Asterix the Mansions of the Gods movie blu-ray cover detail

“Asterix: The Mansions of the Gods” Movie Review

It’s good. Really good. I liked “Asterix at the Olympics,” but this one is better and suffers far fewer weak spots.  Being animated is a much better decision.

You’ve Been Warned

Two quick notes before we begin:

  • This review will contain some minor spoilers for the movie, and heavy spoilers for the book.  I will discuss some of the differences between the two on the assumption you’ve read the book already.
  • I made the screenshots you see in this article by holding up my iPhone to the TV screen.  They’re pretty good, but they’re not super high quality perfect.  The movie looks much better than these shots, trust me.

But, First, A Trailer!

The Blu-ray I got for this review doesn’t have this cast of voices.  This is the British dub.  I guess they did a separate one for the American English edition, but I can’t find credits for it anywhere. It’s not a great translation, but it gets the job done. More on that later.

Close to the Book

Obviously, the story for this movie is taken from “The Mansions of the Gods,” and it sticks relatively close to it.   You can see the same story structure in place throughout the movie, with a couple of additions and some fleshing out of things.  Some of it is for the better.  Some of it they likely changed for commercial considerations. (We’ll get to that soon.)

But, overall, I’m impressed with how this movie looks and how it tells its story.  They didn’t pad it out with celebrity cameos or gags borrowed from other books.  The hour and a half running time is brisk. It doesn’t need to be any longer.  In fact, 90 minutes should be the extreme upper limit for any Asterix movie based on a book in the series.  They were only 48 pages.  There’s no need to pad them out past an hour and a half.

There’s even an end-of-credits tag to this movie.  It’s just an audio clip, but it made me laugh. It’s not enough to be worth setting through all the credits in the theater for, though. I bet the next movie has a fully animated clip at the end. We’ll get to that later…

When I reviewed the book, I said that the full page splash of the late skirmish in the apartment building would be the most likely candidate for getting fleshed out in the movie.  Sure enough, it’s a big part of the third act climax.  We get to go into the Mansions of the Gods and see more of what happened inside.  They add some great verbal and visual gags along the way.

Numidian slave turned Roman soldier

One addition I really liked: They built more than just the first building in this movie. But the slaves were still present, even though the Romans promise to free them just for finishing the first building. When Asterix calls them on this inside the building, they point out that getting a job as a Roman soldier was their best career movie.  Asterix immediately punches him out.  It’s one of the funniest moments of the movie for me.

Caesar also gets a bigger role in the money.  He’s there at the very beginning to drop the exposition to set up the world of Asterix for the new people, and then he appears at the end to help intensify the craziness in the third act.

Also, Cacofonix turns into Black Canary when souped up on the magic potion.  Suddenly, he’s not only stronger, but his voice is a potent physical force, more than just his bad singing.

The Kid For the Kids

Sigh, this is where the movie making machine continues to play by the rule book it created, whether it makes sense or not.

Perhaps the biggest change in the movie from the book is that the couple in Rome who win a place at the Mansions of the Gods play a larger role in the movie.  Why?  They have a kid, who can look cute, get into some trouble, and do some fun things.

Mansions of the Gods movie has more plot for the boy

That’s what every animated movie producer thinks their movie needs: a kid character.  Why?  Because it’s an animated movie and so it should be for kids, and so it had better star a kid so they have some sort of “representation” on the screen.

Thankfully, the kid isn’t cloyingly cute or obnoxiously bright or ludicrously talkative.  He’s as benign a kid character as I’ve ever seen created for an animated movie to guarantee a kid character was included in it.  He adds an extra layer of drama and importance to the end-of-movie actions of the characters, so he serves a good enough purpose. He’s not strictly necessary, but they handle him as well as could be expected.

Dogmatix gets angry in Mansions of the Gods when Squaronthehypotenus marks a tree for cutting

The nice thing about this being a kid’s movie is that it gives them an excuse to give Dogmatix more screen time.  That’s a decision I can get behind. Given Dogmatix’s approach to environmentalism, he needs to be part of a movie where the Romans are clearing the forest.

