Those who grew up reading Herge’s comic book adventures of Belgian boy reporter Tintin will be delighted with Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation, but newbies will also find plenty to enjoy in the rich animation and witty voice acting.
The plot is simple enough: Tintin buys a cool-looking model ship, only to learn that it contains a secret clue. Before he knows it, he’s caught between the evil Ivan Ivanovich Sakharine and rightful heir Captain Haddock.
This style of animation has come a long way since the uncanny valley experiment of The Polar Express in 2004. What’s impressive is that Tintin, Haddock, and Sakharine don’t resemble their voice actors (Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, and Daniel Craig, respectively), but they do resemble real people. I think this makes it easier to relate to the characters than feeling like we’re just watching a rubber-faced Tom Hanks.
Yeah, did we mention that Daniel Craig plays the villain? It’s completely unexpected for him, but he does a stellar job.
What’s interesting about Tintin himself is that he’s got his weaknesses. There are several instances, played for comedy or high drama, where he’s knocked unconscious and close to death if it weren’t for his faithful dog Snowy—the smart animal sidekick long before Hedwig.
However, I would’ve liked to learn more about this enigmatic young man. We take for granted his archetype status, that in a world of adults he’s a boy (naïve at points but also mature enough to matter-of-factly state that people want to kill him) journalist compelled by a good story. But there’s no background as to how he fell into journalism, nor anything about his parents.
This is the kind of movie where the story takes a backseat to the stunning animation. Sure, a pirate mystery will always snare our attention, but far more compelling is the sequence where Haddock accidentally glugs pure alcohol and is suddenly able to remember a key clue. The scene shifts between his memories of the Unicorn’s shipwreck while in the modern day he jumps onto a picnic table and almost spears poor Tintin, so lost is he in the reality of his retelling.
Even when the story is staying in one place, the chase scenes in the air and on the waves are thrilling. Did we expect any less from a screenplay co-written by Edgar Wright, who brought us the addictive action of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World?
Tintin is a perfectly fun adventure movie—I can’t say anything bad about it, but it didn’t move me as much as other movies of 2011 or even other selections in a similar genre (e.g., Hugo). Where I will commend the filmmakers is in making this adaptation/reimagining palatable for viewers over 10; there’s a surprising amount of violence, with baddies (and a few good guys) getting riddled with bullets and not making it out alive.
The cast is also a big part of making the movie relatable: for instance, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg play bumbling, oblivious policemen Thomson and Thompson, which automatically gives the viewer a sort of shorthand. We know that this duo will be absurdly funny.
In short, Tintin is timeless.
Natalie Zutter is a playwright, foodie, and the co-creator of Leftovers, a webcomic about food trucks in the zombie apocalypse. She’s currently the Associate Editor at Crushable, where she discusses movies, celebrity culture, and internet memes, and one of the Playwrights-in-Residence at True False Theatre. You can find her on Twitter.