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Animated Asterix Films: 'Asterix Conquers America'

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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


After co-operating in 1989 to make Asterix and the Big Fight, French company Gaumont1 and German company Extrafilm went their separate ways in the early 1990s and Extrafilm decided to make an Asterix film on their own. Asterix Conquers America2, would be the first Asterix film to be made entirely outside of France.

Asterix Conquers America is very loosely based on the comic book Asterix and the Great Crossing, but deviates from its source comic far more than any other Asterix animated film to date.

Voice Cast

  • Asterix – Craig Charles
  • Obelix – Howard Lew Lewis
  • Getafix – Geoffrey Bayldon
  • Julius Cæsar – Henry McGee
  • Lucullus – Christopher Biggins
  • Medicine Man – Rupert Degas
  • Narrator – John Rye

The English language cast has the honour of being the original cast for this film, as Asterix Conquers America was first recorded in English, and dubbed into other languages, including French, later.

Although perhaps a strange choice to play Asterix, Craig Charles, most famous for playing Dave Lister in Red Dwarf, quickly settles into the role. Howard Lew Lewis is sadly not quite Obelix, something that is not helped by the script, which portrays him as being a bit too stupid. Christopher Biggins as Lucullus, however, threatens to turn the film into a pantomime.

Plot

After the Gaulish villagers have defeated his army once again, Julius Cæsar asks his comrade Lucullus for help. Lucullus inexplicably believes that Druids are immortal and that the Earth is flat. He proposes to kidnap Getafix and throw him off the edge of the world so that when the villagers run out of magic potion, Julius Cæsar will be able to conquer them.

Meanwhile Getafix has run out of one of the main ingredients for the potion – fish. While Asterix and Obelix go fishing, Getafix and Dogmatix go to collect the other ingredients from the woods. There they meet Lucullus disguised as a druid, who promptly kidnaps both Getafix and the dog, and sails with them towards America. They pass Asterix and Obelix, who give chase, sinking the pirates on the way, but a violent storm ensues, and Asterix and Obelix lose them.

When the storm abates, Lucullus throws Dogmatix overboard to the sharks, but a dolphin rescues the little dog and takes him to Asterix and Obelix. Dogmatix directs them to Getafix, but Getafix has been catapulted into America, which Lucullus believes to be the edge of the world. Asterix and Obelix follow Getafix, discovering a new country full of turkeys. Asterix is kidnapped by the natives, and awakens to find himself tied to a pole next to Getafix. Soon Obelix, who has rescued a young attractive girl from a herd of bison, finds them and unties them, and they all dance.

The medicine man, however, is displeased and tries to show off by wetting Obelix's admirer, but is humiliated by Getafix's magic potion. He tricks the Gauls into smoking a pipe containing hallucinogenic substances. When they fall under the influence of the drug, he carries Getafix off, hoping to be taught how to make the potion. Obelix believes himself to be an animal, so only Asterix can rescue Getafix, which he does. The young lady cures Obelix by cooking food for him, and the Gauls depart America to return to Armorica.

However, when they return they discover that all their friends except Cacofonix have been captured by the Romans. Getafix brews some potion, which Asterix and Obelix smuggle in to the villagers inside the Roman camp, and soon they are free. In the chaos, Julius Cæsar escapes and his panther swallows Lucullus.

Differences between the Film and Asterix and the Great Crossing

There are several differences between the film and the comic, Asterix and the Great Crossing, that it is loosely based on. Half the comic concerns the Vikings discovering America, a storyline that does not feature at all in the film. Instead the film concentrates on the villagers being besieged by the Romans and the villainous Lucullus, who believes the Earth is flat. In the comic, however, no mention is made of a flat Earth. Apart from a passing patrol, the Romans have no appearance of any significance and Julius Cæsar does not appear at any point.

Getafix is not kidnapped at any point in the comic, and does not travel to America. Only Asterix, Obelix and Dogmatix make the long voyage. The comic does not feature a villainous medicine man. Atishoo, Obelix's love interest, similarly does not appear, although the chief of the tribe they interact with is keen on Obelix marrying his unattractive daughter, causing Obelix to flee the new world. One scene common to both the film and the comic is that it is the Pirate Captain's birthday. Although in the comic Asterix and Obelix celebrate by not sinking his ship but instead stealing all his party food, in the film his ship is sunk after he has been given a birthday present of a duck-shaped rubber ring.

