Think of “The Adventures of Tintin” as a song of innocence and experience, able to combine a sweet sense of childlike wonder and pureness of heart with the most worldly and sophisticated of modern technology. More than anything, it’s just a whole lot of fun.
An old-fashioned epic tale of high seas hijinks and derring-do in distant lands, “Tintin” is presented in an up-to-the-minute combination of 3-D computer animation and performance-capture technology and overseen by two filmmakers, director Steven Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson, who’ve always kept their inner children close at hand.
The same can be said for Belgian comic artist Georges Remi, who in 1929 under the pen name Hergé created Tintin, the crime-fighting boy journalist with the upswept ginger hair. Accompanied by his intrepid dog Snowy, Tintin is unflappable and inventive in his unquenchable thirst for solving riddles and righting wrongs.
So much better known overseas that “Adventures” hit theaters in Bulgaria close to two months before its domestic opening, Tintin was the hero of 24 graphic novels that Hergé wrote over nearly 50 years, books that have so far sold 350 million copies in some 80 languages. “The Adventures of Tintin,” written by the all-star team of Steven Moffat (“Doctor Who”), Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”) & Joe Cornish (“Attack the Block”), shrewdly combines plot elements from three Tintin books, with most of the material coming from “The Secret of the Unicorn.”
This Unicorn is not a mythical beast — it’s an impressive 17th century naval vessel, “triple mounted with 50 guns” that has long since gone to Davy Jones’ locker. Tintin (Jamie Bell) spies a model of it at an outdoor market, but no sooner does he purchase the little boat than several people try to buy it from him, including the sinister-looking Ivan Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig).
“You’re about to walk into a whole mess of danger,” the young lad is warned, accurately as it turns out. “These people don’t play nice.”
It turns out that this model, and two others just like it, contain secret messages that could just possibly lead to a fortune in hidden treasure. Sooner than you can say “Great snakes!” (a favorite Tintin expression), our hero is kidnapped and taken aboard a freighter named the Karaboudjan, where he meets the irascible and inebriated Captain Archibald Haddock (the protean Andy Serkis), who against all odds turns out to be a valuable Tintin ally.
Because he leads such an unrealistic life — an adolescent who lives by himself, works for a newspaper, has the morals of a Boy Scout and enough moxie to destroy an airplane with a single bullet — Tintin is especially difficult to pin down on film. But Bell’s natural energy combined with enormous care on the part of the filmmakers has paid off.
It speaks to the elegant detail and vibrant color that characterize Hergé's visual style that Spielberg and Jackson (who have agreed to switch roles if there is a sequel) both fell in love with Tintin before they were able to read his exploits: Spielberg was an adult who didn’t know French and Jackson was a child too young to read any language at all.
Though filming Tintin has been on his mind for decades, Spielberg didn’t move forward until he was convinced that the technology existed to bring Hergé's vivid brand of storytelling to the screen. The performance-capture shoot using real actors was followed by 18 months of painstaking computer animated work to make them and their backgrounds look just so.
That process proved to be just the ticket for Tintin’s exploits, allowing for the creation of a good-humored, high-spirited, almost-modern world that is delicately poised just as it should be halfway between the cartoon and the real. The combination of computer animation and the judicious use of 3-D also allows for scenes and camera movements, especially those involving loop-the-looping aircraft, that don’t look like they’d be possible in the real world.
“The Adventures of Tintin” could be accused of biting off too much, of putting in too many adventures and including unnecessary characters like the fan favorite detective team of Thomson and Thompson. But those are the grumblings of adults. The child in us will be delighted.