Asterix the Gaul (and his best friend Obelix) first debuted on 29 October 1959 as a serial in the French/Belgium magazine Pilote. Since then, the plucky Gauls have gone on to have many adventures in comic books, videogames, and feature-length productions and Asterix himself has become a popular and enduring character in his native France and around the world as Asterix’s stories have been translated into over a hundred languages across the world. I may be a day early in celebrating this anniversary as it coincides with the release of the SEGA Mega Drive but I’ll take any excuse to talk about Asterix’s amusing escapades.
Released: 5 December 2018
Director: Louis Clichy and Alexandre Astier
Distributor: Société Nouvelle de Distribution/Altitude
Stars: Ken Kramer, C. Ernst Harth, John Innes, Fleur Delahunty, and Michael Shepherd
In 50 B.C. ancient France (then known as Gaul), has been entirely conquered by Julius Caesar (Mark Oliver) and his army of Romans…except for one small village of indomitable Gauls given superhuman strength by the druid Getafix’s (Innes). However, when Getafix starts to worry about his mortality, he embarks on a quest across Gaul, accompanied by the village’s most powerful warriors, Asterix (Kramer) and Obelix (Harth), in search of an heir.
Asterix was created by writer René Goscinny and artist Albert Uderzo in 1959 and first appeared in Pilote before being collected into a single volume. Since then, the duo produced volumes on an annual basis until 1997, when Goscinny tragically died; after continuing solo for a while, Uderzo eventually signed the rights over to a new generation of creators so that Asterix’s stories could continue. Since then, Asterix has been an incredibly popular character the world over, selling nearly 400 million books and has been adapted into a series of animated, and live-action, features. The first, Astérix the Gaul (Goossens, 1967), was produced with Goscinny and Uderzo’s input and the two were heavily involved in subsequent productions. Nine animated features were produced between 1967 and 2014, where the animation made the jump from 2D to 3D with Asterix: The Mansions of the Gods (Clichy and Astier, 2014), which was France’s highest-grossing animated film of that year. Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion followed about four years later; based on an original story by Astier, the film made over $2 million on its opening night and eventually grossed over $46 million.
Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion begins with Getafix out in the forest cutting ingredients for his magic potion with a golden sickle; he’s a sprightly, lively old man, hopping and jumping all over the place and handling his sickle with an effortless pizazz. Unfortunately, his luck runs out and he takes a particularly nasty fall from a treetop. Having seriously injured his ankle, Getafix is despondent and angry at his stumble and decides to search out a young successor in order to pass down his greatest secret; since the secret can only be passed from one druid to another, this means Getafix must leave the village to seek out his heir. Getafix’s decision to seek out an heir worries both Asterix and the village chief, Vitalstatistix (Don Brown), as they’re concerned that Getafix is giving up too easily and that a new druid will misuse the magic potion. To allay their fears, Getafix suggests that Asterix and Obelix accompany him to ensure that his chosen successor uses the magic potion as wisely as he and that their village can continue to resist the Roman invasion.
Getafix’s mission is opposed by the malevolent druid Demonix (Shephard), a practitioner of forbidden magic who greatly resembles Prolix from Asterix and the Soothsayer (Goscinny and Uderzo, 1972) and is capable of conjuring will-o’-the-wisps to hypnotise and manipulate others. His power is so frightful that he’s even able to freeze the mighty Obelix in his tracks like a statue Demonix is disgusted that Getafix has wasted his magic potion on his village and wishes to take the secret from himself to satisfy his desires for power and glory. To facilitate this, he strikes a deal with Caesar that will see him manipulate the promising young druid Cholerix (Michael Adamthwaite) in order to learn the secret of the magic potion. After forcing Cholerix to mage the potion, Demonix augments it further and consumes it, becoming a super-powered sorcerer and threatening not only the Gauls but the Romans as well with his vast powers.
Getafix is dismayed to find that all the young druids he meets are either charlatans or incompetents and, as a result, he’s excited at the potential Cholerix. Although Cholerix initially rejects Demonix’s advice, he falters when standing before his peers and potential mentor and decides to conjure Demonix’s useless spell and, in the process, impresses Getafix. However, Cholerix is almost immediately dismayed at Getafix’s choice as he knows he basically deceived the druid and is forced to brew up the magic potion before Demonix’s eyes in order to save the village from being destroyed by the Romans.
