Based on a series of comic books created by the Belgian artist Hergé, The Adventures of Tintin is Steven Spielberg’s first animated film and a perfectly fun way to spend an evening with the family. The story takes place in the 1940s and follows the young journalist Tintin as he finds three model sailing ships of the Unicorn, which contain three parchment scrolls that, when read together, reveal the location of the real-life Unicorn, which sunk to the bottom of the ocean in the seventeenth century.
A single word with which we’ve come to associate some of Spielberg’s best films (especially Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Jurassic Park (1993), and Minority Report (2002)) can be used to describe The Adventures of Tintin: “adventure.” Indeed, Spielberg loads his fast-paced film with enough explosions, sword fights, and chases to more than fill out its running time and entertain adults and kids alike. And John Williams’ score – which, if my counting is accurate, is his twenty-fourth collaboration with Spielberg – is the perfect accompaniment to Spielberg’s action sequences.
Now, some skeptical readers of the previous two paragraphs may ask themselves, “What’s new here?” Or, “Is Spielberg in The Adventures of Tintin just directing on autopilot?” My answer to these questions is that it doesn’t ultimately matter that Spielberg explores familiar terrain in The Adventures of Tintin – no other director handles an action-adventure story in quite the same way. No other director manages to find the perfect mixture of gripping escapades, humor, and mystery with Spielberg’s unique mystique. A lighthearted and truly enjoyable quest film, The Adventures of Tintin is really a throwback to Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
In addition, the excellent voice work, which some tremendous contemporary actors perform, makes Spielberg’s and screenwriters Steven Moffat’s, Edgar Wright’s, and Joe Cornish’s characters come alive. Jamie Bell (2000’s Billy Elliot and 2005’s King Kong) strikes a perfect chord as the enthusiastic, optimistic, brilliant, and somewhat naïve Tintin. Daniel Craig (who played James Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale and 2008’s Quantum of Solace and, most recently, starred in last year’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), has great fun when Spielberg gives him the chance to play the bad guy: Tintin’s nemesis, the evil Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine. Andy Serkis (who played Gollum in 2001-2003’s The Lord of the Rings) delivers a highly comic performance as Tintin’s flashback-prone alcoholic sidekick Captain Haddock. And Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (who collaborated on 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, 2007’s Hot Fuzz, and last year’s Paul) are tremendous as the bumbling, almost identical detectives Thomson and Thompson, a pair of characters whose hilarity equals if it doesn’t even outdo that of Serkis’ Haddock.
The 3D form and mocap animation of The Adventures of Tintin serve Spielberg and the audience well. Even though the animation definitely places the film in a world of fantasy, each character springs off the screen with detailed realism. In addition, the 3D effects involve the audience in the action, making the swashbuckling and sea battle scenes extremely vivid.
Filled with exciting exploits and good humor, The Adventures of Tintin is a terrific Steven Spielberg film. It’s nothing new for him or for us an audience, but it is yet another pitch-perfect quest adventure, which we’ve been lucky enough to come to expect from the master.