Animated Asterix Films: 'Asterix and Cleopatra'
Created | Updated Jul 1, 2020
Introduction | Asterix the Gaul | Asterix and Cleopatra | The Twelve Tasks of Asterix
Asterix versus Cæsar | Asterix in Britain | Asterix and the Big Fight | Asterix Conquers America | Asterix and the Vikings | Asterix: The Mansions of the Gods | Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion
After their lack of control over Asterix the Gaul, René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo were in the driving seat for the second Asterix film, Asterix and Cleopatra1. Under their guidance, this 1968 film would become one of the undisputed highlights of the Asterix animated series.
For the first time, the English voices cast list is included in the credits although, with the exception of Asterix, Obelix and Cleopatra herself, who provided which voice is not mentioned. Many of the voices appear to be the same as the English voice cast for Asterix the Gaul.
- Lee Payant – Asterix
- Hal Braw – Obelix
- Jean Fontaine – Cleopatra
- John Primm
- Anthony Stuart
- Alexander A Klimeno
- Ed Marcus
- George Birt
Unlike Asterix the Gaul, Asterix and Cleopatra was translated into English by Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge, the translators of the Asterix comic books. For the first time all the character names match those in the books. This is the first film in which Dogmatix makes an appearance, and is also the first appearance of the pirates. Julius Cæsar also attains his standard look in this film.
However, there are some changes. First of all, the pirates' appearance is not consistent with their appearance in the Asterix and Cleopatra comic book or later comic and film adventures – the Captain2, for instance, is taller, more muscular, has a different face and a wooden leg, and his helmet is not the one he usually wears. No explanation is given for this.
Other changes from the Asterix and Cleopatra comic include replacing the minor role played by a Roman soldier named Superfluous with Egyptian mercenaries and reducing the role of Roman soldier Operachorus, who is not even named in the film. Similarly Edifis' scribe, Exlibris, does not appear in the film. However, the film does greatly increase the role of Cæsar's Egyptian spy, who is named Mintjulep in the book and in the film is capable of blending into any background or even disguising himself as fruit at will. Another added character is that of Cleopatra's lion. Although in the comic Asterix and Cleopatra, she is seen with a chained leopard by her feet, in the film the lion is a full character providing comic relief.
The plot, which almost follows the plot of the comic Asterix and Cleopatra scene by scene, with a few changes, is the result of an argument and bet between Julius Cæsar and Cleopatra. Cæsar informs Cleopatra that he considers Egypt decadent, and although they once were powerful enough to build the pyramids, the Pharos of Alexandria etc, those days are over. Cleopatra then promises to show Cæsar that Egypt is still powerful. To prove it, she wagers that in three months the Egyptians will build a magnificent, new palace in Alexandria. She hires inept architect Edifis to complete this task, promising to cover him with gold if he succeeds but to feed him to the crocodiles if he fails. Edifis, having previously met Getafix, travels to Gaul to ask for the druid's help, and Getafix travels to Egypt, along with Asterix, Obelix and Dogmatix, to assist him.
However, Edifis has a rival architect, Artifis, who with his servant Krukhut wants to see Edifis fail. Julius Cæsar himself is not beyond cheating to try to ensure he wins his bet. Between building the Palace in Alexandria and travelling up the Nile to get enough stone to construct the palace, Asterix, Obelix, Getafix and Dogmatix are certainly kept busy.
Review of the Film
Asterix and Cleopatra was especially suited to a screen adaptation, since the original comic book was in part inspired by the epic films of the 1950s and early 1960s, in particular 1963's Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor. This is shown not only in the presentation of Cleopatra but also in the tagline used, 'The Greatest Story Ever Drawn'.
The opening shot of the harbour and town of Alexandria, complete with Pharos, can only be described as sumptuous. It sets the scene for the film before tracking to the palace, showing aspects of Egyptian life on the way, and introducing the character of the nagging queen Cleopatra before we see her arguing with Julius Cæsar. This scene, and the scenes of the construction of the palace, are a joy to watch as the eye is kept busy trying to keep track of all that is occurring.
