Excerpt from my “Attack The Block” review posted on December 2nd, 2011:
“As it turns out, [Joe] Cornish also collaborated with fellow Brit, Edgar Wright [...] to produce the script for the animated epic, “The Adventures Of Tintin,” which is due out in less than a month from the time I post this. With the creative minds of Steven Spielberg (as director), Peter Jackson (as producer), Edgar Wright and now Joe Cornish under one project, it had better be something great. Otherwise, let’s just say it won’t be the Block I’m attackin’.”
The time has finally come for me to critique “The Adventures Of Tintin,” an animated collaboration between a dream team comprised of Steven Spielberg (as director), Peter Jackson (as producer), Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish (both writers). While the final result does not quite live up to the reputations of the brilliant people behind it (and it would be hard to), “Tintin” is still a rousing animated tale that gives most modern adventure movies a run for their money.
Frankly, the year of 2011 has been unusually slack in the area of animated films. Pixar suffered its first critical fall from the mountain of animation superiority with the disappointing sequel “Cars 2,” “Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil” proved to be somehow even less enchanting than its five-year-old precursor, and “Rango” wore out its welcome after the first act ended. Sure, Dreamworks has been at least somewhat consistent with “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Puss in Boots,” but neither one, nor really any other effort this year, stood out to me as tremendous entertainment. My vote for Best Animated Feature come award show season easily goes to this one.
“The Adventures Of Tintin” is the kind of movie that mirthfully indulges in the essences that make top-quality blockbuster entertainment. No wonder. The project was assembled by a group of people that communally love movies, respect movies, and have a sure idea of what makes great movies so great. Steven Spielberg…like I even need to explain. The guy is THE filmmaking legend and basically the pioneer of modern cinema (for better and for worse). Peter Jackson is the genius behind the “Lord Of The Rings” franchise who faithfully captured J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth universe on film and reignited the public’s interest in fantasy adventure. Edgar Wright is an avid film buff, and has employed his far-reaching film appreciation in his works as writer-director, which include “Shaun Of The Dead” and “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.” Like “Super 8,” “Tintin” feels almost patently Spielberg…but that is not necessarily a bad thing.
The title character Tintin (Jamie Bell) is an inquisitive young journalist who, along with his shaggy white dog Snowy, both investigates local criminal activities and covers them as news stories for the paper. While casually pacing the streets of a European street market, Tintin comes across a pristine model replica of a legendary ship called the Unicorn and purchases it at quite a bargain. But as Tintin soon finds out, just about every other shady-looking person in town expresses interest in the ship, some of them offering to buy it back from him at any price. Our hero resolutely denies all offers and merely wants to keep the priceless collectible as a nice centerpiece for his apartment.
The ship gets bent outta shape shortly after it is taken back home and a mysterious tube slips out of the mast’s clasp, sliding underneath a chest of drawers. Not more than a few days after, the coveted ship is stolen from Tintin’s lodging, his room has been broken into and ransacked from wall to wall and, weirdest of all, somebody is shot and killed right at the building’s doorstep (“Not again,” says the apartment lady). Fortunately, the robbers were not able to locate the missing tube from the mast, which Tintin comes across while perusing his looted quarters. Unfortunately, this is precisely what gets him kidnapped by henchmen of Ivan Sakharine (Daniel Craig), a suspiciously inquiring man who approached him the other day at the market.
Tintin is made an unwilling prisoner aboard the SS Karaboudjan, which the wicked Sakharine commandeers with an iron fist. Escaping the watchful eye of the ship’s bumbling crew, he finds another troubled soul being held as prisoner, the whiskey-swilling Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis). As explained in a sequence later on in the film, Haddock is the ancestor of the Unicorn’s old captain Sir Francis Haddock, who is known for blowing his own ship to high heaven just so that pirate invaders could not attain it from him. Lost in the wreckage was a bountiful treasure that sunk to the bottom of the sea, though legend has it that each model Unicorn contains a scroll that holds a clue to the whereabouts of the riches that WERE salvaged.
And big surprise, the scrolls are exactly what Sakharine and his men are searching for, while Haddock is forcibly kept onboard to crack the message scribbled on the pieces of parchment. But Tintin and Snowy will not be cooped up forever on the Karaboudjan. They bring Haddock along to escape the clutches of Sakharine (of course, not before raiding the requisite rum closet for necessary provisions). They escape on a lifeboat, and from there, the race is on to secure the other scrolls and reach the treasure.
The film is adapted from a franchise of comic books and serial strips by Hergé (yes, that’s his pen name) that have reached unparalleled popularity in France and other parts of Europe, though was never able to soar quite as high overseas in the states. Honestly, I had never heard of these stories and this was my introduction to the exploits of Tintin, Snowy and the rest of the colorful gang. As far as first impressions go, this film made me want to get better acquainted with this universe. I was positively captivated by the old-era look and feel, the stylish animation and the mystery/adventure story, which slowly revealed itself inch by inch.
Unlike the traditionally hand-drawn, unambiguously cartooney aesthetic of the comic series (which is cleverly alluded to in the first scene as a painter makes a portrait of the hero that looks just like the original illustration), the film is animated superbly in three dimensions. At times, the animation is so strangely realistic that it is almost does not feel like an animated movie. Other times, certain characters give the impression of sentient comic designs, as with the imbecilic detective duo Thomson and Thompson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, *squeal of happiness). Only seldom do the characters proceed into the uncanny valley of animation (it is mostly just a few facial expressions). In my estimation, this is perhaps the greatest marriage of motion-capture and performance-capture of an animated film to date.
The script by Wright (who I honestly believe is untouchable) and Cornish handles the intriguing story with assurance and poise while punctuating exposition with moments of dry wit and zippy spectacles involving planes, motorcycles, and even entire buildings. There is certainly never a dull moment in the film. Something I often criticize an action movie for is when it forsakes its story in the third act for redundant action setpieces that make for good trailer material. “Tintin” does resort to rapid-fire action at many points, but I’ll be shocked if the filmmakers don’t effectively integrate it in with the story. There is an exceedingly elaborate chase sequence that takes place in an Arabian village that has dozens of things happening all at once, but this scene is actually crucial to the story. The scenario has much at stake and every character action is highly important.
The story at times experiences the occasional lull in urgency, but for what it is, “The Adventures Of Tintin” is an immensely thrilling family adventure movie. The ending inevitably leads to the possibility of a sequel, which I hear is going to become a sure thing after Peter Jackson finishes up his work on “The Hobbit.” As long as the same people are involved the second time around, color me interested.