Tintin (yawn) Goes on an Adventure

“The Adventures of Tintin” was … OK. I am SO glad I didn’t spring for 3D or IMAX or any of the other wallet-gouging gimmicks, because then I would be really pissed. It has a nice beginning, and then a really slow and frankly boring middle, a great chase scene which could have wrapped up the movie, and then it continues for at least another half hour – it’s just too damn long for a cartoon.

And no matter what skill went into creating Tintin (and they are formidable), the bottom line is that it is a cartoon. And a strangely disjointed one at that. The animation of our hero Tintin is incredible – the care taken to make his skin, hair, and even fuzzy sweater look real. Some of the same care is exhibited in the creation of the mise-en-scène. And then there are the other characters – Captain Haddock, Tintin’s intrepid terrier Snowy, the comic police duo of Thomson and Thompson – all very cartoony and exaggerated in their looks and movement. Did Spielberg want to remind us we were watching a cartoon, or did he just have his animators spend extra time on Tintin?

Motion capture has come a long way since the creepy characters of “Polar Express,” but for the most part, we are still looking at cartoons, which, the more ‘realistic’ they become, somehow become even less and less human. A line-drawn Bugs Bunny can still express more personality with a stylized smirk and eyebrow than the exquisitely rendered Tintin. I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone involved in making the movie didn’t step back a moment and ask themselves – why are we hiring tons of computer geniuses and animators to do what we have already done in live action movies – thrilling chase scenes? As cool as the scene is with Snowy and Tintin dodging cars as they try to pursue a pickpocket through busy traffic, wouldn’t that have been three times as thrilling if they had pulled that off with stunts and live action?

Daniel Craig on his motion capture experience (from Esquire Magazine): “Craig reports that he’s pleased by the final product, though he says it’s hard to remember what he expected, since they filmed his part two years before. ‘We shot it in mo-cap. Which is like: Fuck me, I’m literally in a leotard with a fucking helmet on, and a camera strapped to it. It’s Steven Spielberg, so every fucker in the world comes to visit. Fincher comes to visit. Clint fucking Eastwood comes to visit. It was just like, are you kidding me? I’m gonna meet these people dressed like this? Playing a pirate, wearing a leotard and a camera? Really?’”

The plot of “The Adventures of Tintin” concerns search for treasure involving an ancestor of Captain’s Haddock. Tintin, who can’t resist a good story, pursues answers while constantly exposing himself to danger on the sea, in the air, and on land. I found the story and mystery pretty lacking and uninvolving. I know it was just an excuse to create some set pieces, but this is Spielberg and Peter Jackson and Steven Moffat. They should have come up with a better mystery. And they didn’t “dumb it down” for kids. the movie is hardly for kids at all. Tintin has gunfights and gets into some real peril that little kids would find quite frightening.

Good points: There are some very funny moments and some great risky chase scenes, especially featuring Snowy who really steals the show. The voice talent is also good. Jamie Bell does a nice job with Tintin, as does Andy Serkis and Daniel Craig, with Captain Haddock and the villain Sakharine. The opening credit sequence is fun and full of original Tintin images, and there is a nice homage to illustrator Hergé in the first few moments of the film.

There also was not one significant female character. An opera singer is brought on near the end, but she is clearly a figure of fun and not a character anyone could relate to. Little girls might feel a bit left out with this movie. The only character they might get excited about would be Snowy. This is of course not Spielberg’s fault, as he is staying close to Hergé, and Tintin is the ultimate boy adventurer. Girls do love Tintin comics, so maybe this won’t be such a problem.

So who exactly is “The Adventures of Tintin” for? Fans of the comic may have a problem with all of the “realistic” animation. Kids younger than seven are really too young for it. Kids seven to eleven might be bored by the mystery (I have to admit that the over-long sequence in the dark and not very visually appealing ship’s hold had my eyes closing and my head nodding at times. Kids eleven and up are probably at the latest “Mission Impossible.”

The chase scene set in Morocco is of course making everyone compare Tintin to Indiana Jones There are some Rube Goldbergian aspects to the chase that bring those movies to mind, but it also made me immediately think of “Kung Fu Panda 2’s” recent rollercoaster-like chase scene. I guess it’s hard to be original, even for Spielberg.

My take-away:

Two hours is way too long for an animated film (especially one without much of a plot).
Motion capture can be cool – in very small doses. The longer you look at it, the creepier the characters become.
Why did Spielberg feel compelled to release two family films around the holidays that can’t really be viewed by the whole family?
I am looking forward to viewing the Tintin DVD I got my mom – with animation that looks more like the original Hergé illustrations.

I asked the kid critic, which did you like better …

“Tintin” or “Arthur Christmas?” She answered “Tintin.” For me it’s “Arthur Christmas,” hands down.
“Tintin” or “Sherlock Holmes?” “Sherlock.”
“Tintin” or “Tangled?” “Tangled.”

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