‘The Adventures of Tintin’: Rubberized

December 21, 2011


Herge’s “Tintin” comics have been huge in France since they were first published in 1929, but have never quite translated to American popularity. In the 1990s, an animated version of Tintin stories showed up on American TV, on Nickelodeon – which was the go-to channel for my kids in those days. But “Tintin” would have ranked well below “Rugrats,” “The Angry Beavers” and “Rocko’s Modern Life” on my sons’ list of favorite shows.

Yet here comes Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, bound and determined to transform the mildly humorous adventures of an intrepid boy reporter into a big-budget computer-animated hit. Unfortunately, they find themselves trapped on the Road to Hell, paving furiously.

“The Adventures of Tintin” is certainly glorious-looking. The filmmakers’ mastery of motion-capture animation, however, can’t compensate for a witless script that blends unimaginative slapstick, weak wordplay and a lavishly complex adventure story that can’t compensate for its lack of excitement. The trio of scriptwriters includes Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) and Joe Cornish (last year’s sleeper hit, “Attack the Block”) – which makes it that much more disappointing.

I’m guessing that true Tintin fans will take a while to adjust to the literal, human characters that Spielberg has imagined. Rather than adapting Herge’s cartoony style – which served him well for lo these many decades – Spielberg tries to make the characters into realistic humans, although ones created digitally from, well, real human actors.

But at least there was something charming about the dotted eyes that made Tintin kin to Little Lulu and her ilk. Keep in mind that Pinocchio was a lot more fun when he was a puppet than a real boy, too.

This Tintin is played by Jamie Bell, who has the right can-do attitude in his voice and physicality. Tintin is walking through a flea market in, apparently, Brussels (Herge’s hometown), when he comes across a model ship that’s on sale for a bargain price. Almost as soon as he buys it, however, several other people try to buy it from him. No sale.

But when Tintin takes it home, it’s stolen from him almost instantly – though the burglars miss the secret metal tube containing a clue to, um, something, which fell out and rolled under a piece of furniture. But Tintin’s white little dog, Snowy, finds it, setting Tintin on the trail of some sort of treasure.

But the plot is an exercise in wasted motion, an opportunity for the green-screen commandoes to drag the hero and his new pal, Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis, the world’s leading motion-capture actor, apparently), all over the world, by airplane, ship and motorcycle, in search of more clues to the treasure’s location. They’re being shadowed by a villain, Sakharine (Daniel Craig), who has a plethora of thugs at his disposal.

But the humor, such as it is, mostly has to do with the dim Captain Haddock’s drunken confusion. And even for an animated film, the action feels pretty generic – even phony, like much of what Indiana Jones did in that last (and worst) film of his.

There are a couple of exceptions. At one point, while lost in the desert, Captain Haddock tells a story of a sea battle involving his and Sakharine’s ancestors. The computerized creation of a pitched battle on angry seas between a pair of sailing ships firing cannons at each other reminds us for a moment that Spielberg is a master at this sort of thing.

So does a chase down a steep narrow road in a Middle Eastern village involving motorcycles, a trained hawk and the rushing waters of a burst dam. And the film’s climactic battle – a duel between giant loading cranes on a shipping dock, which echoes the battle at sea – also raises the pulse in a way that too little of the rest of the film can.

This is kid’s stuff, to be sure, but even kids may be confused and bored by the limp writing and overly complicated plot, which never manages to transform that complication into actual cleverness.

Perhaps Spielberg and Jackson (who produced) simply made “The Adventures of Tintin” to amuse themselves. So, hopefully, at least two people will come out entertained.

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