Astérix et les Vikings
© 2006 M6 Studio, Mandarin SAS and 2D3D Animations
Astérix © Les Editions Albert René/Goscinny-Uderzo
Armen Boudjikanian · July 21, 2006 | The basic premise of Astérix et les Vikings (Astérix and the Vikings) is supposedly the discovery of the meaning of fear; or to be more precise, what it feels like to be scared. A novel and promising concept that was also at the centre of Astérix et les Normans, the 1966 Goscinny and Uderzo comic book on which this new French/Danish animation is based on.

The film's opening, which takes place amid beautifully rendered northern icescapes, introduces us to the Vikings; a proud, fearless and brawny race of conquerors that are tired of invading deserted villages over and over again. The Vikings' advisor, Cryptograf, convinces their leader, Chief Olaf, that if the Vikings learn the meaning of fear, they will be able fly to new territories (because "fear gives you wings").

Ironically, the Vikings sail to Astérix's village—inhabited by the famous indomitable Gauls whose sole fear is that the sky might fall on their heads—for their study trip.

Astérix et les Vikings
Directed by Stefan Fjeldmark and Jesper Møller
M6 Studio, Mandarin SAS and 2D3D Animations, 2006
78 minutes

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At this point in the movie, the viewer might think that he or she is going to be in for a treat: there are the Viking conquerors, Astérix, Obélix and surely some spooky and funny scenarios. Unfortunately, this adaptation fails to deliver the goods. The story is weak and not reworked adequately for the big screen, the characters (even the main ones) and the gags are flat, and the Vikings are not threatening at all. In short, the fantasy element of the Astérix series is downplayed, surely much to the disappointment of its fans.

The problem with Astérix et les Vikings is that its producers and the creative team took a lot for granted as they were conceiving this production. For example, all Astérix readers know that Obélix is the big but sensitive type. When he and Astérix are put in charge of turning their chief's visiting nephew (a scrawny and trendy teen named Goudurix) into a man, he takes a liking to the boy. The filmmakers seem to think that just hinting at this liking is enough to make the audience care about the big-brother type relationship that's supposed to exist between the two. Effort should have been made to show that Goudurix was slowly getting settled into the village and actually learning one or two things from Astérix and Obélix. Also, as Goudurix was portrayed as a ladies' man in the film (which is a lot to accept by the audience; because otherwise he is chicken throughout the film), he could have perhaps shown a move or two to Obélix, who is known to be shy and mushy. That could have also helped establish Goudurix as an actual teenage ladies' man.

The whole film is troubled by underdeveloped characters and situations. At one point when Astérix and Obélix travel north in order to save Goudurix, they disguise themselves as Vikings. Perhaps in an Astérix comic book, it makes sense for a Viking to wear a sleeveless overall when walking through icy weather. But in a film, in order for the audience to feel the shiver of the north, they need to see their heroes in coats (think of the mountain scenes in Mulan). This leads me to the design of the Vikings and of the general art style of the film. Granted, the filmmakers needed to stay true to the designs of Uderzo, but visually the Vikings come off as another set of pudgy Gauls in this movie. Perhaps their lines could have been a bit more angular. If the Vikings were supposed to appear truly menacing in the beginning of this picture, they could have appeared completely in shadows before revealing their cartoony selves. Think of how well that worked for Elmer Fudd in What's Opera Doc?; after all, Astérix and Warner shorts have often shared the same type of humour.

Astérix et les Vikings is a big-budget, traditionally animated movie based on a well-established comic book series. In that sense it is a success, since it features good animation, lush scenery and recognizable characters and situations. It is not really an Astérix film, however; because nothing worthwhile happens throughout its duration and none of the basic Astérix themes—such as discovering different cultures and fighting the oppressors (curiously the Romans and the pirates are almost absent in this one)—are riffed upon in an original or funny way. This outing does not carry the spirit of previous Astérix movies, whether live action or animated (Bellevision's 1968 Astérix et Cléopâtre remains a classic).

As talented as this picture's creators were, my hunch is that they weren't even thinking of making an entertaining movie; they just wanted to attract adults and children to theatres in the hopes on cashing on the franchise's name. And that is a shame, since ultimately it will not help the hand-drawn feature animation industry get back on its feet.
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