by Coop Cooper
While Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” received plentiful critical acclaim last year, his other 2011 film missed out on the grandiose fanfare. An animated passion project that took many years to put together, “The Adventures of Tintin” aimed to introduce the beloved French comic strip character to a much wider audience. While Spielberg succeeded in creating a rousing, action-packed film, I doubt anyone but the European market will fall in love with Tintin the character or the buffoons he associates with.
Set somewhere around the 1930’s, boy/man reporter Tintin and his trusty terrier Snowy stumble upon an exceptional model of a ship called “The Unicorn” and he immediately decides to purchase it. A sleazy villain named Sakharine (get it?) attempts to steal it from him, propelling Tintin and Snowy into a mystery that explores the secret behind the actual Unicorn ship and its ancestors who continue to battle over its hidden treasures.
If Tintin is actually a reporter, the audience would never know it. With all the chasing and being chased, he never seems to get any work done. His ridiculously smart dog always seems to figure out the solution to a problem before he does but at least Tintin is at least a bit more clever than the idiotic good guys he forms alliances with. Who needs smarts anyway when you’re packing heat? Yes, the director who digitally changed “E.T.” to replace guns with walkie-talkies in the hands of the bad guys now decides it’s okay to give a cartoon boy a pistol to shoot at the bad guys with. I don’t get it and I honestly don’t understand the appeal behind this corny European comic strip phenomenon.
Fortunately, Spielberg uses the animated aspect of the film to create some fantastically shot and choreographed chase scenes that could never happen in a live-action film. Consider “Tintin” a kids version of “Indiana Jones” only without the heart gouging and melting faces. “Tintin” could potentially prime a younger viewer to become interested in the serial swashbucklers that made “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and its sequels such a hit.
The animation also marks a small leap forward in computer generated imagery. While the characters still occasionally suffer from the “dead eyes” that made such previous attempts at realistic animation so creepy and unnatural, Tintin seems capable of some advanced facial expressions. The characters are stylized and exaggerated caricatures of humans, but the settings look photorealistic. Water moves like real water, shadows fall perfectly into place and other virtual cinematography advancements appear to rival “Avatar” in their execution. If only the designing animators had spent more time trying to make the eyes of the characters bigger and full of life, I might have bought into the experience more.
The character of Tintin is a bore. His dog has more of a story arc than he does and I can only imagine (mostly international) fans of the comic strip would be thrilled to see him on the silver screen. In fact, I’m assuming Spielberg and his backers are counting on a very large foreign market to cover any failures on the domestic front. If it weren’t for all of those fantastic action sequences and the John Williams score, I would have completely tuned out.
Tintin is not without its controversy. Much like the original European “Smurfs” comic strip, vintage comic episodes of the “Tintin” serial contained some racist elements, especially when Africans characters were introduced. Blatant Anti-Semitic story lines didn’t stop a “Smurfs” movie from being made so I doubt “Tintin” will receive any more flak than it has already received on the matter.
Given that “Tintin” ends with an abrupt cliffhanger, Spielberg – or at least the financiers – obviously plan on multiple sequels. With success in the foreign market, they might justify it. I sincerely think Americans, especially the targeted American youths, will be too busy with “Transformers” and “Chipmunks” to care about the further adventures of a plucky Parisian reporter and his dog.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars