The Twelve Tasks of Asterix (Les Douze travaux d'Astérix) is a 1976 Belgian/French animated feature film based on the Asterix comic book series. René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, the creators of the series, wrote the story and directed the film themselves; with co-direction by Pierre Watrin and the screenplay co-written by Pierre Tchernia, a friend of Goscinny and Uderzo. The movie was directed, produced and animated at Goscinny and Uderzo's own animation studio, Studios Idéfix and is the only Asterix animated film that has used the Xerography Process. It is the only Asterix movie to date (animated or live-action) to be based on an original screenplay rather than on material from any of the comic book stories. Later, however, it was adapted into a comic book as well as an illustrated text story book and a series of twelve books for young readers.
After a group of legionaries is once again beaten up by the Gauls, they imagine: "With such huge strength, they can't be human... they must be gods". Julius Caesar is informed, and laughs. He makes a decision with his council and goes to Armorica, to speak with Vitalstatistix. He gives the Gauls a series of 12 tasks, inspired by Hercules (but new ones, since the 12 Labours are outdated). Vitalstatistix assembles their best warriors, Asterix and Obelix, to do the job. The Roman Caius Tiddlus is sent along with them to guide them and check they complete each task.
The Twelve Tasks
- Run faster than Asbestos, champion of the Olympic Games. Asterix, helped by the magic potion, follows Asbestos until the latter hits an apple tree at a moment of incaution, and loses the race.
- Throw a javelin farther than Verses, the Persian. Verses' javelin hits North America (still only inhabited by Indians, including another Goscinny-Uderzo character, Oumpah-pah), but Obelix's javelin enters a stable orbit and pursues Verses around the world, into the Native American village.
- Beat Cilindric, the German. Cilindric quickly beats Obelix with a "fighting technique he learnt in a distant land"; but Asterix asks for demonstrations that eventually leave Cilindric's own arms and legs tied in knots.
- Cross a lake. The problem being that in the middle of the lake is the "Isle of Pleasure", inhabited by beautiful Sirens. Obelix comes to his senses after discovery that there are no wild boars on the island, and calls Asterix to follow him.
- Survive the hypnotic gaze of Iris, the Egyptian. Iris tries to make Asterix act the phrase, "I am a wild boar"; but when Asterix constantly breaks his concentration by not taking things seriously, Iris hypnotizes himself.
- Finish a meal by Mannekenpix, the Belgian. The chef is famous for cooking gigantic meals for the Titans - the task is to eat one of his massive three-course meals "down to the last crumb". Obelix devours 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, a huge mound of caviar (with a single piece of toast), a camel, and an elephant stuffed with olives. This exhausts the kitchen, but disappoints Obelix, who considers it "starters".
- Survive the Cave of the Beast. In a distinctly abstract sequence of the film, the pair must enter a cave that no-one has ever emerged from alive. They encounter, among other sights, a skeletal hand that directs them, tennis played with a skull, bats, and a subway (on the Paris Métro station Alésia), before meeting the Beast (which is not shown on-screen). After they leave the cave, Tiddlus asks what the Beast was actually like - Obelix happily replies that it was "very tasty".
- Find Permit A 38 in "The Place That Sends You Mad". A mind-numbing multi-storey building founded on bureaucracy and staffed by clinically unhelpful people who direct all their clients to other similarly unhelpful people elsewhere in the building. Asterix eventually beats them at their own game by asking for an imaginary permit, A 39 supposedly required by a new decree, "circular B 65", making the staff victims of their own unhelpfulness and sending the place into disarray. Eventually Asterix is given Permit A 38 just to make him leave and stop causing trouble, while the Prefect who gives them the form goes insane from the shock of his own unthinkable helpfulness.
- Cross a ravine on an invisible tightrope, over a river full of crocodiles. Eventually the heroes fight the crocodiles and cross the river.
- Climb a mountain and answer the Old Man's riddle. After a tough climb of the snowbound peak, the Old Man of the Mountain's challenge is to determine, with eyes blindfolded, which pile of laundry was washed with Olympus, "the detergent of the gods". Asterix performs this task easily in a parody of washing detergent advertisements. This last actually impress the Olympian gods themselves, until Minerva suggests to grant godhood to the Gauls; but Jupiter refuses to do so.
