The plucky little Gaul and his lovably oafish sidekick returned to the animated medium in an adventure presented in glorious 2-D. Asterix (voiced by Paul Giamatti) and Obelix (Brad Garrett) are assigned an impossible task: to make a real man out of their Chief’s nephew, Justforkix (Sean Astin) - a soppy young lad who astounds the duo by being a committed vegetarian. Worse still, he couldn’t fight his way out of a day-care centre. His shameless cowardice leads to him being abducted by a band of marauding Vikings, whose bogus sorcerer Cryptograph has convinced them those who feel fear have the power to fly. Asterix and Obelix are soon hot on their trail, while Justforkix finds himself falling for Abba (Evan Rachel Wood), the Viking Chief’s girl power daughter.
At a time when CG animations have grown rather cynical and over-reliant upon snide gags from Saturday Night Live comedians, there remains something pleasingly old-fashioned about these warm-hearted cartoon heroes whose goofy puns and gentle satire have been a stable of French cinema since the Sixties. Asterix and Obelix remain delightful characters but sadly, for all the good will they engender, this film is unremarkable, modestly entertaining at best. Stefan Fjeldmark and Jesper Møller’s vibrant, colourful images ensure this is the slickest-looking Asterix cartoon yet, but screenwriter Jean-Luc Goossens makes the mistake of side-lining the two heroes. It didn’t work in the live action Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra (2002) - when Gérard Depardieu’s illness forced the filmmakers to focus on the supporting cast - and it does not work here. The film drags whenever Asterix and Obelix are not on screen and the love story between callow young Justforkix and endearing, gap-toothed Abba fails to compensate.
All the familiar, reoccurring gags are present and still raise a smile: Cacophonix’ horrendous singing, Obelix’ gargantuan feasts, the pirate ship that gets sunk over and over again, and Gauls charging into battle to whack the Romans into orbit. Some neat touches include Justforkix’ pigeon cell-phone and a Viking maiden named Ikea with a taste for looting furniture, but the screenplay lacks the buoyant wit and surreal inventiveness of series’ highpoint The Twelve Tasks of Asterix (1976) and Fjeldmark’s earlier, overlooked Help, I’m a Fish! (2000). An unfortunate abundance of Euro-pop covers, including Eye of the Tiger, are likely to induce a few cringes. When Justforkix introduces the fun-loving Gauls to disco, it’s as embarrassing as watching dad dancing at your birthday party. Worse still, Celine Dion warbles the closing song. What’s next? Kelly Clarkson screeching the theme to Tintin?
Strange to hear heavy-hitters like Paul Giamatti and Evan Rachel Wood lending their voices to such an unassuming production. Their accents aren’t too jarring and a big improvement over previous dubbers like Craig Charles. Enough of creators’ Goscinny and Uderzo’s wit survives to make this pleasant, if unremarkable entertainment, likely to achieve greater success on DVD whenever younger, less discriminating viewers want something to enliven a rainy day, but surely characters as beloved as these deserve better?