Character Designs

These movies need to be CGI, not live action.  Uderzo’s work translates best into animation. I’m sure of that after this movie.  They don’t work well in live action. No matter what you do to Gerard Depardieu, it’s never going to look natural enough.

The character designs in this movie are perfect, with those big noses, rounded ears, and the perfect hair styles. They can do silly comic book things like fly through the air after a Magic Potion-powered punch and not look like CGI ragdolls.  In fact, the movie has a couple great scenes of Romans flying through the air that would just look bad in live action.

It reminds me a little of the Smurfs movie.  They finally made a great Smurfs movie with the third one by basing the look more closely on Peyo’s designs.  But by then, it was too late.  They wore out their good graces for a generation on the first two live action movies. The Smurfs looked 100x better in that third movie, as cartoon characters and not “real” people (or, in this case, creatures).  They’ll need to wait a decade before they can try that again now, though.  Too bad.

Squaronthehypotenus in the movie Mansions of the Gods looks just like the comic book character

The characters are also true to their book counterparts.  Obviously, Obelix and Asterix stick to Uderzo’s designs of the period (which were pretty much the iconic look, at that point), but the secondary characters likewise get details right. Squaronthehypotenus is modeled directly from Uderzo’s work, with not a line out of place. Little things are in there, too, including his doctor with the lamp on his forehead.

Animation can do this without too many worries. In a live action movie you’d need to adjust things to fit the actor, or adjust the rules of reality that don’t always apply to comics. Animation is a far simpler solution.

They released this as a 3D movie, as well. I didn’t get the 3D disc because I don’t have a 3D tv, but I bet it works well. There are a number of shots in this movie that clearly were made to help emphasize the 3D effects without being distracting in 2D.  I didn’t even realize it until about halfway through.

I’m not even a 3D hater. Animation always works well in 3D when done right. They have strong designs for 3D animation in this movie. If my TV supported it, I’d happily watch this again for the 3D effects.

The Animation

Mansions of the Gods Blu-ray menu looks like an Aardman movie
This kind of looks like an Aardman movie, doesn’t it?

It’s really good.  I have a nine year old daughter; Trust me, I’ve watched plenty of bad CGI animation in movies that barely deserved to be released direct-to-DVD, yet got released theatrically, anyway.  This movie blows them all away.  It’s not all to Pixar/Disney standards, but it’s pretty close. It’s the closest I’ve seen anyone come in a long time.

CGI animation is made up of several different departments working on the same thing.  Someone has to make the models, then someone rigs them so the animators can move them around.  Then there’s textures applied to the models, and lighting added to the scenes.

The lighting, in particular, is really good in this movie.  Many scenes impressed me, with beautiful atmospheric lighting.  It pours through cracks in the roof and lands on the characters just right, or the fog that’s rolling in feels natural as the light fades off higher up.

That light shows off the subtle skin textures well, particularly on a Blu-ray in high def like this one.

The thing that confused me at first and might throw you off, as well, is that the characters are “smooth.”  They are purposefully designed not to try to be real humans.  They’re 3D CGI, but still cartoon characters. Their skin is smooth. Their hair is still made up of individual strands that will bounce around a bit when the characters movie, but it’s not the focus of the movie. The mustaches are plastic prosthetics glued under the men’s noses.  The hair on their braids and backs of their heads have more life in them.  They do occasionally blow in the breeze and bounce appropriately when a character is in motion.

The acting is great.  You can tell that, at its movie has strong animators behind it. The characters do all the right things, like squash and stretch. There’s also anticipation and secondary characteristics of movement. The gestures and poses may not be lifted directly from the Uderzo-drawn books, but they often look like they’d fit right in.

When Squaronthehypotenus has his breakdowns, his extreme poses do feel ripped right from Uderzo’s art.  He zips and poses quickly and fluently.

I’m very impressed with the animation style they chose for this movie.  Whatever the budget was for it, they spent it wisely.

The Translation

I admit it, I was lazy. I opted to watch the movie in the English language edition.

