Performance and Voice Cast:
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Based on Hergé’s 11th book “The Secret of the Unicorn,” as good a place to start as any with the adventures of Tintin and his dog Snowy, even those who enjoyed reading Tintin’s adventures in print form might need some time to adjust to the mix of photo-realistic environments and stylistic characterizations used to bring this story to 3D life as much as it creates a grand and glorious looking film.
The story begins as Tintin finds a model ship which immediately has other interested buyers wanting to get their hands on it, including a questionable man named Sakharine (voice by Daniel Craig) who already has his own identical model. When Tintin’s model ship is stolen, he realizes there’s more to it than he thought, and he ends up on the ship of the chronically drunk Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) in search of a third model ship that can help them solve the mystery of the original ship’s lost treasure.
It’s a fun adventure that takes Tintin and his pals all around the world, as Spielberg really gets the nature of Herge’s storytelling. The dialogue, provided by the genre supergroup of Stephen Moffatt (“Dr. Who), Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”) and Joe Cornish (“Attack the Block”), perfectly captures the whimsical interplay between characters Hergé did so well. This is especially true with Interpol agents Thompson and Thompson, performed by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who you’ll wish had more scenes since they perfectly embody the incompetent inspectors for some of the movie’s most lively scenes. For the second time this year, Andy Serkis is a movie’s undeniable MVP, as his portrayal of Captain Haddock adds so much to the story, both in terms of humor and fun as well as adding some much-needed emotion.
With such a strong script and fun characters, it’s a shame that what hurts the movie most is its animation choices. The performance capture just isn’t quite on par with “Avatar,” and as hard as the movie tries to be photorealistic and epic, it sometimes comes off looking more like an extended video game cut scene. An even bigger issue is that Tintin himself looks odd, his face looking flat and lifeless and lacking the cartoonish round noses of other characters. In a sense, trying to make him look more like a real person makes him stand out in a bad way, and Jamie Bell just doesn’t have the presence to get us past this. Fortunately, they also have Tintin’s adorable dog Snowy to single-handedly steal the movie from his master by bringing delight to every scene and helping you get through any of the slower exposition bits.
Once the movie gets into the spectacular locations and the insanely complex set pieces, it’s where Spielberg shines as an action director, showing us what may have been with a 4th Indiana Jones if not for the silly stuff George Lucas (reportedly) contributed to it. For some reason in cartoon form, you can believe that two pirate ships might get tangled by their rigging and that two dock cranes can be used in a massive climatic battle, and this stuff is fantastic. Blink and you might miss the transition into flashback in which Haddock’s great grandfather faces pirates on the open seas on the original Unicorn, a fantastic sequence that wouldn’t feel out of place in a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie.
Even so, there’s something that feels dated about the whole thing, which might not be a bad thing to some considering the source, but it still creates an odd tone that doesn’t feel altogether natural. As is often the case, it’s hard to determine whether young kids will go for this. Certainly boys from say 8 to maybe 13 will thrill to the exciting action scenes and the adventure, but it may seem too boring for younger kids used to pratfalls and potty humor. “The Adventures of Tintin” is far more cultured, maybe for its own good, and trying so hard to retain what worked well in the comics while adding more dynamics and action may end up feeling like two different worlds that don’t necessarily work together.
The Bottom Line: