Tag Archives: animation

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos (2011)
Original title: Hagane no renkinjutsushi: Mirosu no seinaru hoshi
Screenplay by Yûichi Shinbo; directed by Kazuya Murata

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Snapshot: An exciting return visit to see the characters that we’ve grown to love, but ultimately it doesn’t add much to the overriding continuity.

(Minor) spoilers ahead!

Last night I enjoyed the English dub version of Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos with a packed theater of enthusiastic FMA fans. It was obvious that everyone was happy to see their old friends Ed and Al Elric along with Winry, Col. Mustang, Lt. Hawkeye, and especially Maj. Armstrong. As a stand-alone movie, the events take place somewhere in the middle of the FMA: Brotherhood continuity. The movie is structured so that you don’t need to know anything much about the background of the characters (what little background that is needed is provided through expository dialog–more on that in a moment). There are no mentions of any plot points from the TV series, which is why I place it nearer the beginning of the storyline than than the end. Characters such as Scar, Führer Bradley, Van Hohenheim, etc., are completely absent.

When a powerful alchemist named Ashleigh Crichton escapes from the Central City prison, the Elrics track him to Table City in the western holy land of Creta. They hope he can lead them to a possible unknown form of alchemy that can help them in their quest to regain their bodies. They stop the alchemist from kidnapping his sister Julia, who is part of a dissident faction in the slums of Milos trying to regain control of the holy land that they were forced out of by the Cretans. Table City is aptly named, because it sits on top of a mesa and its waste is dumped on the heads of the Milosian people who live at the bottom of the valley surrounding the mesa.

It turns out that Julia is searching for what the Elrics recognize as the description of a Philosopher’s Stone so she can use it to help the Milosians retake Table City. Complicating things are some nasty wolf chimeras and a mysterious masked man, as well as Ashleigh. There are a few other new characters, too, that flesh out this complicated story.

The animation is top-notch. The visuals of the holy land are stunning. The action is fast and furious, well staged, and smoothly rendered. The music is excellent and the dubbing is quite good (were the lip movements redrawn for English, I wonder?). The dialog has the same mixture of seriousness and humor that we’ve come to expect from the series. All of the voice talent from the series reprise their roles.

One place the movie could have been improved was the dialog. It may have been an artifact of the translation and dubbing, but I suspect it was present in the original script. There were a number of instances where “Exposition Man” took agonizing time explaining the obvious or unnecessary. I can understand that the producers wanted to be as inclusive as possible, but realistically, how many non-FMA fans will see this movie?

Another area the movie could have improved was its complexity. Even at 110 minutes, there just seemed like too much was crammed in. There were also layers and layers of plot twists that could have been streamlined, I think.

The story is a thinly veiled allegory of the Israel/Palestine conflict, with Creta standing in for Israel, Milos standing in for Palestine, and Amestris standing in for the U.S. As such, it had the potential to send a very powerful message, something the best science fiction offers. I think it somewhat missed the mark, however, by trying to shoehorn the story into the established FMA continuity. What was powerful was seeing the conflict from the oppressed viewpoint.

Despite some of the drawbacks I’ve mentioned, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos is must-viewing for FMA fans. This is an intricate look into another culture that upholds FMA’s rightful place as one of the top anime adventures of all time. Although the movie doesn’t add to the established continuity, it does add interesting new characters and is a satisfying visit with old friends. Even non-FMA should enjoy this movie. Let’s hope that more exploits of Ed and Al and the gang will come our way!

The Legend of Korra Trailer

The Legend of Korra, the much-anticipated sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender, is coming this spring to Nickelodeon. A new trailer has just been released, and it looks awesome!

Nickelodeon Publicity describes the series:
Taking place 70 years after the events of Avatar: The Last Airbender, this story follows the adventures of the Avatar after Aang – a passionate, rebellious, and fearless teenage girl from the Southern Water Tribe named Korra. With three of the four elements under her belt (Earth, Water, and Fire), Korra seeks to master the final element, Air. Her quest leads her to the epicenter of the modern “Avatar” world, Republic City – a metropolis that is fueled by steampunk technology. It is a virtual melting pot where benders and non-benders from all nations live and thrive. However, Korra discovers that Republic City is plagued by crime as well as a growing anti-bending revolution that threatens to rip it apart. Under the tutelage of Aang’s son, Tenzin, Korra begins her airbending training while dealing with the dangers at large.

Academy Award Nominations

The nominees for the Academy Awards were announced today. There were some interesting inclusions and omissions. As for the snubs, with only nine pictures nominated as Best Feature, why couldn’t Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 be thrown a bone? Sure, it would never win, but it would be a nice honor for the end of this landmark series.

The second omission, and this is no real surprise, is that Andy Serkis was not nominated for his performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes—the Academy’s actors are not ready to recognize performance capture as legitimate acting.

The third omission, a little more puzzling but related, was not nominating The Adventures of Tintin in the Best Animated Feature category—apparently animators are just as finicky about what they consider to be animation as the actors are of what is considered acting.

Finally, I was a bit surprised that I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat from Warner Bros. was not nominated in the Animated Short category—although personally, I’m not a big fan of the CGI versions of these beloved characters.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Nominees:

A Cat in Paris (2010): Alain Gagnol, Jean-Loup Felicioli
This French crime caper has garnered a lot of critical praise. The preview looks great and I’m looking forward to seeing it. I’ll be surprised, however, if it takes home the Oscar.

Chico & Rita (2010): Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal
This Spanish-language romance is full of amazing music and deals realistically with the political tensions between the U.S. and Cuba. The artwork is gorgeous, but as with A Cat in Paris, it will be hard for a foreign language picture to win.

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011): Jennifer Yuh
Yeah, it made a boatload of money, but it was a pale imitation of the first Kung Fu Panda movie. A better choice would have been Arthur Christmas or The Adventures of Tintin.

Puss in Boots (2011): Chris Miller
A charming adventure story whose success is due to the charisma of Antonio Banderas as the title character. Forget the last two Shrek movies—Puss in Boots is a funny, action-packed escapade that deserves to be nominated.

Rango (2011): Gore Verbinski
My choice for the best animated feature. It was an exciting action movie with tons of humor that paid tribute to classic westerns.

Best Short Film, Animated

Nominees:

Dimanche (Sunday) (2011): Patrick Doyon blog.doiion.com
The first of two nominated shorts from the National Film Board of Canada, Dimanche tells the story of a bored boy on a typical Sunday—going to church, visiting his relatives, and getting into mischief. The animation style is simple and rendered beautifully. Although it has almost no dialog, it is charming and witty.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (2011): William Joyce, Brandon Oldenburg www.morrislessmore.com
This short film mixes miniatures, CGI, and traditional animation into a delightful journey into a fantasyland of living books. William Joyce (Robots, Meet the Robinsons) pays tribute to Hurricane Katrina, silent films, and the power of literature. This is my pick to win–it is the best short animated film I’ve seen in a long time. The film is available as a free download from iTunes.

La Luna (2011): Enrico Casarosa www.pixar.com
La Luna tells the story of a boy being introduced to an unusual family business. It’s hard to bet against anything Pixar produces; if Morris Lessmore doesn’t win, La Luna almost certainly will. La Luna is scheduled to be released with Pixar’s feature Brave later this year.

A Morning Stroll (2011): Grant Orchard, Sue Goffe www.studioaka.co.uk
This is a British short about a New Yorker’s early morning encounter with a chicken. It’s a clever shaggy dog (er, shaggy chicken) story with an inventive mix of styles and techniques.

Wild Life (2011): Amanda Forbis, Wendy Tilby www.nfb.ca
The second of two shorts from the National Film Board of Canada, Wild Life chronicles a rich young man’s attempts at cattle farming in Alberta in 1909. Told in a pseudo-documentary style, this beautiful, traditionally animated tale shows the folly of someone arrogantly disregarding common sense.

The Upcoming Year in Movies

2012 looks to be an amazing year for science fiction and animated movies. What will be the hits? Here are some of my predictions, but I’m sure there will be plenty of surprises in store.

January

Fullmetal Alchemist : The Sacred Star of Milos – This feature-length sequel to the hit anime series looks like it will take place somewhere in the middle of the Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood storyline. The release is limited, but hopefully it will come to a theater near you. Click here for U.S. theater/Canadian theater listings in your area.

February

Chronicle – The movie dead zone of February starts with this story of high school students who gain superpowers. Go watch reruns of Heroes instead.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island – The February movie wasteland continues with an inane adaptation that would make Jules Verne weep.

Star Wars Episode I — The Phantom Menace 3-D – will George Lucas ever stop tinkering with his movies? And nothing could add dimension to the flat characters of Episode I.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – a sequel nobody but Nicolas Cage demanded.

The Secret World of Arrietty – from Studio Ghibli, an adaptation co-written by Hayao Miyazaki (but, alas, not directed by him) of The Borrowers by Mary Norton. The trailer looks great; let’s hope the movie is, too.

Dr. Suess’ The Lorax – finally, an animated adaptation of a Dr. Seuss book that looks like it will be true to its source and actually be funny.