Mansions of the Gods Obelix These Gauls Are Crazy

The big thing I noticed was that Obelix’s “These Gauls are crazy” line got rewritten to something else.  So I checked the French track with English subtitles and found that, yes, that was the script.  They changed the most iconic line in Asterix history!

I double-checked the opening scene with Caesar and, sure enough, he’s not talking about himself in the third person there, either. I can sort of understand that.  That’s a joke that might go over kids’ heads or confuse them outright, for very little effect.  If you have to explain the joke, it might not be worth making it…

Or, it’s possible that the English subtitles came from the English script, and not a direct translation from the French.  I’ll have to leave it to my French speaking readers to let me know….

I’m not sure where this soundtrack came from, but it’s not the British edition.  Obelix sounds too whiny, and many of the other voices are a little generic.  The French voices sound great, even though I can’t understand most of what they say. The tone is there, though.  And judging by the credits on the British edition, you at least have some good actors at work.

I’m just not sure what to make of this English language track.  At least it’s in 5.1 surround.  Yay!

Opening Credits

I love the opening credits in this movie.  It’s Saul Bass meets James Bond meets one or two Pixar movies, but I can’t keep all of those straight anymore.  It’s simple 2D animation with lots of symbolism and abstraction.

I liked so much, I’m doing a gallery for the first time in the history of this website.

Newbie Friendly?

I wonder if part of the reason this never saw release in America is because someone new might not get it.  This isn’t an origin story. There’s a lot that’s not spelled out exactly.

Caesar explains the lone Gaul village thing in the opening scene, but I’m not sure that’s enough for a complete newbie.  And, to be fair, I bet 98% of the people who saw this movie in Europe have already read the books.  They know the story over there very well.

I imagined watching this with my daughter and saw all the spots I’d have to hit pause to explain something to her.  Not that it’s terribly complicated, but a few extra lines of dialogue would probably help.

It’s “the curse of knowledge.”  You know it, so you assume everyone else knows it.  It’s tough to step outside of that.

Also, we’re not creatures of history here.  There’s not a big knowledge in America of ancient Rome.  I bet most of what the average person around here knows of Rome came from the Shakespeare play for Julius Caesar.  Ask about the Gauls and the Celtic people, and they’ll assume you’re talking about Boston basketball players, or Irish people.

It’s not like you need a bachelor’s degree in Ancient Roman history to get the book, but some background would be nice.  Even without it, though, there’s a lot to recommend the movie, and plenty of silliness for kids to love.

Also, historical dramas only work when there’s a princess involved.  sigh

Bonus Material

Asterix The Mansions of the Gods Blu-ray case

It’s not that they’re cheap, but there’s no lower thirds anywhere in the special edition materials.  They never show anyone’s name on the screen as they’re talking.  As a non-French speaker, I had no idea who any of these people were.  From context clues, you can match voice actor to their character, and you’ll pick out the movie’s co-director pretty quickly. Everyone else?  ::shrug::  I don’t know.

There’s a bunch of storyboards from a couple scenes in there, which are nice if you’re learning that process.  It’s also fun to see these characters hand-drawn. They’re all digital storyboards.  Looks like they used Toon Boom or Harmony or whatever they’re calling that program these days.

You get the standard piece interviewing the voice actors as they “record their voices” for the movie for the camera for the bonus material of the home video release.

There’s a nice six minute section of video that the director narrates that shows a lot of the work that went into creating their CGI version of Asterix’s universe. After seeing that, now I want an “Art of” book for this movie.  There’s a lot of pencil drawings used to establish the characters and show their acting that I’d love to own a copy of.

The capper and the longest feature is a  22 minute conversation between the director of the movie and Albert Uderzo.  It’s all in French and there are no closed captions.  I’ve never wanted closed captions more in my life.

Currently, the movie is not streaming on any North American services, but keep an eye on The Complete Asterix and Obelix Movie Streaming Guide for updates.

Recommended?

