Virtually unknown in the United States, Lucky Luke has been a popular cartoon character in Europe since his first 1946 comic book appearance. Designed to be an affectionate parody of American westerns, Luke is a self-described "lonesome cowboy," traveling the west with his faithful horse, Jolly Jumper, defending innocent settlers against evildoers. Although quick with a gun, Luke tends to prefer to outwit his adversaries rather than kill them. DAISY TOWN, an animated feature produced in France in 1971, was the first attempt to bring the character to the screen.
The film follows Luke as he rides into the city of Daisy Town, once a peaceful community but now under constant siege by criminal elements. After running the undesirables out of town, Luke becomes the new sheriff. He's then faced with his biggest challenge in the form of the Dalton Gang (recurring villains in the comic and made up of brothers Joe, William, Jack and Averell). The Daltons convince a neighboring Native American tribe to declare war on Daisy Town (by telling them if the settlement were allowed to developed they would eventually be forced off their own land, which of course turned out to be completely correct) but Luke is able to quickly negotiate a truce, foiling the Dalton's plans.
The animation rarely rises above the level of Saturday morning TV but the film still manages to succeed based on the affection the filmmakers obviously had for the genre they were satirizing. There are countless sight gags based on well known western tropes such as the bartender sliding a beer to a customer at the other end of the bar to the townspeople locking themselves indoors as outlaws ride into town. There is also a terrific, almost silent sequence near the beginning of the film showing the development of Daisy Town from a dusty settlement to a crime-ridden center of industry. For the English dubbed version that I saw the filmmakers made the odd decision to hire celebrity impersonator Rich Little to voice every role. thus we have the surreal experience of hearing Little's version of well known voices acting out major roles such as the film's narrator (James Stewart, and for some reason spoken completely in rhyme), Luke (Gary Cooper), the town undertaker (Boris Karloff) and Joe Dalton (James Cagney). Luckily, the film tries to get by without dialogue whenever possible so this doesn't get too annoying.
Although DAISY TOWN was the first cinematic Lucky Luke adventure it was by no means the last. There were two more animated features, a few animated shorts and a cartoon TV series. In the 1990s these were followed by two live action films and a TV series starring iconic spaghetti western actor Terence Hill. The most recent Lucky Luke film was made in 2009 with THE ARTIST star and flavor of the moment Jean Dujardin. However since that film committed the unpardonable sin of being shot in a language other than English the chances of seeing it in an American movie theater are practically nil. Maybe we'll have better luck with the inevitable US remake.
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