March

John Carter – a live action adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Mars series by writer/director Andrew Stanton (WALL·E, Finding Nemo) starring a bunch of unknowns. With a screenplay co-written by Michael Chabon, I have high hopes that Stanton will bring his animation magic to this project, just as Brad Bird did with 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

Mirror Mirror – the first of two retellings of the Snow White fairy tale, this one staring Julia Roberts and Sean Bean.

The Hunger Games – will this be a juggernaut franchise like Harry Potter or a flop like The Golden Compass? A lot is riding on this film, and all signs point to it coming through.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits – Peter Lord (Chicken Run) of Aardman Animations seemingly can do no wrong, and the trailer is hilarious. I have high expectations for this animated film.

Wrath of the Titans – Another underwhelming special-effects laden quest of Perseus doing the gods’ bidding.

April

Iron Sky – You had me at “Nazi lunar base.” This indie will premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in April. Let’s hope it makes it to the U.S. soon thereafter.

Extracted – Sasha Roiz (Caprica, Warehouse 13, Grimm) stars as a brilliant engineer who invents a device that enables him to enter another’s mind. While testing it on a convict, he gets trapped and must race the clock to find a way out. Debuting at the Austin South by Southwest Festival, this indie could be one to watch for.

May

The Avengers – Joss Whedon’s take on the iconic Marvel team is the dream movie for comic book fans. I’m not a big fan of Whedon, and my concern is that he won’t be able to corral the egos of his large cast of stars, and the film will veer off into incomprehensibility. Nevertheless, this movie should deliver blockbuster numbers, no matter how good or bad it is.

Dark Shadows – Tim Burton and Johnny Depp team up once again to revive the 1960’s soap opera about Barnabas Collins and his wacky household of vampires and ghouls. I expect campy fun.

Men in Black 3 – another sequel nobody clamored for, but Will Smith will put butts in seats.

Dorothy of OZ – I saw a preview of this animated musical at San Diego Comic-Con last year, and it looked HORR! I! BLE! Why or why can’t someone just make a successful, straight adaptation of the marvelous source material?

Battleship – very loosely based on the popular board game (coming soon: Candy Land, I kid you not), the trailer is just a mess and a half—lots of explosions and women in bikinis. And it will make a ton of money.

June

Snow White and the Huntsman – the second Snow White adaptation; this one a bit edgier than the first.

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted – I have to admit that the first two in the series were lighthearted fun, and I don’t expect them to deviate from the formula.

Prometheus – Ridley Scott’s triumphant return to science fiction as co-written by Lost’s Damon Lindelof, this will either be astounding or a big, fat mess. No one seems to know whether this is a prequel to Alien or whether it morphed into something else during filming, but the trailer definitely makes me want to see it.

Jack the Giant Killer – another fairy tale retold, this time “Jack and the Beanstalk” as directed by Bryan Singer.

Brave – Pixar’s big release of 2012, their first starring a female protagonist. The trailer looks amazing, and I expect this will be the animated feature to beat at next year’s Oscars.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – cheesy fun from producer Tim Burton.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation – stars Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson should ensure this will be better than the first G.I. Joe movie, but director Jon M. Chu’s background is from the music and dance world (most notably, the Step Up franchise), so it’s hard to imagine it will be much better.

July

The Amazing Spider-Man – July will be the battle of the titans: Spider-Man vs. Batman. This reboot of Spider-Man will hopefully reinvigorate the franchise, but I think it will be overshadowed by…

The Dark Knight Rises – Christopher Nolan’s final entry into the dark world of Batman. Will Nolan be able to pull off a tour de force without a force of nature like Heath Ledger? Most likely it will be an emphatic “yes.” Here is a clever mash-up trailer for the film using footage from Batman: The Animated Series:

Ice Age: Continental Drift – at least we get to laugh at Scrat try to rescue his acorn, regardless of the other dreck that may be in the movie.

August

Total Recall – this new Total Recall will supposedly stick close to the original Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” it’s based on.

ParaNorman – this animated fantasy/horror/comedy from the makers of Coraline could be a sleeper hit.

September

Hotel Transylvania – Director Genndy Tartakovsky (The Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack) animates Adam Sandler as Dracula in this Sony Pictures Animation presentation.

Dredd – Karl Urban stars in a new take on the ultra-violent British comic book. Without Sylvester Stallone to muck it up, it might actually turn out ok. Lena Headey co-stars.

October

Frankenweenie – Tim Burton’s feature-length stop-motion remake of his infamous 1984 short. Will audiences flock to see a black-and-white animated film in 2012? The hip ones will.

