This week we continue our survey of French animated features with a look at the late 1980s – and films by René Laloux, Picha, and Paul Grimault.
Astérix chez les Bretons (Astérix in Britain), directed by Pino Van Lamsweerde. 79 minutes. December 3, 1986.
Closely based on the Astérix album (#8, 1966) by René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo. The Romans have just conquered Celtic Britain, except for one final village. Its chief sends the warrior Anticlimax to their brethren in Astérix’s village for help. Chief Vitalstatix sends Astérix & Obélix with a barrel of Panoramix’s magic potion to England to save them from the legions of Governor Encyclopaedicus Britannicus. A parody of all the French stereotypes of impenetrable-fog, “wot ho, I say”, stiff upper lip, rugby playing, tea-drinking, exaggerated English accents (in French), veddy-proper Englishmen. There are some differences from the album; Obélix’s dog Idéfix appears in the movie with a major subplot, and Julius Caesar has a more prominent role. See the trailer: Click Here.
Le Big-Bang! (The Big Bang), directed by Picha. 76 minutes. March 18, 1987.
“A hot film on the Cold War!” Picha’s X-rated parody of 1980s world politics and comic books, with a 1995 World War III, phallic missiles and a giant-boob satellite, the world divided between the overly-macho USSSR and the overly-Amazonic Vaginia about to start World War IV, and retired super-hero Fred Lucky, now a garbageman with a Conan-the-Barbarian assistant, appointed by the Council of the Universe to mediate between them; which requires the scrawny Fred to get all the men & women left on Earth to have lots of sex. Picha said that Le Big-Bang! completed his theatrical trilogy (the other two being the 1975 Tarzoon, la Honte de la Jungle and the 1980 Le Chaïnon Manquant), and switched to milder TV animation.
Yes, I know that Fred Lucky was the name of an animator and storyboard artist who worked at Disney, Hanna-Barbera, and other American studios at about this time. I assume that there was some ingroup reference here, but I don’t know the story behind it.
Ubu et la Grande Gidouille, directed by Jan Lenica. 80 minutes. November 11, 1987.
An adaptation of Alfred Jarry’s famous avant-garde 1896 play, Ubu Roi, that caused a riot at its Parisian premiere. Père Ubu, the fat, ugly, stupid, boastful, gluttonous everyman, kills the Polish royal family and makes himself the King of Poland, ruins the kingdom, escapes to France, does the same there, is exiled to the farthest corner of the Ottoman Empire, makes everyone as ugly, cruel, and stupid as he is, and ends up eating the whole Earth. Jarry invented the word “gidouille” to describe Ubu’s huge, eat-everything stomach. Produced during 1978-79, but not released until 1987.
Gandahar, (Light Years) directed by René Laloux. 83 minutes. March 2, 1988.
Widely considered as the third of Laloux’s animated s-f feature “trilogy”, including the 1973 La Planète Sauvage and the 1981 Les Maîtres du Temps, although Laloux never said the three features were a trilogy. Based upon the French s-f novel Les Hommes-Machines Contre Gandahar by Jean-Pierre Andrevon, with art design by popular French comic-book artist Caza (Philippe Cazaumayou); and produced at the SEK Animation Studio in Pyongyang.
Gandahar is a beautiful, utopian world of peaceful small towns, created by genetic breeding of “perfect people”. It is ruled by a Council of Women. Suddenly the planet is invaded by a mysterious army of artificial “Men of Metal” who march through the towns, turn the people to stone with “petrifying rays”, and carry the statues off. The Council of Women assigns Sylvain, the son of Queen Ambisextra, to find out where the Men of Metal come from and stop them. His journey leads Sylvain to the exiled Deformed, the unsuccessful products of Gandahar’s genetic experiments. The Deformed are bitter about their treatment by Gandahar’s perfect society, but the Men of Metal are attacking them also so they agree of help Sylvain. After rescuing Airelle, a Gandaharian woman, the two eventually discover the Men of Metal’s base, where they are turning the petrified Gandaharians into more Men of Metal. This is apparently controlled by Metamorphis, a giant brain who captures them; however, Metamorphosis claims to be an innocent bystander who does not know the Metal Men’s true origin or purpose.
