Tintin is an internationally beloved comic book character created by Belgian cartoonist Hergé in 1929. The densely plotted adventures of the boy reporter and his faithful dog Snowy are delightful yarns that take the young hero around the world. Regardless of the climate, he always finds himself in some kind of trouble and with one mystery or another to solve. That these comics are still read today serve as testament to their unique quality and Hergé's abilities as a storyteller. They are the sorts of books passed from one generation to the next. I gave some Tintin volumes to my oldest nephew before he could even read.
Though there have been several animated versions of Tintin on television (as well as a sublime 1940s stop-motion version from the 1940s that I recently saw on YouTube), there has never been a good major motion picture version of the character. I don't know if it was just too much of a challenge to make this particular property work in a different medium, or if it just took two massive talents (alt. egos) to tackle it. But here we are, it's 2011, and Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson have banded together for a motion-captured, three-dimensional Tintin for the 21st Century.
Thank goodness, then, that The Adventures of Tintin is such a rollicking success. Armed with a script by superstar screenwriters Steven Moffat (the BBC Sherlock), Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), Spielberg has directed a corking adventure, utilizing modern technology to recreate Hergé's magical world of pirates, sheiks, and incurably curious canines.
The Adventures of Tintin adapts the graphic novels The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Revenge. At the start of the story, Tintin (performed by Jamie Bell), buys a model of the Unicorn, a vintage seafaring vessel, from an English street vendor. As soon as the money has changed hands, two other men express interest in the same object. Among them is Sakharine (Daniel Craig), a professorial type with a sinister beard who is willing to pay "any price." Tintin is understandably suspicious, and so he and his dog Snowy go to the library and uncover the mythical history of the sailing vessel the model is meant to replicate. Whatever the real Unicorn was ferrying across the oceans must be what everyone is truly after.
The resulting quest for the solution to this riddle takes Tintin across the seas to North Africa and back again. Along the way, he will be joined by Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes), the drunken descendent of the Unicorn's original captain, in a quest to find the three pieces of a scroll that promises to reveal all. Tintin will be knocked out, shot at, and even have his wallet stolen--though the latter brings much comic relief in the form of police detectives Thompson and Thomson (Shaun of the Dead and Paul stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost). The identical bumbling cops help on accident, and further the plot, but their main contribution is their verbal wordplay. Their jokes and mishaps are funny, hearkening back to not just the classic roots of the character, but classic cinema comedy.
Indeed, much here feels delightfully old school, from the enterprising dog who helps his master out to the besotted ship captain and the general nature of their derring-do. The animation is fantastic on all these things. Snowy behaves like a real dog when necessary, with believable cartoon traits when those are required, as well. Andy Serkis, who is best known for playing chimps and Gollums, gets to be more human here, and his physicality matched with Haddock's comical bluster makes for a marvelously realized portrayal of Tintin's most famous ally.
The whole animated style in The Adventures of Tintin is quite excellent, actually. Spielberg and Jackson's effects team at WETA have advanced motion capture technology well past Robert Zemeckis' creepy rubber marionettes and landed in a zone that's not quite Pixar, but nearly as viable in terms of utilizing animation to its fullest. The winding chase through the streets of Morocco is thrilling, using 3D to create a vertiginous action scene that takes place on several different levels simultaneously. (The 3D is also well-handled; the film is brightly lit and we never appear to lose information due to poor 3D up-conversion.) Likewise, Spielberg and his crew cleverly concoct transitions between different scenes, including juggling two separate time periods when Haddock recounts the story of his famous ancestor. The Adventures of Tintin gets closer to the cliffhanger perfection Spielberg pulled off in Raiders of the Lost Ark than the best bits of all three of the Indiana Jones sequels combined. It's like the Young Indiana Jones prequel you never knew you wanted.
When it comes down to it, I can't think of a bum note in The Adventures of Tintin. For as little hope as I had based on early trailers, it has defied every expectation and then some. The film is even appropriately reverential to the source material, paying a nod to Hergé in its first scene and even using the familiar font from the covers of the Tintin books in the charming opening credits. I know it's unbecoming for a grown-man to gush, but The Adventures of Tintin truly made me feel like a kid again, so I think that earns me the right.