The Romans did not Believe the Earth was Flat

The central premise of Asterix Conquers America is that the Romans believed that the Earth was flat. This is entirely without foundation. All historic evidence shows that the Romans understood that the Earth is round. Surviving statues and mosaics of Roma, the Goddess of Rome, show her holding the whole world in her hand, symbolising that Rome itself has the whole world under its control. In each case the Earth that Roma holds is a sphere, not a flat disc. Literary evidence also proves that the Romans knew the world was round. Writers of the Empire who knew the Earth was round included Egyptian-Greek Claudius Ptolemy (90 - 168 AD) and Roman Strabo (64 BC - 24 AD), who wrote around the time that Asterix Conquers America is set:

Most of all, it seems to me, we need... geometry and astronomy for a subject like geography... Just as these sciences prove for us in other treatises all that has to do with the measurement of the Earth as a whole, and as I must in this treatise take for granted and accept the propositions proved there, so I must take for granted that... the Earth's surface is spheroidal.
Whereas the suggestion of this proposition comes to us mediately from the law that bodies tend toward the centre and that each body inclines toward its own centre of gravity, the suggestion comes immediately from the phenomena observed at sea and in the heavens; for our sense-perception and our intuition can bear testimony in the latter case.
For instance, it is obviously the curvature of the sea that prevents sailors from seeing distant lights that are placed on a level with their eyes. At any rate, if the lights are elevated above the level of the eyes, they become visible, even though they be at a greater distance from the eyes; and similarly if the eyes are elevated, they see what was before invisible... So also, when sailors are approaching land, the different parts of the shore become revealed progressively, more and more, and what at first appears to be low-lying land gradually grows higher and higher.

The myth that educated people in Europe before Christopher Columbus believed that the world was flat was started by American novelist Washington Irving. He wrote a fictional story about Christopher Columbus in 1828 that included a scene where the Church accused him of Heresy for believing the Earth was round. Irving's story was popular and has influenced the generations that followed.

The Title

Asterix Conquers America was one of a group of films released in the early 1990s that were made to celebrate the 500th anniversary of America's discovery by Christopher Columbus in 1492. These peaked in 1992, when films released included:

  • Christopher Columbus: The Discovery
  • the better but unsuccessful 1492: Conquest Of Paradise, which starred Gérard Depardieu, later to play Obelix in the live action Asterix films
  • Carry On Columbus

The influence of these films is shown in the title Asterix Conquers America, the term 'conquer' inspired directly by 1492: Conquest Of Paradise. The title itself is deceptive – Asterix does not so much conquer America as visit a small area of it for a day or two.

Asterix Conquers America and Pocahontas

One of the last films made in the brief 1990s America-discovery sub-genre was the Disney film Pocahontas. Released in 1995, the year after Asterix Conquers America, it had many similarities:

  • Both films begin in Europe before voyaging to America.

  • In both films, soon after leaving port, there is a violent storm.

  • In Asterix Conquers America, Asterix strains to tie his boat's cut rope during the storm. John Smith in Pocahontas also ties a severed rope during the storm his ship encounters.

  • In Asterix Conquers America, Dogmatix is dropped overboard but rescued. In Pocahontas, Thomas is thrown overboard and rescued by John Smith.

  • Both show America in a similar fashion, with panoramic vistas including vast, wooded forests, rivers and waterfalls.

  • The hero in Pocahontas, John Smith, is blond, just like Asterix. John Smith combines Asterix's heroic story line with Obelix's love-interest sub-plot.

  • Both Asterix and John Smith frequently wear helmets.

  • Asterix is kidnapped and tied to a pole. He is about to be executed but is rescued in the nick of time. John Smith is also kidnapped and tied to a pole, and is also rescued just before his execution.

  • Asterix is worried about his villagers in Armorica being attacked. John Smith worries about the settlers in America being attacked.

  • Lucullus, the chief villain in Asterix Conquers America, and Governor Ratcliffe, the chief villain in Pocahontas, are both fat, red-cape-wearing authority figures, appointed by Julius Cæsar and King James I respectively. They are both given land that does not belong to them to rule – Lucullus is given the Gaulish village, and Ratcliffe is given the colony in Virginia.

  • Both Lucullus and Governor Ratcliffe take small dogs with them to America – Lucullus in the form of the kidnapped Dogmatix, and Ratcliffe in the form of his pet pug Percy.

  • Both Asterix Conquers America and Pocahontas feature a young, male Native American child.

  • Atishoo, Obelix's love interest, and Pocahontas herself both wear similar outfits with low-cut tops and short skirts, and both have long, dark hair. Both are young, single, attractive and enjoy spending time apart from their tribes.

  • John Smith hides behind a waterfall in Pocahontas. The medicine man in Asterix Conquers America also hides behind a waterfall.

  • Kekata in Pocahontas and the medicine man in Asterix Conquers America both use fireworks and similar explosions.

