This 1967 Franco-Belgian animated feature film is based on the first volume of the celebrated comic strip series Asterix the Gaul by René Goscinny (stories) and Albert Uderzo (illustrations). (Before being published as its own volume in 1961, the story appeared as a serial in the children’s magazine Pilote in 1959-60.) This was the first of ten animated Asterix features (see below for a complete list), including Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion, which will be released in Decmeber of 2018. Asterix the Gaul was produced by Dargaud, publisher of the Asterix comics, largely without the input of Uderzo and Goscinny, who were unsatisfied with the final product. This spurred them to become involved with later Asterix film adaptations, which are generally agreed to have improved production values and which also received better reviews.
The story told in Asterix the Gaul is essentially one of French resistance to Roman occupation of Gaul circa 50 BCE. The Gauls of the village of Armorica use a magic potion made by the Druid Getafix to become invincible . The Romans, led by Julius Caesar, want to obtain the potion for themselves and finally subdue this corner of Gaul, but they are thwarted by the courage and guile of the hero Asterix and his sidekick Obelix. In later films, the heroes travel to different lands and time periods, where they undertake a variety of adventures that are loosely based on historical settings, figures or events.
Much like The Roman Holidays, the portrayal of the ancient world in the Asterix comics and films might be termed “historicizing” since it depicts “realistic” Gauls and Romans (as opposed to mythological creatures and characters), going about their daily lives. However, what these cartoons actually depict is a hybridized fiction, a vision of the ancient world as seen through modern eyes. These kinds of “historicizing” depictions became much more common in animation in the late 1960s, which was a period of dramatic social change and of experimentation in the arts.
In the case of Asterix, the motif of resistance to Rome recalls the resistance to the Nazi occupation of France in WWII, though it may also reflect the African resistance to French colonial rule during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Through its engagement with the ancient past, Asterix the Gaul may have engendered a sentiment of restored national pride and/or served to assuage French guilt over the effects of colonization, even as the seeds of the uprisings of May 1968, which questioned traditional French values and protested American style consumerism and imperialism, were being planted.
(watch 3 min: 2.40-5.25).
List of subsequent animated Asterix films:
1968 – Asterix and Cleopatra (Astérix et Cléopâtre)
1976 – The Twelve Tasks of Asterix (Les Douze travaux d’Astérix)
1985 – Asterix Versus Caesar (Astérix et la surprise de César)
1986 – Asterix in Britain (Astérix chez les Bretons)
1989 – Asterix and the Big Fight (Astérix et le coup du menhir)
1994 – Asterix Conquers America (Astérix et les Indiens — produced in Germany as Asterix in Amerika)
2006 – Asterix and the Vikings (Astérix et les Vikings)
2014 – Asterix: The Mansions of the Gods (Asterix: Le Domaine des Dieux)
2018 – Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion (Astérix: Le Secret de la Potion Magique)