- Spend a night on the haunted plains. The plain is haunted by the ghosts of fallen Roman soldiers, is not an easy place to sleep. Obelix tries to fight them, but cannot harm the ghosts. Asterix is woken by the commotion and finally complains, until the ghosts depart.
- Survive the Colosseum. When the pair wakes after a night on the plains, they find themselves in Rome with their fellow villagers, who have been brought to fight in the Colosseum. After the gladiators are beaten, the animals are sent in, and the Gauls turn the Colosseum into a modern-day circus.
After the Gauls succeed in every task, Caesar agrees that they are gods, gives them control of the Roman Empire, and retires to live with Cleopatra in a little house in the country. Caius Tiddlus takes his reward by retiring to the Isle of Pleasure. In the village's celebration, Obelix asks Asterix if the Gauls really did conquer Rome. Asterix tells him that everything that happened to them was a mere cartoon, in which everything is possible. Obelix takes advantage of this and teleports himself and his wild boar meat to the Isle of Pleasure, to enjoy himself.
English voice cast
- Sean Barrett - Asterix, Caius Tiddlus
- Michael Kilgarriff - Obelix
- Paul Bacon
- George Baker
- Ysuanne Churchman
- Christina Greatrex
- Alexander John
- Barbara Mitchell
- Gennie Nevinson
- John Ringham
- Geoffrey Russell
- Paddy Turner
Comic book and story book adaptations
There is a comic book adaptation of the film. The English translation, only published as part of a once off comic book annual, was based on the dialogue of the English version of the film and was titled Asterix Conquers Rome. There is also an illustrated book of the film containing the story in text. The story book is more regularly published and more widely translated than the very rare comic book. In addition there are also twelve rare illustrated text story books for young readers, one for each of the twelve tasks.
Cultural and historical references in the film
- Unlike in the books, Romans aren't aware that the Gauls have the magic potion which suggest that the movie takes place in a different continuity than the books.
- During his introduction scene Asterix says "Hello” in various languages (English, Japanese, German, etc.) while the flags of the countries are shown. As the flag of France appears Asterix makes a rooster-like sound. This is a reference to the fact that the rooster is a national symbol of France.
- Caesar's senate features Brutus, who constantly plays with a knife. Caesar remarks "Stop playing with that knife, you'll end up hurting someone!", an in-joke to how Brutus was one of the men who stabbed and killed Caesar.
- Much like the books, the movie uses Latin quotes (in this case “Post equitem sedet atra cura” and “Ave Caesar, morituri te salutant!”) 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".
- Cylindric the German is actually pretty sympathetic, and a jolly-friendly German stereotype, as opposite to the cruel war-like Goths Asterix meets in the books.
- Mannekenpix's colossal meal includes a side-dish of fries (the Belgians are said to have invented the French fries), which he claims to have invented despite potatoes not being present in Europe at the time. He refers to them as "earth-apples", the literal French translation of potatoes ("pommes de terre"). They are referred to as being like 'wood chips, but grow raw in the ground' in the English dub.
- During the "Place that sends you mad” sequence, a Roman woman mention an aqueduct collapsing into ruin, and notes that it looks lovely. This is a reference to an actual collapsed aqueduct near Rome.
- Much like in many Asterix books, a Pierre Tchernia caricature appears, this time as the Roman Prefect in the "Place that sends you mad" sequence.
- While insane, Obelix breaks the arms off of the Venus de Milo.
- The Goddess Venus (while appearing among other Gods) is in fact the caricature of French actress Brigitte Bardot.
- One of the people Asterix and Obelix see before they enter the "Place that sends you mad" is based upon Napoleon.
- At one point a chicken lays some bizarre looking eggs. One is in the shape of Donald Duck's head. Note that the scene was cut in some versions due to copyright problems.
- The movie is one of few rare examples of Cacofonix the bard hurting Fulliautomatix the blacksmith. (The only time he did this in comics are Asterix and the Roman Agent and Asterix and the Secret Weapon, but here is the only time he did it in self-defence.)
- Near the end of the movie you can notice the sign "Via Asterixa" (this is a reference to Roman roads being often named after Roman senators who were responsible for building them, e.g. "Via Appia" or "Via Egnatia").
- During the final banquet Asterix is seen eating a Mimolette.