The Adventures of Tintin - Andy Serkis and Jamie Bell
Drunken Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) and journalist/adventurer Tintin (Jamie Bell) unravel the mystery of a centuries-old sunken ship © 2011 Paramount Pictures

The Adventures of Tintin is a detective story, a swashbuckling pirate yarn, an international quest for treasure and occasionally a slapstick comedy. Packed with land, sea and air action, this thoroughly enjoyable animated adventure is a one-of-a-kind wonder.

For American audiences unfamiliar with the single-named Tintin as a long-running European comics series, the best two-word description of the intrepid teenage reporter’s first-ever feature film is “Tindiana Jones.” The movie’s wildly imaginative car and motorcycle chases, amazingly elaborate sea battles and perilous propeller-plane predicaments are the same sort of Saturday-morning-serial stuff to which director Steven Spielberg first paid homage with Indy back in the ’80s. Now able to use anything-is-possible motion-capture animation technology instead of live action, Spielberg gets to go even bigger with stunts, locations and general mayhem, and he takes full advantage of the opportunity.

Longtime fans of Tintin, whose exploits have been in print for more than 80 years, will be either amused or frustrated by his 21st-century visual makeover. Although the movie’s characters resemble their comics counterparts closely enough to be recognizable, all are much more three-dimensionally human-looking than the simpler pen-and-ink drawings by Tintin creator Hergé (the pseudonym of Belgian writer/artist Georges Remi). Spielberg and company playfully acknowledge the shock of the new with a great sight gag at the beginning of the movie. Tintin is having his portrait painted by a sidewalk artist who looks like the late Hergé. When the artist reveals his work, what’s on the canvas is the primary-color comics version of Tintin.

The Adventures of Tintin - Simon Pegg and Nick Frost
Bumbling detectives Thompson (Simon Pegg) and Thomson (Nick Frost) are confused but on the case © 2011 Paramount Pictures

Jamie Bell voices the independent, resourceful and level-headed young journalist, whose constant companion is a clever white terrier named Snowy. What’s refreshing about Bell’s performance is that he makes Tintin seem smart, mature for his years and utterly “un-cartoonish,” as opposed to goofy or post-modernly ironic. Tintin is the sensible center of the movie, surrounded by over-the-top characters such as the perpetually drunk Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) and a pair of nearly identical bumbling police detectives named Thompson and Thomson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost).

Daniel Craig is dramatically dastardly as the voice of both the villainous Ivan Ivanovich Sakharine and Sakharine’s pirate ancestor Red Rackham. Sakharine is gathering clues that will lead him to a 17th-century sunken ship that was under the command of Captain Haddock’s forebear Sir Francis Haddock (also voiced by Serkis). Flashbacks reveal that the storm-swept confrontation was outrageously epic, with one entire ship swinging pendulum-style above the other when their masts become entangled.

It’s hard not to believe that director Spielberg was more interested in making his first animated feature something special than in directing the less inspired live-action War Horse, which will be in theaters four days after The Adventures of Tintin debuts. Of the two movies, this one is by far the more inspired, original and appealing.

The sparkling screenplay by Steven Moffat (TV’s Doctor Who), Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) combines elements of three Tintin books: The Crab With the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure. The movie ends with a climax that’s both a conclusion and a cliffhanger. A planned sequel will be helmed by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson (who produced and was second-unit director on this installment).

As the ever-enthusiastic Tintin would say, “Great snakes!”

[Rating: 4.5 stars]

The Adventures of Tintin is released in theaters on December 21. The film was released in the UK on October 26 and will be released in Australia on December 26, 2011


James Dawson

Jim is Film Review Online's Los Angeles based reviewer.

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