After Asterix the Gaul, Asterix and Cleopatra is confident and experimental, both visually and in terms of the plot. It doesn't feel it needs to stay confined in a scene-by-scene recreation of the comic as Asterix the Gaul did. It adds little touches to scenes, such as showing Edifis' houses collapsing, increasing the emphasis on the wobbliness of his staircase by making the staircase much taller and adding a xylophone noise. Some small changes, for instance Krukhut now riding a camel rather than a horse as he did in the comic book, would not normally be noticed but help convey the Egyptian atmosphere. Another change is the addition of a hieroglyph of Father Christmas in the pyramid. This is the sort of blink-and-you'll-miss-it subtle joke that this film excels at. Similarly, there is an excellent cut from the galley taking the Gauls to Egypt to a similar, but toy, galley in Queen Cleopatra's bath.
The film opens with a prologue explaining that although the Egyptians at the time spoke in hieroglyphics, the film has been dubbed to be understandable and so the character's mouths might not be perfectly synchronous with their voices. This joke is straight out of the comic, but works well on screen, as Asterix and Cleopatra was made with the intention of being dubbed into languages other than French.
Unlike Asterix the Gaul, where the only visible sign of the magic potion was the strength it gave, in Asterix and Cleopatra, when Asterix drinks some magic potion he flashes, shoots in the air leaving a flaming trail, rotates and the wings on his helmet flap.
There is still a large use of limited animation and repeating the same action, most noticeable when Obelix is breaking out of the various prisons, and also in the scenes of the palace being built. The palace scenes are well worth looking at, however, even though they are repetitive, as they contain such detail that they dazzle the audience with the amount of action going on.
Asterix and Cleopatra is the Asterix animated film with the best film soundtrack, containing three humorous and amusing songs with catchy tunes.
The first is sung by Cleopatra and her slaves when she is enjoying a bath, replacing the Asterix and Cleopatra comic's pearl tasting scene. This has an Egyptian theme, belly dancers and, best of all, a clumsy, belly-dancing lion.
The second song, sung by a very hungry Obelix in the desert about the joys of food, features a singing cheese and meat dancing, doing a can-can.
The first Disney film to be made after Asterix and Cleopatra was The AristoCats, in 1970. There are several similarities between Asterix and Cleopatra's third song, sung when Artifis and Krukhut are baking a poisonous cake, and a scene in The AristoCats where the butler, Edgar, cooks a drugged dessert, known as 'Crème de la Crème à la Edgar'.
Both Artifis and Edgar sing while preparing their concoctions. Just as initially Artifis puts in one cup full of poison and then changes his mind and adds another to his stirring pot, Edgar adds two doses of sleeping pills into the pot he is stirring. In Asterix and Cleopatra while the cake is prepared, a mouse wearing an Egyptian headdress leaves his mousehole when he smells the cake, his mouth waters but then he staggers back to his mousehole. In The AristoCats the character of Roquefort the mouse, who later wears a deer-stalker hat, leaves the mousehole when he sees the Crème de la Crème, his mouth waters, and after eating some of the pudding, staggers back to his mousehole.
Other similarities between the films include singing felines (cats in The AristoCats and a lion in Asterix and Cleopatra) and jazzy songs.
Influence on Later Asterix Films
- The character of Cleopatra would later return in The Twelve Tasks of Asterix.
- Cleopatra's lion pet would later inspire Julius Cæsar to own a panther in Asterix Conquers America3.
- Asterix and Cleopatra is the first Asterix film in which characters are arrested, in this case Asterix, Obelix and Getafix. Arrested Gauls would later surface in The Twelve Tasks of Asterix, Asterix Versus Cæsar, Asterix in Britain, and Asterix Conquers America.
- For the first time, Obelix tells Asterix he wants to train Dogmatix to fetch menhirs. He also mentions this at the start of The Twelve Tasks Of Asterix.
