Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion **
Dirs: Alexandre Astier, Louis Clichy. Animation with the voices of: Ken Kramer, C. Ernst Harth. 87 mins. Cert: PG
At risk of sounding like Grumpycritix, the movies have treated Asterix almost as poorly as they have Tintin. The brand fell into pantomimic disrepair with those live-action super-productions that cast Gérard Depardieu as Obelix shortly before the actor packed up for Russia; it rallied, briefly, with 2016’s The Mansions of the Gods, a brisk, spirited digimation lent additional pep by the ragbag British comedians (Matt Berry, Dick and Dom) drafted in for the UK theatrical version.
Alas, the English-language dub of this follow-up has been pitched with mercenary precision at the American market: hand-drawn inserts strive to explain who the key players are, and our indomitable Gauls now sound like actors manning the background of a Hallmark Channel melodrama. The deft cultural and linguistic gags Goscinny and Uderzo once traded in are mostly lost in homogenisation.
The visuals provide some consolation. If it doesn’t sound like an Asterix movie, it at least looks like one, with conglomerations of pixels that bear closer resemblance to the original illustrations than did Depardieu in a fatsuit, and a pleasing contrast between the rough-edged pencil backstories and the slickly processed main business that feels like the animators tipping their collective chapeaux to their inspiration.
Business it is, though, in the main: what’s most striking is how grounded the plot is in boardroom thinking. Getafix’s succession pushes Asterix and Obelix onto the sidelines; the quest to improve the formula of the wise elder’s signature elixir is a near-complete non-event in terms of action or spectacle. Under-tens who don’t have an MBA will want far less digimated R&D and way more Roman-thumping.
We finally get there – with a last-reel dust-up set to Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round”, a cue to quicken any pulse – but it’s all too clearly the kind of family film that has to creep out towards the end of the holidays, when Pixar has loosened its grip on the marketplace and parents are casting around for anything to get the kids to sit still. The equivalent of the last comic on the shelf at the campsite supermarket, it may provide some distraction, but don’t expect much.
Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion opens in selected cinemas from tomorrow.