Asterix and the Mansions of the Gods movie posters (British release)

Absolutely.  This is a fun movie that respects the source material while adding enough to it to flesh it out into an hour and a half movie that doesn’t feel too bloated or self-important.

It’s a very good sign that the same creative team is jumping back in for a second movie.

There Is a Sequel!

Asterix and the Secret of the Magic Potion movie logo

The same directors, Louis Clichy and Alexandre Astier, return for “Asterix and the Secret of Magic Potion” this Christmas.

The Asterix website asks the magical question:

“What would happen if [Getafix] found himself unable to prepare his potion?”

Great minds think alike: “The Druid Getafix: A Bus Factor of 1

From IMDB’s writeup on the movie:

The new adventure sees Asterix and Obelix embark on a quest across Gaul to find a young druid worthy of learning the secret of the magic potion, after elderly village druid Getafix breaks his legs when he falls from a tree while picking mistletoe.

I hope we get lots of cameos from the Goths and the Swiss and the Spaniards and the Belgians, and more, perhaps?

They just released the movie poster for it, too.  I love it:

Asterix and the Secret of the Magic Potion movie poster 2018

The official release date is December 5, 2018.

I’m just hoping for a British release that gives us an English language audio track that might make it to Region 1.

What do YOU think? (First time commenters' posts may be held for moderation.)

7 Comments

  1. My guess is that the most common language track is the canadian one (for both French and English) it’s a curse when you get DVDs from the wrong zone.
    I would definitely agree with you, artistically speaking, about CGI vs Live Action but financially speaking, the Live Action ones cost a lot less to make and made A LOT more money, since Live Action appeals to adults. Although, to be honest, neither are my favorite; for me, the best one, even today, remains The Twelve Labours, way ahead of any of the others. Probably because it’s an original story, designed for cinema.

    1. Ah, you’re probably right on the French Canadian thing. That would explain the more North American English accent, versus the British accents.

      The Twelve Labours is available on iTunes (as “The Twelve Tasks of Asterix”), so I might give it a spin near the end of The Asterix Agenda. It should be included in here somehow.

    1. Sigh, it’s blocked “in your country on copyright grounds.” I saw a couple copies of the movie on YouTube, but they were all poor quality, so I couldn’t get screenshots off them, like I did for the last movie I reviewed…

  2. That’s kinda one of the things I liked about the live action. The way they dealt with showing such wonderfully cartoony designs and ideas in live action, sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t but God bless a trier and some of it was such fun. I personally really loved the way they had our Gauls wack the Romans into the air.

    All that said as I’ve said here before Mansion of the Gods is an absolute favourite of mine and the kids (6 and 9) love it too. They’re not yet fully versed in Asterix (I’m working on it) outside the films (live action and Vikings) but there is so much to love this movies sustains itself for them and me.

    The UK cast is pretty top draw (well aside from Jack bloomin’ Whitehall!) and its good cross section of British comedians and TV celebraties. I’m surprised there was a need for a US cast recording?

    I’ve not seen Twelve Tasks since I was a kid and have very fond memories of it. Every so often I try to track down a copy of it on DVD but no luck… though looking today… maybe…

    1. You can get “Twelve Tasks” on the iTunes Store, if you decide to go digital, at least. And while I agree that it is interesting to see these things translated into live action, I just can’t buy it ultimately. When it doesn’t work 100%, it looks cheesy. I just think the CGI animation gets it right more consistently.

  3. I just finished watching it a few minutes ago.

    Strangely, the first half, which followed the book very closely didn’t really work at all for me, but I started enjoying it a lot more in the second half, which was all new. They found a decent way of adding some genuine peril to the story (which is missing from a lot of Asterix books – including Mansions of the Gods). I enjoyed the Gauls’ attempts to pretend they had potion and the Romans’ confusion.

    The voice acting (British edition) was mostly decent. My personal favourite was Greg Davies as the centurion.

    One thing I found strangely distracting is that Jim Broadbent voiced Julius Ceaser, but Anonymus looks just like Jim Broadbent. Anonymous’s wife played by Catherine Tate actually looked a bit like Catherine Tate, so that worked better.