossible to ensure proper public services.
  • Duck Season, Rabbit Season: How Asterix defeats the hypnotic gaze of Iris the magician.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Caius Tiddlus is rewarded with an eternal stay at the Isle of Pleasure and enjoy the everlasting presence of the beautiful priestesses at the end of the film.
  • 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 "Isle of Pleasure", he bursts into a fit of demonic laughter - accompanied by a Nightmare Face - that sends his counselors (including Brutus) into a huddle, shivering.
  • Gainax Ending: You have to see it to believe it... Obelix discusses the victory of the Gauls and their unbelievable consideration as Gods, but Asterix says that this is a film after all so anything is possible, thus Obelix vanishes from the village back to the Isle of Pleasure to receive the pleasure of the High Priestess.
  • 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...
  • Get Out: What the priestesses basically tell Obelix when he calls them out for not having any wild boar.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • The dancing girls on the Isle of Pleasure are very suggestively animated, with skimpy, skin-tight dresses.
    • When Caesar tells the story of Hercules's twelve labors, you can clearly see that the Amazon woman is breast-naked...
    • Venus is also wearing nothing whatsoever...
  • Graceful Loser: After the Gauls win, Caesar is so sure they're gods he makes them the new rulers of Rome as promised out of fear of what they'd do if he refused.
  • 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.
  • Guile Hero: 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.
  • 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.
  • Historical In-Joke:
    • Near the end of the movie you can notice the sign "Via Asterixa" (this is a reference to Roman road "Via Latina").
    • Caesar's group of counselors features Brutus, who constantly plays with a knife. Caesar remarks: "Stop playing with that knife, you'll end up hurting someone!" ironically referencing how Brutus was the leader of the senators who stabbed and killed the historical Caesar.
    • Cylindric the German being a Judoka is a direct reference towards the three German pioneers of Asian martial arts: Erich Rahn, Alfred Rhode and Heinrich Frantzen, who made the art popular in the West.
    • 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". The Battle of Alesia was the last major engagement between Romans and Gauls and the final victory of the Romans in the Gallic wars.
    • While on a rampage, Obelix breaks the arms off of the famous statue of Venus de Milo.
  • Honey Trap: Geriatrix's wife uses this to distract a gladiator only for the warrior to be punched out by Fulliautomatix.
  • Human Knot: Cylindric the German ends up with all his limbs tied into knots via judo.
  • Immune to Mind Control: One of the tasks is visiting an Egyptian hypnotist who tries to make Asterix believe he's a wild boar. While other clients were easily hypnotized, Asterix remains cool and unfazed and distracts the hypnotist by asking him silly questions which break the man's concentration. Eventually he is so confused that Asterix makes him believe he is a wild boar, whereupon the hypnotist leaves the room grunting on all fours. Thus the task is fulfilled and Asterix and Obelix keep moving.
  • 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 it was "tasty".
  • "Join the Army," They Said: Spoken verbatim by a Roman soldier after the Gauls thrash them in the beginning of the movie.
    Soldier: "Join the army," they said. "It's a real man's life," they said.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: After the last task is fulfilled, Julius Caesar is so afraid of what the Gauls will do to him if he doesn't keep his word he gives them full control of Rome as promised.
  • 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.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: The "Isle of Pleasure" induces an immediate trance and excited state of mind with the singing voices of the priestesses to make sure no-one will leave the place.
  • Metronomic Man Mashing: What Cylindrix does to Obelix, in a rare case of him being on the losing end of a fight.
  • National Stereotypes: We've got a Greek athlete, an Egyptian hypnotist, a Belgian cook... The only real aversion is Cylindric the German, who is cast as a jolly judo expert... though he's introduced goose-stepping and clicking his heels to a Prussian march.
  • Nightmare Face:
    • Julius Caesar makes one, hair shaped as horns and Evil Laugh included, when he's informed that Asterix and Obelix are approaching the Isle of Pleasure, a place that is believed to be of no return. It even scares his counselors, including the very Brutus.
    • Whenever Isis the hypnotist shows his Glowing Eyes. Good thing Asterix turns him into a Nightmare Retardant.
    • The Cave of the Beast features giant ghostly faces of different fiends (skull-like, orc-like) wandering the place.
  • Night of the Living Mooks: Astérix faces an army of the dead while trying to make it through the night in a haunted battlefield. He chides them for waking him up.
  • 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.
  • Offhand Backhand: Obelix and Unhygienix argue over who should get to fight the most gladiators while sending flying any who come near.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: The third task is to fight a very small martial artist, who can trivially toss around Obelix.
  • 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.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Obelix has this attitude when he's demanded to leave the Isle of Pleasure.
    High Priestess: Push off! Get out!
    Obelix: You bet your life I'll get out. Not one wild boar and they dare to call this "the Isle of Pleasure". Some pleasure.
  • Shout-Out: Much like most Asterix stories, the movie contains plenty of shout-outs:
    • The goddess Venus (while appearing among other Gods) is drawn after 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.
    • Cleopatra appears near the end. Modeled after Elizabeth Taylor, much like she was in the Asterix and Cleopatra comic book and animated movie.
    • 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 fulfill 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 thanks to the magic potion.
    • When Obelix's 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 A 38" 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...
  • Surreal Humor: Much moreso than in the original series, which mainly had Anachronism Stew, Punny Names, some fantasy elements and standard comedic exaggeration. Here we have almost literal fourth-wall breaking, a Rubber Man, a man that flies like a bird just because he was hypnotized, sandals that walk by themselves, Hammerspace, and a hen that lays eggs shaped like souvenirs, among other surreal elements.
  • The Bad Guys Win: Well, in the sense that even after Rome was all theirs to rule, the Gauls still had it in their heart to let Julius Caesar have his own happy ending.
  • 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 (about 1800 kilometers / 1120 miles) 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: Also kind of a Take That!. In what might be the most memorable task of the story (the seemingly unobtainable "laissez-passer A 38" ["permit #A 38"] has since become a cultural trope in France, Poland and Germany, 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 (permit) #A 39", required by a supposed new decree that nobody knows about, "circular 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 against Asbestos the Greek athlete in the first task. Asbestos's legs spin around but are distinct, while Asterix's legs blur into a spinning wheel.