November

Wreck-It Ralph – Disney Animation’s big film for 2012 features the voices of John C. Reilly, Jane Lynch, and Jack McBrayer in something to do with video game characters coming to life.

Rise of the Guardians – Dreamworks Animation brings together the voice talents of Hugh Jackman, Jude Law, Chris Pine, and Alec Baldwin in a story that has Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and Jack Frost banding together to fight the Bogeyman.

December

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – the one every fanboy has been waiting for—Peter Jackson’s long delayed adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved children’s book. My only question is whether it will remain true to its source material or whether it will be Lord of the Rings, Part 4. Either way, it should be awesome.

World War Z – based on Max Brooks’ tongue-in-cheek zombie book, this adaptation co-written by J. Michael Straczynski and staring Brad Pitt could be a surprise hit.

Unscheduled

Robot and Frank – A well-reviewed entry at the Sundance Film Festival starring Frank Langella as a burglar who teams up with a robot to commit his crimes. Co-starring James Marsden, Liv Tyler, and Susan Sarandon.

Upside Down – A man searches an alternate universe for a long-lost love from his youth. Stars Kirsten Dunst.

The Prodigies – Warner Bros. Pictures is planning to distribute this French animated superhero movie from 2011 sometime this year; my guess in limited release.

Over the Hedge

Over the Hedge (2006)
Screenplay by  Len Blum and Lorne Cameron & David Hoselton and Karey Kirkpatrick, based on comic strip characters by Michael Fry and T. Lewis; directed by Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick

Guest review by Tommy “Slug” Togath, age 13

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I was not expecting much from this film, but I was very mistaken. This is a wonderfully funny story that had the audience of mostly adults roaring through most of the film. The story is based on a comic strip, telling the story of how two unlikely companions first met. The other characters in the film are mostly original and not in the comic strip. While nominally a buddy picture, there is plenty of action and even a romance that pays tribute to Pepe Le Pew cartoons. The character designs are excellent, and the computer graphics are superb. The voice talent does a very good job, especially for celebrity voices. Hammy the squirrel, voiced by Steve Carell, stole the show. There is a scene near the end of the film with Hammy that is truly one of the most brilliant animated sequences I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to see this film again to see all the details I missed the first time.

Legend of the Millennium Dragon

Legend of the Millennium Dragon (2011)
Onigamiden (original title)
Screenplay by Naruhisa Arakawa & Hirotsugu Kawasaki, based on the novel by Takafumi Takada; directed by Hirotsugu Kawasaki

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Jun Tendo, a shy boy whose father has died in a tragic train accident, is magically transported into Japan’s medieval past. Sorcerer Gen’un hails Jun as the savior in a violent, long-running war between humans and monstrous Oni. Gen’un assigns a young warrior named Raiko to mentor Jun. Jun learns to control a dragon called Orochi. When Mizuha, a young Oni girl, is hurt Jun flies her home to find things aren’t quite what they seem.

The story is a jumbled mess and the animation is strictly low-budget. Some of the action sequences are interesting, but this film seems aimed for indiscriminating children.

39th Annie Award Nominations Announced

ASIFA-Hollywood, the International Animated Film Society, announced the nominations for its 39th Annual Annie Awards, recognizing the year’s best in the field of animation. The Annie Awards cover 28 categories and include Best Animated Feature, Best Animated Special Production, Commercials, Short Subjects, and Outstanding Individual Achievements.

The slate of nominations for Best Animated Features is expanded to 10 this year: A Cat in Paris (Folimage), Arthur Christmas (Sony Pictures Animation, Aardman Animations), Arrugas (Wrinkles) (Perro Verde Films, S.L.), Cars 2 (Pixar Animation Studios), Chico & Rita (Chico & Rita Distribution), Kung Fu Panda 2 (DreamWorks Animation), Puss in Boots (DreamWorks Animation), Rango (Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies), Rio (Blue Sky Studios), and The Adventures of Tintin (Amblin Entertainment, Wingnut Films, and Kennedy/Marshall).

This is a very strong field of nominees. Right now, I would give the edge to Rango, but I suspect voting will be tight. I haven’t seen A Cat in Paris, Arrugas, or Chico & Rita, foreign-made films that will probably not see wide distribution in the U.S.

There are 9 nominees in the Best Animated Short Subject category, 8 nominees in the Best General Audience Animated TV Production category, and 9 nominees in the Best Animated Video Game category. So all in all, it looks like 2011 was a great year for animation.

The 2011 Annie Award ceremony will be on Saturday, February 4, 2012, at UCLA’s Royce Hall in Los Angeles.  The complete list of Annie Award nominations, ticket, and event information can be found at www.annieawards.org.

