It's the trigger for Tigger

<b>The Tigger Movie</b> (U) | Jun Falkenstein | 77 mins <b>Ast&Atilde;&copy;rix and Ob&Atilde;&copy;lix Take On Caesar</b> (PG) | Claude Zidi | 110 mins
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The Independent Culture

For those of us who occasionally row in the galleys of animation, the world divides into two camps. There's Them - Saturday morning cartoons, churned out by hour, often factory-produced in the Far East. And there's Us - let's call it Artisan Animation - where artists congratulate themselves on producing two seconds a day, and where we make do with a broadcast at 3.35am on Channel 4. But at least we have the satisfaction of knowing that we are the cutting edge, influencing the styles and approaches ultimately adopted by the big studios for their big movies - Pixar started with experimental shorts; S4C has just released its first feature film.

For those of us who occasionally row in the galleys of animation, the world divides into two camps. There's Them - Saturday morning cartoons, churned out by hour, often factory-produced in the Far East. And there's Us - let's call it Artisan Animation - where artists congratulate themselves on producing two seconds a day, and where we make do with a broadcast at 3.35am on Channel 4. But at least we have the satisfaction of knowing that we are the cutting edge, influencing the styles and approaches ultimately adopted by the big studios for their big movies - Pixar started with experimental shorts; S4C has just released its first feature film.

So the heart-sinking tragedy of The Tigger Movie is that it is such a recidivist piece of work - Disney has returned to the scene of its 1968 crime to despoil A A Milne for yet another gooey, Americanised cute-fest. Instead of being ashamed, the director, Jun Falkenstein, prides herself on reproducing the original style - both Disney's and Shepard's. Why? Has she not been to the movies in the past two decades?

When I was the correct age for these things, before the easy repetitiveness of video, Tigger was always the one I wanted to see each Christmas. Maybe that was because he cut through the rules, was un-Americanly oblivious of everyone else's soppy emotions. He can wear that badge of pride no more: this film may start with a full-bounce rendition of "The Most Wonderful Thing About Tiggers", but he is soon strait-jacketed into a search for his "family", in spite of the song's next line ("... is that I'm the only one").

Where Toy Story brought us the imaginative insight into the toys' need for their owners' love, here Tigger is strangely hamstrung by his creator's lack of imagination, by his failure to invent relatives for him. However hard he searches, he will never find another Tigger - so the others coyly forge a letter from his family, then impersonate them, then insist they'll "always be there for him".

This is a deliberately simple film, in every sense, but must it be so uninspired? The story consists of repetitive searching montages and the dialogue is flat, with Tigger forced to end most speeches with a hooting laugh reminiscent of a DJ desperate to convince you that he's Fun. The Japanese animation is unremarkable, coming to life only for the big movie parody number "Round My Family Tree" (animated by a small studio in London). This isn't good enough for Saturday morning; this isn't even good enough for Straight-to-Video - this is Straight-to-Airline.

The collision of Gérard Depardieu and Obélix is an accident that's been waiting to happen to French movies for years. Each of them symbolises that dogged, uncomplicated French refusal to surrender to foreign pressure - whether to go on making their own movies or to keep the Romans out of the last hectare of Gaul.

As a result, Astérix and Obélix Take On Caesar is a French film for French audiences - for kids mostly, but with tiny bombshells of wit and cleavage for the accompanying adults. Strip-cartoon movies can go two ways: exaggerating, often darkening the original (Tim Burton's Batman) or unashamed, flat-lit recreation of the page. Claude Zidi opts for the latter - he takes for granted that you have worshipped the Astérix canon since birth and you've paid your francs to see it up on the screen.

So all the basic Astérix material is here: the fish fights, the tone-deaf Bard, the fat Chief, the falling-on-head sky and most importantly, the cowardly Romans. The village grass is perfectly manicured, the menhirs are clearly polystyrene and the Roman camp looks plastic. Against this deliberately 2D backdrop, the comedy is played out in true Goscinny-style with single punches sending legionnaries skywards without a drop of blood spilt.

Fortified by a magic potion which makes them invincible, Astérix (a not-quite-short- enough Christian Clavier) and Obélix enjoy every opportunity to make fools of the Roman legionnaries. But when Caesar arrives and insists that they also pay their tax, the real trouble starts - both for Gauls and for Caesar (Gottfried John). The druid with the secret of the potion is kidnapped and Caesar is temporarily overthrown by Detritus (Roberto Benigni, the new prince of Euro-comedy).

And that's when suddenly everything seems to change: no longer comic book, Astérix is thrown into a blood-soaked, torch-lit, caged arena stocked with snakes and tarantulas and man-monsters that seems to owe more to Guccione's Caligula than Uderzo's Gaul.

The central conceit of this scene is that Obélix does not break cover and come to Astérix's rescue because he cannot hear him shouting the password over the baying of the soldiers. Sadly, this falls flat in the face of a dubbing track which would shame Emmanuelle XVIII. Not only does it deny us all Depardieu's grumbly Gallic muttering, but it frequently renders the lifeless dialogue inaudible.

No doubt the French decided that English children are too poorly educated to read subtitles, but the error has been unexpectedly compounded by hiring Terry Jones to write the English version. It is over-full, creating cacophony rather than wit - the backchat which you're happy to read in a cartoon merely slows the action. Meanwhile, all those names that work so well on the page - Christmasbonus the centurion or Tragicomix the Gallic hunk - merely clutter the soundtrack. And anyway, after Biggus Dickus, can this gag ever breathe again?

 

Jonathan Myerson wrote and directed the Oscar-nominated, Bafta-winning animated films of 'The Canterbury Tales'. He is currently working on the sequel, due out in October

 

Antonia Quirke returns next week

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