Perhaps it was foolish not to instantly realise that director Steven Spielberg and Hergé’s much beloved comic book Tintin would be a natural fit for one another. The similarities between Spielberg’s world-weary archaeologist Indiana Jones and Herge’s intrepid young reporter are obvious – both men travel the pre-1950s globe on the hunt for mystery-shrouded historical treasures. Both characters are also courageous men of action, throwing themselves into danger, frequently getting beaten up, and resourcefully mixing brains and brawn to achieve their goals. As a result you can pretty much consider Spielberg’s first CGI-animated effort, The Adventures of Tintin, to be a cinematic cousin to the Indiana Jones series – only with much more humour, zero supernatural elements, and a decidedly vanilla hero.
The Adventures of Tintin draws on plot points from three different Tintin stories, The Secret of the Unicorn, The Crab with the Golden Claws and Red Rackham’s Treasure. In the film, Jamie Bell’s performance-captured Tintin finds his life threatened when he buys a sought-after model ship containing a clue to a long-lost treasure. Pitted against the sinister Sakharine (Daniel Craig) in the race to solve the mystery first, Tintin at least has the aid of his loyal wire hair fox terrier Snowy, as well as blustery alcoholic Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), whose ancestry makes him a pivotal figure in the treasure hunt. Meanwhile Scotland Yard detectives Thomson and Thompson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) blunder around in the background.
The Adventures of Tintin hits the ground running. Like the Indiana Jones films, Tintin is action-packed to the point of exhaustion and rarely lets up. In fact, after one particularly extended sequence that begins with a daring ocean escape and ends with an airplane crash in the Sahara, the cinema audience is likely to let out a collective sigh of relief… and satisfaction, mind you.
Your stamina for back-to-back action scenes may determine how much you enjoy The Adventures of Tintin, but there is no denying that this film – along with Rango – supports the argument that animation is currently superior to live-action cinema when it comes to creatively choreographed and highly engaging action scenes. For example, there’s a 17th Century naval battle in Tintin that trumps anything in the entire Pirates of the Caribbean quadrilogy.
This said, The Adventures of Tintin isn’t my favourite animated film of the year – that title belongs to the more consistently enjoyable Arthur Christmas(read the review). Tintin is, however, 2011’s most technically brilliant animated film… by a mile. Although there is nothing standout about the film’s 3D, Tintin is the best CGI-animated film made so far that utilises motion-captured performances of real actors. In Tintin there’s no dead-eyed, disturbingly rubber characters à la The Polar Express, Beowulf and Mars Needs Moms. While it takes a scene or so to adjust to the film’s character design – which unusually blends the hyper-real and Hergé’s cartoonish, colourful approach – you quickly fall in step after that and accept the film’s universe without question.
The technical mastery of The Adventures of Tintin elevates the film into 4-star territory, which is fortunate because it could have been a 3-starrer, given the number of gripes that can be made about other areas of the movie.
For example, the film’s storyline is weak in terms of character motivations – holding a grudge over events that happened to ancestors centuries ago seems a bit farfetched. And, as with the comics, Tintin isn’t the most charismatic hero. He’s likeable enough – principled and motivated – but typically you feel like he’s the creation of another era, and personality-wise he just can’t compete with loud, over-the-top characters like Haddock. Speaking of the latter, having already impressed in 2011 as Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ Caesar, Serkis (the Motion Capture King) dominates here, demonstrating great versatility as Haddock staggers for the most part between clumsy, aggressive drunkenness and remorseful, self-induced despair.
Riddled with little visual references to the Tintin comics, and Spielberg’s filmography as well, The Adventures of Tintin should please fans and newcomers to the franchise alike. It’s a breathless, light adventure for the whole family that refreshingly doesn’t soften or dumb itself down. In short, The Adventures of Tintin is what Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull should have been. Now if only Spielberg would make an animated Indiana Jones TV series just like this.
Last Updated: January 4, 2012