Review: The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

 

The Adventures of Tintin, Steven Spielberg’s latest adventure movie and first animated one, captures the style and spirit of the beloved series of comics by Hergé that it is based on. In particular, Spielberg’s film achieves the comics’ delightful blend of slapstick humour and exciting adventure, while also bearing the distinctive imprint of Spielberg’s cinematic imagination.

Using motion capture technology, Spielberg, producer Peter Jackson, and their colleagues have brought Hergé’s clear line drawings, with their detailed objects and backgrounds and cartoonish characters, to life—or almost so. Following Hergé’s lead, the vehicles and city streets in the film are almost photorealistic, but the characters are not, retaining their caricatured features. The choice to use motion capture animation was uncertain, but it worked. The success of using the format in this adaptation is most evident in the character of Snowy, Tintin’s faithful white dog. In the comics, Snowy is an important character, with his own thought bubbles and a distinct personality. Live action may have worked for the animals in, say, Babe (1995), but Tintin is not a fable, and Snowy’s antics would have been unbelievable in that format. Motion capture animation allows Snowy to still be a major player. Our hero, Tintin, played by Jamie Bell, is also well realized; Tintin in the film retains the ambiguous youthfulness of the character on the page, as well as his trademark tuft of hair. Bell also endows the character with the right energetic enthusiasm and resourcefulness, but the portrayal is also sufficiently blank to allow Tintin to be the heroic everyman (or boy) he is in the comics.

The realistic objects and settings give the action sequences sufficient weight to hold our interest and earn our investment, while the medium of animation allows Spielberg’s imagination to roam free, unconstrained by budget or shooting constraints. He really lets loose here, such as in the beautifully orchestrated interplay between Captain Haddock’s pirate story and flashbacks to the actual battle on the high seas, or in the astonishing single-shot chase down the terraces of a North African city, or in the dueling cranes of the final fight. Even in quieter scenes, Spielberg lets his animated camera weave and roam, constructing waltz-like scenes of exposition or intrigue with his long-time editor Michael Kahn.

Probably the film’s most memorable accomplishment, though, is Andy Serkis’ Captain Haddock. As many critics have pointed out, Serkis is the Lon Chaney of the mo-cap era. Freed from the role of an ape or Gollum, Serkis in Tintin shines as one of the main human characters, the feisty, drunken, yet lovable Captain Haddock. Haddock is the funny and flawed counterpart to the ever-virtuous straight man, Tintin. Following Hergé’s sense of humour, Haddock becomes a memorable cinematic buffoon-hero.

The Adventures of Tintin showcases a genius of film adapting a genius of comics, and the result is a very amusing animated adventure.

8 out of 10

The Adventures of Tintin (USA/New Zealand, 2011)

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by Steven Moffat and Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish, based on the series of comics by Hergé; starring Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Nick Frost, and Simon Pegg.