The brain returns the two to the Council of Women, where they learn that Metamorphis was another unsuccessful experiment by Gandahar’s genetic scientists that was abandoned. The Council, who do not believe Metamorphis, orders Sylvain to kill the brain with a poison injection. But when Sylvain goes back to Metamorphis to do so, the brain reveals that the Men of Metal are coming from 1,000 years in the future via a time portal. Sylvain agrees to be put into stasis to travel to the future. There he learns from the Deformed, who are the only people free of the future Metamorphis’ control, that the ancient brain is dying, and has created the Men of Metal to travel to the past, petrify and kidnap the Gandaharians, and use those who do not become more Men of Metal to rejuvenate himself. The Deformed fight the Men of Metal and rescue the remaining Gandaharians, while Sylvain poisons Metamorphosis. The survivors escape via the time portal back to Gandahar’s age of perfection.
Gandahar was released in America as Light Years, as adapted by Isaac Asimov. It was considered very pretty but overly confusing.
La Table Tournante (The Turntable), directed by Paul Grimault and Jacques Demy. 80 minutes. December 21, 1988.
A very self-promotional combination live-action/animated feature by Grimault. The live Grimault is working at his animation turntable when he is visited by a cartoon clown from Le Roi et l’Oiseau. The friendly animator shows the clown clips from several of his animated films. Later, they are joined by the stars of these other cartoons together (in new footage), and finally by the live Anouk Aimée, the voice of the Shepherdess in Le Roi et l’Oiseau.
Marquis, directed by Henri Xhonneux. 83 minutes. April 26, 1989.
This is not really animation, except for a few brief clay-animated scenes; but it is often considered adult animation due to actors in animal-head costumes. The film was written and choreographed by cartoonist Roland Topor. It is set in the pre-Revolutionary Bastille prison/madhouse, featuring the insane Marquis de Sade (dog-head) who holds long conversations with his clay-animated penis, named Colin; Justine (cow), a raped woman; Juliette (horse), a revolutionary noblewoman who was imprisoned for trying to overthrow King Louis XVI; and others including a camel-headed priest, a rat-headed guard, and the cock-headed Bastille governor. At the end the 1789 Revolution breaks out, revolutionaries free the prisoners, Colin runs off with Juliette, and the Marquis is left alone to continue his writings about perverted sex.
Marquis was released in America with the tagline: “A bizarre tale of sex, lust, and the French Revolution”.
Astérix et le Coup de Menhir (Astérix and the Big Fight), directed by Philippe Grimond. 81 minutes. October 4, 1989.
Based upon the albums Le Combat des Chefs (Astérix and the Big Fight, #7, 1966) and Le Devin (Astérix and the Soothsayer, #19, 1972).
The Romans besieging Astérix’s village try to kidnap Panoramix to keep him from brewing the magic potion. But in the fight to rescue him, Obélix accidentally hits him with his menhir. This drives Panoramix humorously crazy and gives him amnesia, so even though he is rescued, he forgets how to brew the potion that is the only thing allowing the Gauls to defeat the Romans. While they decide what to do about this, a great storm hits the village, causing the superstitous Gauls to believe the sky is falling. Prolix, a wandering soothsayer, comes to the village and pretends to save them. Only Astérix is suspicious that he is a charlatan taking advantage of them by “predicting” the obvious. (Prolix: “I predict that this storm will soon end and be followed by clear weather!” Astérix: “There always is.”) While Astérix and Chief Vitalstatistix try to persuade the crazy Panoramix to reinvent the potion, resulting in humorous magical mishaps, the Romans capture Prolix. Astérix is glad to be rid of him. In the Roman camp, Prolix is supposed to be executed as a Gallic wizard, but the Centurion believes that his soothsaying is genuine, and finds excuses to delay the execution so he can keep Prolix as his pet soothsayer. Prolix becomes desperate to placate the Centurion, and promises to trick the Gauls into abandoning their village. At the last minute Panoramix is cured, he brews the potion, the Gauls attack the Romans, and Astérix exposes Prolix.
Astérix et le Coup de Menhir, released in Britain as Astérix and the Big Fight, was popular in both countries; but a separate American dub was so bad that it was unreleased until 1999 as an early DVD. The problem was not with the voices (professional voice actors were used), but with the script that gave the Gauls new names like Franksinatrix and Fishstix, gave all the Romans burlesque Italian accents, and made the story so infantile that the potential distributor realized that even children would feel insulted.
Astérix et le Coup de Menhir was produced by Dargaud Films, Gaumont International, and Extrafilm in Germany. The next Astérix animated feature, Astérix in America (85 minutes, September 29, 1994), was shown in France but was entirely by Extrafilm and two other German studios.
Next week: 1991 – 2000.