La Ballade des Dalton ("The Ballad of the Daltons") is the second animated adaptation in the Lucky Luke series, after Daisy Town (1971). The film was released in 1978 by the same company that made The Twelve Tasks of Asterix (1976), which also explains why the plot is kind of similar. Like its predecessor, it also has a very good animation quality (though due to financial restrictions the film doesn't contain any "animation effects" like the ghosts of The Twelve Tasks).
The Daltons are informed that their uncle has died. They will inherit his fortune if they murder the judge and all the jury members that sentenced him to the gallows. To make sure that they fulfill this will they will be accompanied by Lucky Luke, seeing that he is the only honest man that he has ever known. If they fail their mission all the money will go to charity.
The people they have to kill are (in order of appearance):
1. Ming Li Foo - A Chinese laundryman. Luke motivates the Daltons to wash their clothes first. While they are in the nude Ming Li Foo flees out of the store. Since they are naked they ask Luke to chase Ming for them. After a martial arts fight sequence Luke is able to get Ming to fake his own death before the Daltons are back.
2. Thadeus Collins - A jail warden, whose entire prison population tunneled out to freedom. The Daltons tunnel into the prison and blow it up, not knowing that the warden had already left using one of the tunnels.
3. Snake Feather - A Native American witch doctor. He gives the Daltons some magic mushrooms, causing them to hallucinate a bizarre dream sequence. When they awake Luke informs them that they have already killed him.
4. Dr. Aldous Smith - A traveling quack doctor whom the Daltons force to drink his own medicine. He drops dead, though he actually just fainted because he was not used to drinking water.
5. Tom O' Connor - An old timer who supposedly disappeared into his gold mine. Luke meets him beforehand and explains the situation. The Daltons search from him in a mine-cart leading to a chase scene that resembles a rollercoaster ride. When they find the old timer, he acts like a ghost and convinces them that he has been dead for some time.
6. Sam Game - A former gambler who saw the light and became a clergyman (even though he still uses and references gambling terms in his sermons.). He is killed in a game of Russian roulette, which, of course, turns out to be faked.
7. Bud Bugman - A train driver. The Daltons try to kill him by derailing the train he is riding on to a different direction. Bugman hides in the tender car while his assistant tells the Daltons that he was killed and the body fell off the train during the derailing.
8. Mathias Bones - An undertaker, accompanied by a vulture. The Daltons ambush him by shooting him dead from his carriage (they actually shoot a dummy).
9. Judge Grudy - A judge. The Daltons plan to kill him at the party he holds after a rodeo, but Luke uses a fake newspaper to fool them.
La Ballade des Dalton provides examples of:
- All Chinese People Know Kung-Fu: Ming Li-Foo.
- Artistic License Law:
- Inheritance conditions mandating murder or any other illegal or immoral acts are utterly void and null as offending law or public policy.
- The victim of a crime or attempted crime cannot serve as judge or jury for a trial about said crime.
- Juries for capital felonies generally have twelve jurors, not eight (This is understandable from a Doylist perspective — thirteen targets instead of nine would have added at least another half an hour to the movie).
- Asian Buck Teeth: Ming Li-Foo has huge front teeth.
- Asian Speekee Engrish: Ming Li-Foo.
- Back from the Dead: The Daltons assume they have killed all the people on their list, but all of them are in fact still alive.
- Ballad of X: "The Ballad of the Daltons".
- Ballistic Discount: A gun salesman gives a pair of loaded guns to each one of the Dalton Brothers before collecting and they, of course, don't pay.
- Bar Brawl: Lucky Luke teaches Rantanplan to pick up dropped cards. Later on, he does this in a bar, revealing that one of the people present was cheating at poker, which starts a fight.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall:
- The Daltons poke their tongues out at the viewers when the narrator explains how evil they are.
- While in the desert, Rantanplan assumes the Daltons stole the scenery.
- Busby Berkeley Number: The Daltons' dream sequence has a direct shout-out to the famous diving scene.
- Butt-Monkey: Tobias Wells. No matter what he's trying to sell, it's always something the Daltons need to steal.
- Chinese Launderer: Ming Li-Foo.
- Comic-Book Fantasy Casting: Dr. Aldous Smith is a caricature of W.C. Fields.
- Contrived Coincidence: Tobias Wells keeps trying to sell something that the Daltons need, and keeps running into the Daltons shortly after they realize that they need it.
- Cool Pet: The undertaker owns a vulture.
- Crossing the Desert: The Daltons have to cross a very hot desert in order to find a Native American.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: After the Daltons learn that they've been had and all their targets are still alive, Lucky Luke takes them all down so quickly that it's obvious that he could have recaptured them and shipped them back to prison at any time, from the moment he said he agreed to the plan and was given his gun back. He was probably just playing along with their scheme so that they could be seen to have failed and get the money sent to the orphanage.
- Disney Acid Sequence: The Daltons are given magic mushrooms by a Native American and thus have a wonderful dream sequence where they imagine themselves to be Hollywood musical stars.
- Double-Meaning Title: The title alludes to the Framing Device of the narrator singing a Ballad about the Dalton brothers, but in French "Ballade" also means "taking a stroll", which is more or less what the Daltons are doing — taking a stroll out of jail before being dragged back.
- Everybody Lives: For a film where many characters get murdered or commit suicide there's only one real death in this movie and it happens off-screen before the story got started: the Daltons' uncle.