  • The colonists in Pocahontas build a stockaded, reinforced wall to their settlement just as the Gaulish villagers do in Asterix Conquers America.

  • The love interests in both films are forced to be apart at the end. Both partings are accompanied by very emotional music. Just as John Smith and Pocahontas part to the tune of 'If I Never Knew You', Obelix says farewell to Atishoo with Bonnie Tyler's 'Say Goodbye' in the background, in a song that out-Disneys Disney.

  • Asterix, Getafix and Obelix say farewell to Atishoo with a tribal hand signal. Similarly, John Smith says farewell to Pocahontas with the hand gesture that Pocahontas taught him.

Pocahontas feels almost like a retread of the same story as Asterix Conquers America, only without the Romans or magic potion, but with songs about wind instead.

Review

The film has some of the most spectacular animation of any Asterix films. In particular the beginning has a wonderful sequence where the viewer zooms in from space to the planet Earth – shown as a disc. A similar opening sequence would start the 1997 Discworld animated adaptations of Sir Terry Pratchett's  Wyrd Sisters and Soul Music. Curiously, the map of the world shown on the disc excludes countries known about as well as undiscovered countries. Egypt, the setting of Asterix And Cleopatra, is excluded, as is India. The Roman senate scenes look as if they take place in the interior of the Pantheon, a former Roman temple in the heart of Rome.

Sadly, although remarkable detail has been placed on the visuals of the film, the same cannot be said for the plot, and the film suffers tremendously as a result. The film has a very slapstick approach, and is generally dumbed down, perhaps to appeal to very young children. The background music is intrusive and annoying, and there is a very dated, pre-Toy Story CGI sequence when Asterix and Obelix are at sea, chasing the ship holding the kidnapped Getafix. There are also some very poor lapses in dialogue. The film is set in 48 BC, yet Asterix and Obelix have a conversation in which they state that the Romans were better in 46 BC – a date two years in their future. Obelix also asks Atishoo if she speaks English – a rather odd request from a Gaul.

The film has also been criticised for its stereotyping. The Native American characters are all stereotyped, even speaking in nonsense American phrases such as 'Coca-Cola Minnesota Oscar loser'. The love interest, Atishoo, is a stereotypical young, good-looking heroine who needs rescuing and even trips and sprains her ankle when in peril. The sycophantic Lucullus has very large lips and a camp personality, and all the British characters in Asterix Conquers America are stereotypes, having 1940s moustaches and being obsessed with rowing, all hailing from either Oxford or Cambridge. There is no escaping the fact that a lot of the humour in the Asterix series does come from stereotypes, although this is intended harmlessly.

Another odd decision is that we see the first death in an Asterix film. Other villains in Asterix usually learn their lesson and are demoted, put to hard work or some other suitable punishment. Lucullus, however, is actually eaten by Julius Cæsar's panther.

Soundtrack

Although the background music frequently intrudes to become obviously foreground music, on the whole the soundtrack for the film is of an exceptionally high quality. There is a music video sequence in which Asterix, Obelix, Getafix and the Native Americans dance together to a cheesy but enjoyable song, 'We Are One People', sung by Aswad3.

When Asterix and Obelix leave America to return to Gaul, we are treated to the phenomenal voice of Bonnie Tyler4 singing 'Say Goodbye'. Other songs include 'Dance Dance Dance (Under the Moon)', performed by Right Said Fred5 and 'Always' by Wild Kit. The big question that remains regarding the soundtrack is why, when the film bursts with songs from such talented performers, does it end with the nonsense song 'Ging Gang Goolie'?

Connections with Other Asterix Films

  • Panacea, Obelix's love interest in Asterix Versus Cæsar, is seen in the village briefly, and Obelix is still easily distracted by her. Panacea would appear later in the Live Action film, Asterix and Obelix Take On Cæsar.

  • This is the second film to feature a love interest for Obelix after Asterix Versus Cæsar.

  • This is the second Asterix film to feature America, after a brief scene in The Twelve Tasks of Asterix.

  • Getafix appears to have moved house again. In Asterix the Gaul he lived in a cave, in Asterix Versus Cæsar he lived in a house with a waterfall to its right and now he lives in a house with a quarry to its left.

  • A scene in which Asterix and Obelix carry wild boars to the village is almost identical to a scene in Asterix and the Big Fight.

  • The Roman centurion looks identical to General Motus in Asterix in Britain and to General Caous in Asterix and the Big Fight. He has an Italian accent like the character General Bossa Nova in the American dub of Asterix and the Big Fight.

  • The Romans form various formations, like in The Twelve Tasks of Asterix and Asterix in Britain. Formations they achieve are: a pizza, a pizza with a small slice, a pyramid, a sphere, a gooseberry (spiky sphere) and a tortoise (the animal). The Romans would later form animal-shaped tortoises in the live action film Asterix at the Olympic Games.