How the Romans Really Viewed the Egyptians and Gauls
The film is based on the central premise that Julius Cæsar and the Romans considered the Egyptian people, and indeed the Gauls, to be decadent barbarians. This is a view that is historically accurate and can be seen in Roman texts. Although such texts, describing the world for a Roman audience, can be expected to be biased against everywhere other than Rome, a book on a neutral subject, such as architecture, for instance, casually mentioning views on the Egyptians and Gauls, shows what the commonly held beliefs were.
Vitruvius, a Roman contemporary of Julius Cæsar although he published during the reign of Cæsar's nephew Augustus Cæsar, wrote a series of books on architecture. In these he states:
While the southern peoples [including Egyptians] are of acute intelligence and infinite resource in planning, they give way when courage is demanded.... Those who are born in colder regions [such as Gauls], by their fearless courage are better equipped for the clash of arms, yet by their slowness of mind they rush on without reflections. It is in the true mean within the space of all the world... that the Roman people holds its territories. For in Italy the inhabitants are exactly tempered in either direction... [They] shatter the courage of the barbarians and.... the plans of the southerners. Thus the divine mind placed the state of the Roman people in an excellent and temperate region in order that it might obtain dominion over the whole world.
Differences Between Asterix and Cleopatra and Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra
The 1968 animated cartoon Asterix and Cleopatra is not the only film to be based on the comic; the 2002 live action film Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra was as well. This was the second Asterix live action film and was the most expensive French film made at the time. It is available in two English versions – the English subtitled version and a 20 minute shorter English dubbed version. There are subtle differences between these two versions and, despite being based on the same source as the Asterix and Cleopatra animated film, there are numerous differences between the animated and live action films.
The main difference is that characters have been added, renamed or removed. These include:
- A customer of Edifis who is having his house built, known as Crustacous in the English dubbed version, Bustacoccis in the subtitled.
- Hitanmis the tiler.
- A donkey, named 'Crazy Ass' in the English dubbed version, 'Cannabis' in the subtitled.
- In the dubbed version the rival architect Artifis is renamed Arthritis.
- Otis the scribe is a new character in the live action film, loosely based on Exlibris the scribe in the comic.
- Asterix has a love interest, Gimmeakis.
- Krukhut is renamed Exorcis in the dubbed version, Nexusis in the subtitled.
- Cæsar's spy is a woman, named Kittypus in the dubbed version, Pinnumba in the subtitled.
- Cæsar has a general, named Gluteus Maximus4 in the dubbed version, Tividinnus in the subtitled.
- There is a new Roman deputy, named Gaius Lucius in the dubbed version, named Antivirus in the subtitled.
- Cleopatra does not have a dancing lion, although, like the comic, she does briefly have a pet leopard.
There are other differences. Edifis is much younger in the live action version, where he does not actually know Getafix. Instead it was his father – called Malpractis in the dubbed version, Liquoris in the subtitled – who knew Getafix. This leads to one of the best lines in the subtitled version, where Otis describes the existence of Getafix and the Gauls as 'in a comic papyrus for kids'.
There are several more recent film references, including to Titanic, Star Trek, wrestling, martial arts kick flicks, Laurence of Arabia and The Matrix trilogy. The most frequent film references are to Star Wars, especially in the dubbed version where Getafix the druid is referred to as a 'droid'. Gluteus Maximus has a Darth Vader shaped helmet, he strangles his underlings who have failed him for the last time and states that if you attack the Roman Empire 'the Empire Strikes Back' while John Williams' 'Imperial March' theme plays in the background. The animated film Asterix and Cleopatra, made nine years before the release of Star Wars, does not contain any references to the Star Wars franchise.
Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra does not have an Egyptian language prologue. The nearest it comes to it is in the dubbed version, where Otis lists one of his ambitions is to 'move his mouth in French and have the words come out in English'. The pirate crew are the proper pirate crew in the live action film, and have numerous appearances in the subtitled version, but sadly are one of the most edited out elements of the dubbed version. One of the main differences is that there is a fight sequence at the end of the live action film between Edifis and Artifis/Arthritis rather than Artifis being captured by Asterix before that point.
Despite these changes, the 2002 live action film Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra is still well worth seeing even though the 1968 animated film is closer in spirit and feel to the original Asterix comic.