‘The Adventures of Tintin’ (2011) review: Off on another adventure

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‘Tintin’ a story worthy of Spielberg’s vision

In Steven Spielberg’s first animated feature (in 3-D, no less), the eternally boyish director stylishly and energetically brings the classic Hergé comic “The Adventures of Tintin” to life, replacing Hergé’s clean line drawings with stunning motion-capture technology and creating a world strikingly similar to both older films (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”) and newer video games (“Uncharted 3”). However, with hardly any downtime from one crazy adventure to the next (much less time to contemplate what just happened), you’re left breathless as you try to keep up with the intrepid reporter on his globe-trotting mystery.

The creation of Hergé (Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi), Tintin is the charming boy reporter and adventurer who, with his white fox terrier Snowy, has traveled the world since 1929. And while it may have taken Tintin some time before he finally hit Hollywood, he does so with the aplomb only Spielberg can muster. And it doesn’t hurt that Tintin comes handy with his own crew of companions, exotic locales to explore and a sense of curiosity matched only by the world’s best investigative reporters.

Written by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, “The Adventures of Tintin” is a blend of three Hergé books, including “The Secret of the Unicorn.” It begins when Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell) spots a model of a ship, the Unicorn, in a Brussels market. Instantly enamored with its beauty, he buys the model, only to be harassed moments later by an American detective, Barnaby (Joe Starr), and another, seedier character, Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig).

Tintin, sensing a good story, keeps the model, in which he soon finds a riddle that sends him and Snowy off on a grand adventure, from sea to desert and other destinations, including an imaginary Moroccan city, Bagghar.

First, though, they become introduced to Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), the epitome of a drunken sailor. Haddock, one of Tintin’s frequent comrades in adventure, holds the secret to the mystery, though his constant state of drunkenness leaves him unable to recall key details. (For a children’s movie, Spielberg takes an amused view of drinking, even if Tintin constantly berates Haddock.) It’s only later, when Haddock sobers up in the Sahara — in a gorgeous sequence in which crested sand dunes fade away into thunderous ocean waves and back again — does he begin to remember.

Tintin is racing after the riddle of the Unicorn, but mostly he’s chasing mystery for mystery’s sake, one that soon becomes more personal than professional.

What’s less of a mystery is why Spielberg took on Tintin, which he describes as “Indiana Jones for kids.” Having stumbled upon Tintin during the same time “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was released, Spielberg channels past movies into this one, especially a lengthy chase sequence in Bagghar that feels reminiscent of Indy’s equally destructive Cairo chase. And though it may be a fluke, “Tintin” captures the essence of Naughty Dog’s smash-hit video game series “Uncharted” in a way that may attract gamers to see the film. The similarity between the two is truly uncanny, down to the the game’s infamous desert and airboat scenes.

Speaking of uncanny, Bell injects wonder into Tintin’s voice, but it doesn’t help with the character’s looks. Tintin, in particular, possesses an unnatural look to him, falling into what psychologists call the “uncanny valley,” the range where something nonhuman looks just this close to being human. The problem with the technology used is that it’s better for otherworldly creatures or caricatures.

Still, “Tintin” is a fantastic ride, even if you want to shout “Slow down!” to Spielberg. But you could do worse than getting lost in a Speilbergian world, especially one as vividly lush and undeniably entertaining as Tintin’s.

Four reporting stars out of five.

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Above, a scene from "The Adventures of Tintin." (Photo credit: Paramount Pictures)

Above, a scene from “The Adventures of Tintin.” (Photo credit: Paramount Pictures)

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