René Goscinny and illustrator Albert Uderzo gave the world a charming gift when they debuted The Adventures of Asterix in 1959. 60 years on, through excursions off the page and across the big and small screens, our affection for the diminutive Gaul and his giant sidekick remains. The rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia are a powerful accessory.
This time – despite the ever-present threat of the Romans – the challenge faced by the feisty villagers comes from within. Getafix the Druid (brewer of the magic potion which sustains the village and gives Asterix his mighty powers) has taken a tumble and broken his leg. With his mortality mortifyingly evident and his present handicap, Getafix realises he needs an apprentice.
Armed with a shortlist from his fellow druid elders, protected by Asterix (Christian Clavier) and Obelix (Guillaume Briat) and accompanied by inquisitive young Impedimenta (Florence Foresti), Getafix (Bernard Alane) crisscrosses Gaul in search of a worthy young druid well trained in the arts of mysticism and discretion who he may impart the secret of the magic potion to.
And so another chaotic caper begins. Two old friends, one epic quest, the very survival of the village at stake. What could possibly go wrong?
Asterix: The Secret of the Magic potion begins amiably enough, shambling in with a pleasingly retro prologue and then blooming into colourful claymation-esque CGI to reacquaint us with Asterix and Obelix’s world. Entertaining use is made of a tired old ‘80s pop track and swooping coverage of a forest forage provides a nice sense of scale.
Yet from the outset, something is lacking. Rather than Macbeth’s sound and fury as the signifier of nothing, here it is the word sounds which do not signify. It is hard to understand who the target audience for this feature is. It is painfully dialogue-heavy but entirely without the clever political/cultural winks of Asterix past. The sense of a gaping maw awaiting a Brexit nod or EU joke to seize upon is palpable.
Dastardly druid Demonix (Daniel Mesguich) has no such reticence pursuing his prize. He wants the secret potion for himself and will stop at nothing to get it. Enlisting the help of an arrogant druid apprentice and a Ro-man with a plan, Demonix ensures that the final audition of Gaul’s Got Talent will be the end of Getafix too. Will his be the onslaught that finally sees the village stronghold fall?
Though the vocal performances are enthusiastic and the animation amiable, they are weighed down by the wordy dialogue. A delightful pencil-sketched backstory for Demonix offers a charming nod to the series’ origins but also lends a poignant sense of what might have been had the rest of the movie paid homage to the true spirit of Asterix.
2014’s dynamic Land of the Gods, also directed and co-written by Alexandre Astier and Louis Clichy, was inspired by a 1971 comic. The Secret of the Magic Potion is an original screenplay. And it shows. Lacking real urgency or tension, the story is weak and those iconic characters diluted and dull. Ultimately, and perhaps fittingly for a franchise synonymous with slapstick, Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion falls flat.
In cinemas and on Sky Cinema 30th August