Time goes so fast, it seems like yesterday when I asked my uncle if he could tape "The Twelve Tasks of Asterix" for me.
As a child, I was already an avid reader and watcher of Asterix' adventures, I collected the albums and videotapes, and knew almost every film by heart. That year, because of summer holidays, I couldn't tape the film on the day of its TV airing, coincidentally, my 9th birthday. I told my uncle it would make a great gift if he recorded the film for me. He kindly accomplished the 13th task and when I was back, I had the VHS with a dedication wishing me to be as strong as Asterix during his twelve tasks. It didn't affect my appreciation of the film, but I love it even more because it's forever connected to this childhood memory.
Now, 22 years after, I don't look at "The Twelve Tasks of Asterix" just as THE touching gift from my uncle, but as a tremendous gift from a giant of humor named René Goscinny to a whole generation. The film is the consecration of a talent never equaled ever since, a mix of originality and creativity appealing to both kids and adults, and a level of humor and slapstick responsible of unforgettable laugh-out-loud moments. If I could only pick one sequence to illustrate the film's brilliance, I guess the 'Place that Sends you Mad' is no contest, the one that elevates the film to the dimension of a timeless classic. For all of the agonizing victims of bureaucracy the 8th task, worthy of the most Kafkaian nightmares has an extraordinary cathartic effect for all those who had to obtain a Permit A38. On Youtube, it's the most commented part of the film.
Need I to mention the plot? The title is only misleading because it overlooks Obélix' role in many tasks, but both are selected for their intelligence and strength making them the only ones capable to accomplish the twelve tasks given by Julius Caesar. The purpose is to determine whether Gauls are Gods which would explain why the small village always beat up Caesar's powerful army. Apparently, Romans seem to have forgotten the Magic Potion but who cares when it is the pretext to a series of twelve hilarious sequences involving physical and intellectual challenges, with adversaries from every place in the world: Greece, Egypt, Beligum, including a monstrous creature named the Beast, and ghosts from the Dead plain, although the unhelpful public servants of the 'Place that Sends you Mad' are the scariest of all.
The merit of the plot is to never be short of original ideas, while it starts with sports, the tasks take a new turn where the two Gauls must cross a lake near the island of Pleasure, where voluptuous big-lipped long-legged sirens tempted the two Gauls for a frenzied samba, and when the game looked over, the ensuing dialogs between Obelix and the Great Priestess worked on an anachronistic level. While the first two Asterix films were adapted from written material, "The Twelve Tasks" is the only original creation from Goscinny, as if he sensed there was a great inspiration for gags from new ideas, especially if the film is meant for the big screen. This is why he created with Uderzo, their own company, Studio Idefix whose logo Is a cute parody of the MGM lion. They produced "The Twelve Tasks" and "The Ballad of the Daltons" one year later, an original adventure of Goscinny's other great creation Lucky Luke.
It's interesting that the two films follow the same pattern, Asterix must accomplish twelve tasks, the Daltons must kill eight juror who sentenced their uncle, it's the same episodic structure that allows to create micro-universes and different inspiration for gags. Sadly, Goscinny passed away in 1977, a few months before the completion of "The Ballad of the Dalton" and before he could enjoy the beautiful tribute to Hollywood's musical. "The Twelve Tasks of Asterix" marks the end of the first period that includes "Asterix the Gaul" and "Cleopatra", before his all-time friend Pierre Tchernia would take the torch in the 80's, the Gaumont period. It's our luck that Goscinny let his creativity implode on his last years, creating one of the funniest French animated films ever, that never lost their cultural significance.
You'll enjoy the Warner Bros-like race with the Greek marathon runner, a javelin discovering America before time, a small German fighter dressed in kimono, Preasure Island priestesses with sexy samba moves but narrow-minded views on marriage, a hypnotic Egyptian, a scary journey in a dark cave hiding the strangest stuff, a dangerous mountain climbing, a riddle, a hilarious climax in the Circus Maximus, but the Place that Sends you Mad, is the highlight of the film. Now, what can I say about the ending? Maybe you'll find a bit preposterous, unbelievable, ridiculous, but the way they tackle their own criticism reaches infinitesimal summits of hilarity. And as Asterix told Obelix: "it's a cartoon, so no holds barred".
And Obélix' reaction is the greatest demonstration of why animation can sometimes surpass movies, as the ultimate escapism, the common link between kids and adults, it's the perfect dream-like universe, were anything can happen
for the sake of a gag. Nothing happens in "Twalve Tasks" that doesn't serve a laugh. This is Golden Age material, everything is perfect from the story, to the dubbing, the drawing and the score by Vladimir Cosma. There is a lot of fourth wall breaking and to also conclude on a childhood episode, the film enriched my knowledge on the Twelve Tasks of Hercules. God, my sentimental weakness while remembering the film and the good old days.
I'm not surprised that in my teenage days, the first comic I wrote was a parody of Hercules' story, who said mythology couldn't be an inspiration for laughs?