The delights of Goscinny and Uderzo's Asterix comics, which are enjoyed by readers in more than 100 languages, become even more pronounced when you compare them to their seriously unfunny big-screen adaptations. None of the movie versions has quite managed to capture the hilarity, rambunctiousness and subversive politics that have earned the comic book series a fanatical following between Montparnasse and Mumbai. In the film adaptation of The Mansions of the Gods, the production team seems to have worked at least flesh to out the physical dimensions of the story.
Short and wiry Asterix, his menhir-toting friend Obelix, the magic potion brewing-druid Getafix, the village chief Vitalstatistix, the blacksmith Fulliautomatix, the fishmonger Unhygienix, and the little white Dogmatix are fuller and rounder than we remember. They look like soft toys made out of putty, and their already sizeable noses are as globular as dough balls. The fast-paced and inventive animation ensures that even when the movie moves away from the original text, it does in a way that is pleasing to the eye.
The deceptively simple plot of the original comic addresses concerns about gentrification, the displacement of old communities by intrusive real-estate projects, deforestation (succinctly captured in the visual of Dogmatix fainting when he sees an uprooted tree) and a civic resistance to a vision of development imposed by the elite. Julius Caesar wants to conquer the last village in Gaul that is holding out against his power. He sends the architect Squaronthehypotenuse to raze the forest and replace it with luxury apartments that will house Romans who will eventually convert the barbaric rebels or force them out. By Toutatis, what a terrible idea!
Those unfamiliar with the comics may just find some of the relentless action and the new track of a Roman child amusing enough. But die-hard fans will rage at the rewrites to the story, the pedestrian dialogue and childish gags. Like Caesar’s efforts to conquer Gaul, the attempt to tame Asterix for the screen has proved futile yet again.