Asterix is enraged to discover that a young girl from the village, Pectin (Delahunty), has stowed away in Getafix’s cauldron; despite women being forbidden from the Forest of the Carnutes, Getafix is impressed with Pectin’s ingenuity and craftsmanship and allows her to accompany him to the druids’ gathering in disguise as a boy. Her presence and curiosity is the perfect way to coax exposition out of the druids (in the form of a traditional, hand-drawn animation) regarding Getafix’s past with Demonix and she proves instrumental in thwarting Deominx after he consumes his augmented magic potion, proving herself to, potentially, be worthy of taking Getafix’s place someday.
Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion is full of little gags and slapstick comedy, mainly revolving around fights and the physical pratfalls the many characters get into; the routine of village life and the Roman garrisons is amusingly introduced to the tunes of Dead or Alive’s ‘You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)’, with characters performing their everyday actions in tune to the beat of the song. As is the case with many Asterix stories, there’s an ongoing rivalry and animosity between Unhygienix (Jason Simpson) and Fulliautomatix (Scott McNeil), a gang of pirates continuously run afoul of the Gauls even when they’re safely out at sea, the Romans are generally portrayed as being reluctant warriors who are in fear of the Gauls’ strength, and the Gauls using chickens to fly in and attack the Romans. There’s also a running gag in the film that the druids can speak and understand the snorts and grunts of boars; indeed, boars themselves play quite a large role in this animated and are far more prominent than they usually are, getting into all kinds of scrapes and hijinks similar to Scrat from the Ice Age films (Various, 2002 to present).
There’s a great number of characters in the film, more so than usual since Gettafix’s search takes him all over Gaul. However, all the village men (except for Cacofonix (Cownden)), decide to follow along with the quest to add some additional comic relief to the film through their tendency to argue and brawl with each other at the slightest provocation. Although the village is left only in the care of the women and Getafix’s limited magic potion reserves, the Gaulish women are, as always, more than capable of holding their own against the Roman forces, who are ordered to attack again and again to exhaust their reserves. The druids also get a lot of play in the film; their gathering is little more than a piss-up and the druids misunderstand the boar’s message and think Getafix has just brought them all together for a big party and Getafix is stunned to discover that the druids’ age-old traditions of passing information only through word of mouth has given way to “crib notes”.
When Getafix’s search initially proves fruitless, Asterix loses his temper; he’s annoyed that Getafix has let such a simple stumble throw him so completely and, in an amusing outburst, hands his helmet, dagger, magic potion, and status as the village’s top warrior over to Geriatrix (Ron Halder) in order to make his point and storms away. This does, however, allow him to stumble upon Demonix’s plot to collaborate with the Romans but he basically disappears from a big chunk of the film after he’s helplessly bound and gagged. Even when he’s rescued, he’s just one part of an unsuccessful team effort between the Romans and the Gauls to take down the gigantic, invincible, and super-strong Demonix and, in the end, it is Getafix’s resourcefulness and magic that saves the day. It’s a bit unusual to watch an Asterix film where Asterix ends up having such a small role but the bulk of the story revolves around Getafix and his shaken self-confidence so I guess it makes sense but Asterix and the Big Fight (Grimond/Weiss, 1989) was a very Getafix-heavy film and that still placed Asterix in a prominent role in its narrative.
Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion is a very fun and entertaining little romp. While I preferred the traditional, 2D animation of the previous films, the computer-generated characters are gorgeous to look at, full of life and little details and character quirks that really make them lively and amusing. It’s not one of the more action-packed Asterix stories, and it’s a little disappointing how small a role Asterix and, especially, Obelix play in the plot but it’s got a lot of funny little moments and gags peppered throughout it and really captures the quirky spirit of the comic books. As a lifelong Asterix fan, it’s heart-warming to see the character is still so popular and beloved that he continues to be relevant in a crowded genre and there’s clearly been a lot of care and attention put into bringing these unique and memorable characters to life. The story is pure Asterix and feels reminiscent of many of the books but also manages to stand out on its own merits through its distinctive visual and narrative flair and I’d say it’s definitely worth a watch for fans of the source material and should keep both kids and parents sufficiently amused with its wackier moments.
Have you seen Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion? If so, what did you think to it? Are you a fan of the CGI Asterix films or do you prefer the traditional, 2D animated features? Which character, book, or movie is your favourite? How are you celebrating Asterix and Obelix’s birthday this year? Whatever your thoughts on Asterix, feel free to leave a comment below.