The Adventures of Tintin is based on the Belgian comic strips of the same name by Hergé, which have had a strong influence on pop culture adventures in the decades since their initial publication. In 1981, director Steven Spielberg became a fan of Tintin after a critic compared his film Raiders of the Lost Ark to the famed comic stip. Hergé himself – who disliked the Tintin adaptations during his lifetime – believed Spielberg was the only director that could do Tintin justice. It’s fitting then, that when The Adventures of Tintin finally received a major feature film in 2011, it was directed by none other than Steven Spielberg himself. To add a cherry on top, Peter Jackson also had a prominent role with the film as a producer. Suffice to say, Tintin was getting some pretty special treatment.
Tintin would end up being the first animated film directed by Spielberg, as it utilized motion capture technology (though there’s an argument to be made as to how much a motion capture film counts as being animated). Tintin ended up garnering critical acclaim, earning favorable comparisons to Spielberg’s Indiana Jones series.
The film begins when Tintin (Jamie Bell), a young journalist, spots a model ship – the Unicorn – at a market. No sooner does Tintin purchase the ship that he is approached by two separate individuals who want to buy it off him. The first man is in a hurry and warns Tintin to “get out while he still can” before Tintin refuses the offer. The second man, Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig) is more calm and collected, offering Tintin whatever he wants in exchange for the model of the Unicorn, but Tintin still refuses.
Now more curious than ever about the ship, Tintin takes the model home, only for it to be broken by his rambunctious dog Snowy, with an important piece getting lost in the commotion. Tintin’s apartment is later robbed, and the model ship stolen. Thankfully, the thieves couldn’t find the broken piece, which Snowy manages to uncover. This piece contains a small scroll, which promises to reveal the location of the real life Unicorn, and its unfathomable treasures, if the other pieces of the scroll are found.
This leads to a wild series of events for Tintin and Snowy, which sees them taking to land, sea and air in (and avoiding) almost every vehicle imaginable. They go to exotic lands, get into fistfights, and importantly, team up with a washed up sea captain named Haddock (Andy Serkis), who is a slave to the bottle. All the while trying to stay one step ahead of Sakharine and his men, who seek the fortune of the Unicorn for themselves, and are willing to do anything to get it.
The film is a lot of fun, and is one of those action-adventure movies that rarely gives the audience a moment to catch their breath. The Adventures of Tintin is one of those “BANG ZOOM!” rollercoaster type adventures that you rarely see much of anymore (perhaps even less so in the decade since Tintin’s release). I don’t think many would argue against the idea that The Adventures of Tintin is a more worthy successor to the 80s Indiana Jones trilogy than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ever was.
While the action and entertainment value may be consistently satisfying, the animation may be more of a mixed bag for some audiences. Although motion capture may work for visual effects characters in live-action movies, it hasn’t faired so well when using it as the basis for an entire animated film. Live-action films capture reality, animated films capture its essence by making their own reality. By trying to make animation look more real, motion capture films just end up looking artificial.
Thankfully, by the time Tintin rolled around, filmmakers seemed to have learned a bit since the days of the expressionless faces of The Polar Express. The characters here are heavily stylized (Sakharine kind of looks like an exaggerated version of Spielberg himself). They look like Hergés characters but with realistic skin and textures. The stylization certainly helps Tintin be less unintentionally creepy than previous motion capture films, although the ten years since the film’s release have revealed its visuals aren’t necessarily timeless, either. Some of the character’s movements can look stiff and awkward. Definitely an improvement over past efforts in motion capture, but even Tintin might look a little off to some viewers.
Still, I guess it plays all the more to the film’s benefit that The Adventures of Tintin is as fast paced and action packed as it is. You’ll be so swept away by the big set pieces that you likely won’t be thinking too deeply about the visuals while you’re watching the film, and can appreciate the overall look of it at face value.
Adding to the film’s entertainment value is its sense of humor. While Tintin may be aiming to look realistic, it embraces its animated side when it comes to comedy. Snowy being more competent and crafty than the humans, Captain Haddock often stumbling into a solution by sheer accident, things like that. And we even have a duo of bumbling police officers in Thomson and Thompson (Nick Frost and Simon Pegg).
As the icing on the cake, The Adventures of Tintin features a great musical score courtesy of John Williams (this is a Spielberg film, after all). The music really sets the fun tone of the film right out of the gate.
On a more sour note, this film was initially to be the first in a planned trilogy of Tintin movies (the second would have swapped the director and producer roles for Spielberg and Peter Jackson, while a third film would have featured both filmmakers in both roles). But the Tintin sequels seem unlikely by this point. Spielberg and Jackson still bring them up from time to time, but it’s been ten years now. I guess I shouldn’t get my hopes up.
Still, the Tintin movie we did get is a whole lot of fun. The kind of movie you can easily rewatch again and again for the sheer joy of it. It was a visual spectacle upon release in 2011, perhaps less so now. But its sense of excitement and adventure is undeniable.