- Exact Words: When the Daltons and Lucky Luke go to the lawyer's office so Luke can give the required testimony regarding the condition they had to fulfill to inherit Henry Dalton's fortune, Luke says everything went as planned. He just didn't say whose plans he's talking about.
- Failed a Spot Check: Thadeus Collins somehow managed to miss one of the prisoners successfully digging an escape tunnel out of his own office.
- Faking the Dead: Lucky Luke helps all the Daltons' victims to fake their own death in order to have them escape.
- The Gambling Addict: Sam Game, a former gambler who became a clergyman, but still references gambling terms in his sermons, and runs a crooked bingo game during the service.
- Grumpy Old Man: Tom O' Connor the gold digger.
- Inheritance Murder: Henry Dalton's nephews will inherit his fortune if they kill the judge and the jury who sentenced him to death by hanging.
- Interrupted Bath: When the Daltons reach Snake Feather's tepee and order him out, they hear him complains that he's his bath... in the middle of a Thirsty Desert with no water for miles. He comes out wearing a towel. The shaman can apparently do the Rain Dance whenever he needs it, so water isn't a problem for him.
- Lawful Stupid: From what little we see of the lawyer in charge of executing Henry Dalton's will, he is perfectly okay with a man ordering nine assassinations from beyond the grave because it was written on a will and only hands the money to Lucky Luke in the end because the Daltons couldn't perform the will's conditions.
- Longer-Than-Life Sentence: The Daltons are serving a 4200-years hard labor sentence.
- Magical Native American: Snake Feather, who has magic mushrooms and apparently has a mushroom cellar below his tipi.
- Matchlight Danger Revelation: The Daltons dig a tunnel to escape and end up in the dynamite storage building, where they unbeknownst strike a match. They do it again while looking for the dropped fuse when trying to blow up Collins' prison.
- Mushroom Samba: A Native American gives the Daltons peyote/magic mushrooms, causing them to all have a dream sequence.
- Naked People Are Funny: The Daltons strip naked while waiting for their clothes to be washed.
- Narrator: Introduced as a singer in a saloon in the opening, the narrator then sings "The Ballad of the Daltons" as a voice-over throughout the movie, introducing key elements with his lyrics.
- National Stereotypes:
- Ming Li-Foo is a short, yellow Chinese man with an imbecilic grin, long pony tail who speaks Engrish and is a proprietor of laundry who happens to know kung-fu. He is even referred to as a "Chinaman".
- Snake Feather is a Magical Native American/Noble Savage who speaks in Tonto Talk and has an Awesome Mc Coolname.
- Non-Fatal Explosions: For all the Stuff Blowing Up in this film, nobody dies.
- An Offer You Can't Refuse: When Lucky Luke is asked to witness the Daltons fulfilling the condition required to inherit their Uncle's money, he's told he'll be killed if he refuses.
- On One Condition: The will of Henry Dalton has the condition that his nephews must avenge his death and kill the people who sentenced him to hang before they can have his money.
- Our Founder: At the end, a statue of the late Henry Dalton is seen next to the orphanage that was built thanks to his money. More specifically, it's a statue of Henry Dalton on a horse and about to be hanged.
- Play-Along Prisoner: Lucky Luke could have taken the Daltons down the moment he got his gun back, but played along with their scheme so that Henry Dalton's estate would end up going to the orphanage. Plus he was having fun.
- Rage Against the Legal System: Henry Dalton wants his nephews to kill the judge and the jury who convicted him.
- Rollercoaster Mine: The Daltons try to find an old-timer by climbing into a mine-cart and have a rollercoaster ride. Also note that this is six years before Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) made it a trope!
- Running Gag: The Daltons meet Tobias Wells every time they need something he's selling. After the Ballistic Discount they get from their first meeting, he runs away from them in fear every subsequent time, allowing them to get free horses, clothes, dynamite and shovels.
- Russian Roulette: Sam Game chooses to play this game. Every chamber was loaded with blanks.
- Spiritual Successor: Of The Twelve Tasks of Asterix, directed by the same animation studio and again with René Goscinny as the script writer. Just like Asterix and Obelix, the Daltons have to fulfill several tasks to obtain a certain goal.
- Spoofing in the Rain: During the Daltons' dream, they have a sing-and-dance routine where they spoof Singin' in the Rain, while wearing raincoats and dancing in the rain.
- Suicide as Comedy: Sam Game decides to play a game of Russian roulette.
- Talking Animal: Compared to the previous Lucky Luke movie Daisy Town (1971), Jolly Jumper and Rantanplan are now talking animals, though they only talk to other animals or the audience.
- That Poor Cat: The Daltons' initial encounter with Luke, he's holding Rantanplan, and has to drop him to raise his arms, with the appropriate cry of panic from the dog.
- Thirsty Desert: The Daltons cross one, called "The Desert of Thirst".
- Track Trouble: One of the people who the Dalton brothers are trying to kill is a train driver, and they decide to accomplish it by derailing his train.
- Uncanny Family Resemblance: The Daltons are physically identical apart from their height. The late Henry Dalton also had the same face, except his hair was white.
- Unexpected Inheritance: The Daltons will receive Uncle Henry's fortune On One Condition: that they murder the jury and judge who sentenced him to death by hanging. If they fail, the fortune will go to charity.
- Wardens Are Evil: Averted. Thadeus Collins was actually too nice to his prisoners, causing them to leave his jail.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The Daltons plan to kill Lucky Luke once they no longer need him to collect Henry Dalton's estate.