Rip-roaring, globe-trotting adventure is alive and well in Steven Spielberg's first leap into motion-capture animation. With "The Adventures of Tintin," the director puts his Indiana Jones-style stamp on the Euro-comic hero, an intrepid boy reporter who, with his loyal dog Snowy, embarks on a treasure hunt with a purity of purpose that requires only that you sit back and enjoy the ride.
The Golden Globes and Annies have honored "The Adventures of Tintin" with nominations in the animated category, but this hybrid of performance capture by live actors with animation plus 3-D owes its pedigree to the Pandora sequences of "Avatar." The Spielberg version, in collaboration with Peter Jackson's Weta Digital techno-wizards, takes the 2-D world drawn by Tintin creator Herge (nee George Remi) and adds layers and depth he never could have imagined when he began his comic strip in Belgium, circa 1929. Tintin eventually was translated into dozens of languages, with more than 200 million books sold.
The feature film opens in a marketplace populated by Old World wonders, a wily pickpocket and an artist (the likeness of Herge), who draws a caricature of Tintin in the originator's clear line style. The homage is an Easter egg for fans and suggests a passing of the baton.
Inspired by Herge stories "The Secret of the Unicorn" and "Red Rackham's Treasure," the adventure takes off when Tintin buys a model ship and is immediately beset by others desperate to have it for their own. He's soon pursued by gun-toting thugs and the mysterious Ivanovich Sakharine, who want the ship and the message it's hiding.
The screenplay by Steven Moffat ("Doctor Who"), Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead") and Joe Cornish ("Attack the Block") doesn't allow much time for catching one's breath, and it does not add a back story for Tintin, a redhead with a distinctive cowlick but of unknown age or heritage. We do know that we are in the pre-electronic age and that he is an accomplished reporter because of his apartment full of typewriters and framed newspaper clips.
Jamie Bell gives voice and movement to Tintin and imbues the character with a fierce determination. Mr. Bell reunites with his "King Kong" co-star, Andy Serkis, as Captain Haddock, and his big brother from "Defiance," Daniel Craig as Sakharine. The animation masks their physical appearance, so they look like their cartoon inspirations rather than themselves. In other words, don't expect James Bond to show up. As the bumbling inspectors Thompson and Thomson, buddies Simon Pegg and Nick Frost offer welcome doses of humor to the mix.
The boozy, blustery Haddock is the showiest role and the culmination of a big 2011 for Mr. Serkis, who also voiced the lead elf in "Arthur Christmas" and turned in a lauded performance-capture role as Caesar in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." His Haddock becomes Tintin's less-than-helpful cohort in searching for treasure hidden by the captain's ancestor.
Tintin and Haddock chase clues on land, at sea and in the air and tangle with others who want the treasure, all the while visiting exotic sites inspired by real places, another trait of Herge works.
Mr. Spielberg discovered the characters in the 1980s, when he was meeting with the French press for "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and a reporter compared Tintin to Indiana Jones. The idea of reproducing Tintin as an animated film rather than live action was cemented by the character of Snowy, a wire fox terrier who understands human speech and reacts accordingly. Mr. Jackson was approached about how to render Snowy and, as a longtime fan of Tintin, not only leaped at the chance, he created a featurette with the animated dog and himself as an inebriated Captain Haddock.
Thus, a partnership of industry giants was born that would be true to the original concept of Tintin. The result is an unapologetically PG adventure with no romantic or family entanglements. Deaths, violence and dangerous situations occur throughout, but unlike the likewise PG-rated "Raiders," "Tintin's" animation eases the impact for all but the youngest audience members.
"The Adventures of Tintin," despite the technological marvels behind it, is a throwback to simpler times, when a newspaper comic-strip character could transport readers to other worlds and capture the imagination of a continent. And it's a welcome one.
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