Introduction | Asterix the Gaul | Asterix and Cleopatra | The Twelve Tasks of Asterix
Asterix versus Cæsar | Asterix in Britain | Asterix and the Big Fight | Asterix Conquers America | Asterix and the Vikings | Asterix: The Mansions of the Gods | Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion
The first Asterix animated film, Asterix the Gaul1, was made in 1967. It follows the very first Asterix comic book extremely closely, and is almost a frame-by-frame adaptation. Only a few minor visual details from the book are different, such as the number on a milestone next to the Roman road, or the colour of the ox dealer's shirt, but in every important visual detail it follows the original.
The Asterix the Gaul comic was originally published, similarly to the original publication of Charles Dickens' classic novels, in serialised form, in Pilote Magazine in 1959. As it was the first Asterix adventure, the characters in the book were still forming and it took a while for the drawings of some of the characters to settle down into their fully evolved state. Thus, in the comic Obelix is not quite how he would be later portrayed, Julius Cæsar has a sharp, pointed nose rather than his more usual aquiline nose and Cacofonix lacks the 'Elvis' hairstyle he later adopts. In the animated film, however, Obelix and Cacofonix are shown in their developed forms, although Julius Cæsar is still different to his later portrayals.
Asterix the Gaul is a rather basic animation in style, especially when compared to other animated films made at the same time. In 1967, Disney released The Jungle Book2, followed in 1968 by The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The same year saw the release of the Beatles' animated film Yellow Submarine3. When compared to these films, Asterix's animation appears largely 2-dimensional and basic, with the use of repetitive animated sequences and camera techniques to create the cartoon film on a low budget, a process known as limited animation4. Examples of the use of limited animation include the motion of Asterix and Obelix walking and the repeated showing of the ox dealer's oxen.
The animated film's opening credits begin with drawings of the main characters, in a charming way that reminds viewers of the introduction of the main characters found in the beginning of the comic books. Asterix even winks, in a similar way to Sylvester McCoy's seventh Doctor in the opening sequence to Doctor Who. Although Asterix and Obelix, and even minor Roman character Tullius Octopus, share the same names in the comic and animated films, many of the characters' names are completely different from the now-established English translation by Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge, which was not done until 1969:
- Cacofonix is called 'Stopthemusix'
- Vitalstatistix is called 'Tonnabrix'
- Getafix is called 'Panoramix'
- Crismus Bonus is called 'Phonus Bolonus'
- Marcus Ginantonicus is called 'Marcus Sourpuss'
- Julius Pompus is called 'Petroleum Pumpus'
- The Roman fort Compendium is called 'HumSweetHum'. This is even though the map at the beginning of the film does not show a fort of that name5.
One of the weaknesses of this adaptation is that it lacks the minor village characters that are found in the world of Asterix. The comic Asterix the Gaul that the animated adaptation is based on does not feature many of the village characters, simply Asterix, Obelix, Getafix, Vitalstatistix and Cacofonix. However, by 1967 when the animated adaptation was made, ten Asterix adventures had been written and published. The established characters in the other existing Asterix stories at the time could well have appeared in the background of the village. In the comic book, a prototype Fulliautomatix appears in the village forge, with the blacksmith's shop itself labelled 'Fulliautomatix – weapons for all the family'. In the animated film Asterix the Gaul there are three blond men working inside the forge – two of whom look similar to Fulliautomatix.
The plot follows the original comic book almost to the letter. As this was the first Asterix book, much of the plot revolves around aspects that would later be taken for granted – such as the magic potion's effects of increasing the drinker's strength, the Roman occupation of the neighbouring area and Obelix being unable to drink the potion as he had fallen into the cauldron as a baby.
The Gauls having repeatedly defeated the Romans in the neighbouring forts, the Romans send a spy to discover the secret of their strength. After learning of the existence of the magic potion, the Romans under Phonus Bolonus kidnap Getafix, hoping to force him to brew magic potion for them, so that Phonus Bolonus can dethrone Julius Caesar and take control of the Empire. Asterix, armed only with his intelligence and cunning, enters the Roman camp to effect a rescue.
One scene which drags is the ox dealer's song. In the Asterix the Gaul comic, there is a frame in which a moustached ox dealer asks Asterix:
I'm an ox dealer, but if I sell my oxen I won't have anything to pull my cart, and then how do I get home?
This one line inspires a whole song, which lasts 1 minute 11 long seconds and is reprised later for a further 40 seconds. The song itself, however, has very little melody and is quite flat, with most of the words hard to make out, while the animation focuses on watching the wheels of the cart revolving and the oxen chewing. This song, sadly, is dull at best, verging on annoying. This is intentional as even Asterix himself in the film reacts to the song by shouting 'Stop! Stop! Stop! Enough!'; deliberately including a song designed to annoy the audience seems an odd choice.
One of the best lines in Asterix the Gaul is near the end. Phonus Bolonus enters his tent and finds a cloak on his chair. After asking whose cloak it is, Julius Cæsar steps out of the shadows and tells him to 'render unto Cæsar that which is Cæsar's', a reference to a famous Biblical quote6.
Asterix the Gaul is the only animated Asterix film in which Getafix has his own cave. There is a greater emphasis on Asterix's joy in experiencing the effects of the magic potion. After he takes it, he seems ecstatic and almost surprised by his new-found strength, pulling up trees with joy7. Despite this, there is no 'zap' effect to show that the magic potion has been drunk. After drinking it, the only aftermath is super-human strength. In later films, a flash of light and/or levitation as well as a magical noise accompanies drinking the magic potion.
Influence on Later Asterix Films:
Asterix the Gaul would prove to be a big influence on future Asterix animated films, with many plot points raised in this film repeated in later ones:
Just as General Phonus Bolonus was conspiring to dethrone Cæsar, in Asterix and the Big Fight General Caous would also aspire to replace Cæsar.
Similarly, Getafix would later be kidnapped again, in Asterix And Cleopatra and twice in Asterix Conquers America. Other kidnappings in Asterix films include Chief Vitalstatistix's niece Panacea and her fiancé Tragicomix in Asterix Versus Cæsar and Chief Vitalstastix's nephew Justforkix in Asterix and the Vikings.
Similar to Asterix the Gaul, Asterix and the Big Fight is the only other Asterix adventure which takes place entirely in the area of the Gaulish village, the woods and surrounding Roman forts.
Changing the last letters of a name as part of a plan to be disguised as someone from another country is introduced here for the first time. Caligula Minus changes his name to Caligulaminix, as all Gauls' names end in 'ix'. Asterix and Obelix would later change their names to 'Asteraf' and 'Obelaf' to disguise themselves as Vikings in Asterix and the Vikings.
The plot device of Getafix being kidnapped by a corrupt soldier wishing to use the magic potion to dethrone Cæsar would later also be re-used in the live action film Asterix and Obelix Take On Cæsar.
Aftermath of the Film
Asterix the Gaul had been commissioned originally as a straight-to-television cartoon by Dargaud Productions, a division of the company that published the Asterix comics, having taken over Pilote Magazine in which the cartoons originally appeared. After the film was completed, Georges Dargaud, the head of the company, considered it to be of sufficient quality to not only release the film in cinemas but also commission a sequel based on the second published comic, Asterix and the Golden Sickle.
René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo had not been involved in or aware of the making of the film, and only learned of it when Georges Dargaud invited them to the cinema to see it. Although they were appalled to see their characters on screen without their consent, especially as they were too late to prevent the release of Asterix the Gaul, they did see the potential in releasing animated film versions of their Asterix adventures.
As their first Asterix adventures had been, to an extent, rushed in order to meet the deadlines that serial publications created, Goscinny and Uderzo felt that their early work was not representative of Asterix at its best. They also wanted greater involvement from the start of the project. Work on the unfinished Asterix and the Golden Sickle was halted and a new production, Asterix and Cleopatra, under the careful eye of Goscinny and Uderzo, was begun.