My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Steven Spielberg’s first animated film is a loving and respectful adaptation of the much-loved Belgian comic book that chronicles the adventures of Tintin (Jamie Bell), a young journalist, his feisty dog Snowy, and Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), an alcoholic seaman. The film seamlessly merges elements from three Tintin stories: “The Crab with the Golden Claws,” “The Secret of the Unicorn,” and “Red Rackham’s Treasure.”
The film’s breakneck pace and far-flung locales might lead one to think of Tintin as Indiana Jones, Jr. In fact, only after Raiders of the Lost Ark was released did Spielberg notice the similarity of it to the spirit of the Tintin adventures, whereupon Spielberg obtained the rights to Hergé’s works. It languished in development hell all these years until Peter Jackson (who served as a producer and second-unit director) convinced Spielberg that the motion capture process from his Weta Digital company could successfully translate Tintin into a viable project.
By and large, the motion capture process is successful. It is certainly orders of magnitude better than Robert Zemeckis’s dead-eyed motion-capture movies (The Polar Express  and A Christmas Carol ). The characters’ facial expressions and eye movements are close to something resembling reality. But the human brain is finely tuned to recognize human faces, and there is still a subtle unnaturalness that prevents this film from being a complete winner. It’s a hybrid of almost-realism and almost-cartoon that doesn’t quite satisfy either form. And, after seeing the magnificent 3D presentation of Hugo earlier this week, the 3D of Tintin left me underwhelmed.
It doesn’t help that Spielberg retains the essential blandness of Tintin from the comics. Tintin doesn’t have a strong personality—we don’t discover his flaws the way we did with Indiana Jones (fear of snakes, daddy issues, etc.). This is why the existence of Captain Haddock is so crucial to the success of the Tintin series. Haddock is the anti-Tintin, providing an emotional counterweight. Tintin’s dog Snowy rounds out the characterizations with his sense of humor and expressiveness (Snowy is absolutely wonderful).
Another area where this film falls a little short is the music. John Williams provides a nice, but somewhat generic score, as if he is deliberately trying not to copy his previous themes. There is no rousing fanfare as in Raiders of the Lost Ark or Star Wars, and I think this contributes to the mutedness of Tintin.
Despite these imperfections, I think that The Adventures of Tintin is a delightful film. It smartly omits Tintin’s origin, choosing to quickly show his credentials through newspaper clippings on his office wall, and through subtle bits of dialog, such as when Tintin’s landlady casually mentions, “there’s a dead man on the porch… again.” The action starts early in the film and maintains a frantic pace through almost the entire movie. The unbelievable motorcycle chase near the end is right out of a theme park simulator such as Universal Studios’ The Simpsons ride. The whole movie has an animated dynamic that could only be achieved through the motion capture process.
This is a film that is packed with adventure and action the likes of which we haven’t seen perhaps since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), certainly not since Saving Private Ryan (1998). It more than washes out the bad taste left by Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). It’s a film that can be enjoyed by diehard fans of Tintin as well as those who have never heard of him.
The film ends with a big, implied “To Be Continued,” and I look forward to seeing more of the animated adventures of Tintin.