Star Trek: The Animated Series

Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1974)

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Coming four years after the live-action series ended, the Saturday morning incarnation of Star Trek reunited many of its creative staff and actors. Produced at Filmation Studios by Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott (who were masters at bringing low-budget licensed properties to Saturday mornings), the 22-episode run was actually a decent show, at least as good as, if not better than, the third season of the original. The problem was that the animation was terrible. This was an era of declining animation budgets, before animation was routinely outsourced to Korea and other cheap labor markets. Today, we would charitably call this “motion comics.” Back then it was just limited animation. Honestly, I’ve seen PowerPoint presentations with more animation than the Star Trek series. They relied heavily on stock footage and didn’t seem to care about continuity. Hairstyles, in particular, seemed to regularly flip back and forth.

What made the series interesting, though, were the stories. Gene Roddenberry oversaw the production and several veterans of the original series wrote scripts, such as Samuel A. Peeples, Marc Daniels, Margaret Armen, Stephen Kandel, Paul Schneider, David P. Harmon, and D.C. Fontana (also the series story editor and associate producer). As with the original, notable science fiction writers contributed stories. David Gerrold had a couple of scripts, including a return look at his creation, the tribbles. Larry Niven produced a script that included his Known Space aliens, the cat-like warrior Kzinti. One big advantage the animated series had was to be able to show non-humanoid aliens and truly alien landscapes. They also introduced the concept of the holodeck (although it wasn’t called that), which was used extensively in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Which is not to say there weren’t some clunkers in the batch. One episode had Spock cloned by an alien, but the clone was about 30 feet tall! In another, several of the crew were surgically modified with gills by an underwater race and then easily restored to normal at the end. There was one episode where the crew was artificially aged and then returned to their original ages by going through the transporter. Another episode did the opposite: the crew regressed to children and was returned to normal by going through the transporter. Stardates seemed to be chosen haphazardly; they certainly weren’t in a discernible order.

Six out of the seven original principal actors, plus Majel Barrett as Nurse Chapel, provided voice work for the series, not only their own characters but many of the other crew members and aliens; only Walter Koenig was excluded, reportedly for budgetary reasons (however, Koenig did write one episode). A three-armed and legged alien named Lt. Arex (which sounded like “Erics,” not a particularly alien sounding name) voiced by James Doohan replaced Chekov on the bridge. A feline alien, Lt. M’Ress (Majel Barrett), occasionally replaced Lt. Uhura at the Communications Station. Some of the original guest actors reprised their characters: Stanley Adams as Cyrano Jones, Roger C. Carmel as Harry Mudd, and Mark Lenard as Sarek. In addition, some of the locations from the original series turned up in the animated series, for example, the Guardian of Forever from “City on the Edge of Forever” (although I don’t think they called it that, probably for copyright reasons) and the amusement planet from “Shore Leave.” Klingons and Romulans made regular appearances as well, creating an expanded look at some of the characters and worlds from the original series.

Look past the horrible animation and you will be rewarded with wonderful examples of some of the best that Star Trek had to offer.

Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva

Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva (2009)
Story by Akihiro Hino, screenplay by Aya Matsui; directed by Masakazu Hashimoto

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Based on the popular Nintendo DS video game series, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva was released on video in the U.S. in November 2011. The movie follows the same basic format as the video games: amateur detective Professor Layton (Christopher Robin Miller) and his apprentice Luke Triton (Maria Darling) must solve a series of puzzles to crack a mysterious criminal plot.

It starts out with Professor Layton receiving a letter from his former student, opera singer Janice Quatlane (Emma Tate) inviting him and Luke to see her perform. It turns out that the patrons at the opera were there to receive the elixir of eternal life. The only catch is that only one person can win—whoever solves the puzzles presented by a mysterious voice—and everyone else will be killed!

Similar to the video games, the plot becomes more and more convoluted to the point of almost incomprehensibility. However, plots are not the main features of the Professor Layton series, it’s the puzzle solving in exotic locations among eccentric characters, and the movie provides these in abundance. The art direction and character design are identical to the games, with Miller and Darling reprising their roles. Fans of the games will get the in-jokes, and non-fans will enjoy the over-the-top action and humor, too.

If you’re a fan of the Professor Layton games, definitely check out the movie. If you haven’t had the pleasure of Professor Layton’s acquaintance, I encourage you to try out this movie.

The Adventures of Tintin

The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
Screenplay by Steven Moffat and Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish, based on the comic book series by Hergé; directed by Steven Spielberg

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 [2004] and A Christmas Carol [2009]). 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.