  • Just as General Motus was chased by the triangle formation in Asterix in Britain, in Asterix Conquers America the unnamed centurion is chased by the gooseberry formation.

  • The Centurion races in a chariot to the senate building and slips when inside in a manner similar to scenes in Asterix in Britain when General Stratocumulus rushes to report to General Motus.

  • Getafix is kidnapped again – twice. The first kidnapping is in the woods outside the village, just as in Asterix the Gaul and the attempted kidnapping in Asterix and the Big Fight. He is later kidnapped from his tent while in America. Getafix was also kidnapped in Asterix and Cleopatra and has now been kidnapped five times in an Asterix animation.

  • The pirates return.

  • Asterix and Obelix make their journey in a small boat for the second time. They first travelled in a small boat to Britain in Asterix in Britain and would do so again in Asterix and the Vikings.

  • The medicine man is a fraud. The previous film, Asterix and the Big Fight, had a fraudulent soothsayer and the following film, Asterix and the Vikings, has a fraudulent priest.

  • Asterix dances again. We also see him dance in Asterix the Gaul, in a dream in Asterix and Cleopatra, on the Island of Pleasure in The Twelve Tasks of Asterix and in Asterix and the Vikings.

  • Obelix is drugged by the pipe into thinking he is an animal. The Twelve Tasks of Asterix features a magician named Iris who hypnotises people into thinking they are animals.

  • Obelix's vision of a bear-like Asterix is similar to Getafix seeing a rooster-like Vitalstatistix after being hit by a menhir in Asterix and the Big Fight.

  • Getafix has obviously learnt from his experience in Asterix and the Big Fight when he states that the best cure for amnesia is 'roast pork taken orally'. He would know.

  • Asterix and Obelix disguise themselves as Romans. This is similar to their actions in Asterix Versus Cæsar. Obelix would later disguise himself as a Roman in the live action film Asterix and Obelix Take On Cæsar.

  • This is the second appearance of Julius Cæsar's panther, after Asterix Versus Cæsar. That it should be so accident-prone is similar to the portrayal of Cleopatra's lion in Asterix and Cleopatra.

  • In Asterix Conquers America, Asterix and Obelix both state they have never seen turkeys before, which they refer to as 'gobble-gobbles', yet Obelix had eaten them as part of the feast in The Twelve Tasks of Asterix. Turkeys are mentioned, despite having not yet been discovered, by Prolix in both the English and American dubs of Asterix and the Big Fight.

  • Asterix and Obelix carry amphorae, not barrels.

Novelisation

The film was novelised, and published under the name Asterix Conquers America. This was originally book 34 in the Asterix series at time of first publication, although the numbering system has since been revamped and the novelisations excluded from the numbered lists. This was translated into English by Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge, and a few minor changes to the film were made.

The book states the date is 50 BC, not 48 BC as in the film. This puts it in line with all the other Asterix books, which all are set in 50 BC. The Earth is described as a pancake, not a pizza, and the joke about Julius Cæsar being the big cheese is excluded. The centurion, rather than being unnamed, is called Centurion Minibus and two unnamed legionaries are given the names Stupidus and Corpulentus and have a much bigger role. The novelisation also renames Atishoo to be Minihooha, and states that she is the daughter of the chief. Also in the novelisation, after being swallowed by Cæsar's panther, Lucullus' voice can be heard.

The novelisation contains scenes from the film and narrative text. Unlike the previous two Asterix novelisations, the narration is not from any particular character's point of view. One of the pictures shows a totem pole shaped like Dogmatix standing on Asterix sitting on Obelix. This totem pole, one of the film's nice touches, is only seen briefly in the film. As it is on the far right of the screen, in non-Widescreen formats, such as the standard television ratio, it is chopped out the picture and not visible.

1Asterix Conquers America was made at a time when the French government was attracting strong criticism of its policies to encourage and protect French films at the cinema through subsidies and quotas both at home and abroad.2Known in France as Astérix et les Indiens and in Germany as Asterix in Amerika.3Aswad were Number 1 in the UK in 1988 with 'Don't Turn Around'.4Famous for her 1983 Number 1 hit 'Total Eclipse of the Heart', as well as 1985's UK Number 2 'Holding Out For A Hero'.5Famous for songs including 1991's 'I'm Too Sexy', which spent six weeks at Number 2 in the UK behind Bryan Adams' '(Everything I Do) I Do It for You' but reached Number 1 in America, and 'Deeply Dippy', Number 1 in the UK for three weeks in 1992.

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