The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn

Paramount Pictures

Review in a Hurry: The graphic novels by Hergé featuring ginger-coiffed boy detective/reporter Tintin really didn't need to be adapted into any other format. They're perfectly drawn cartoon adventure stories as they are, save perhaps for those that have aged badly in terms of racial stereotyping. But if they absolutely had to be made into a movie, we can be glad it's one that's this much fun.

The Bigger Picture: A cynic can look at the motion-capture animation used to render Tintin (Jamie Bell) and pals as computer-generated, semi-realistic caricatures and suspect this was done so that, unlike James Bond, the actors can be perpetually recast without affecting the way the characters look. Should the real-world thespians age noticeably or ask for more money, it's easier to show them the door and maintain series continuity.

The optimist can take Steven Spielberg's word for it and accept that this is the only way to render realistic versions of the comic's cast without having them look like famous actors in costumes. They could point to the fact that Hergé deliberately made Tintin something of a blank slate relative to his enemies and allies so that young readers could more easily project themselves into his shoes, and that creating new, slightly blank faces for the movie versions leads to a similar result.

The average viewer may well not give a damn, and simply wonder if the movie's any good. That it is, provided said viewer isn't a knee-jerk hater of all things 3-D and mo-cap. Set in an indeterminate, mid-20th-century period in an unspecified European country, it sees our young hero (age uncertain, but old enough to legally drink, rent an apartment, and own a firearm) already established as a star reporter. Fans will note numerous "Easter eggs" in the opening credits and the numerous clippings that adorn his walls.

After innocuously buying a model ship at a flea market, Tintin finds himself in a world of trouble when it turns out that the toy boat contains a secret clue to a hidden something-or-other that some nefarious characters would kill for, chief among them the pointy bearded Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig), whose surname belies a far-from-sweet demeanor. Kidnapped and thrust aboard a boat to the Middle East commandeered by the villain, Tintin and his resourceful dog Snowy encounter Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), whom longtime fans know is destined to become the boy's BFF. Haddock, a belligerent alcoholic who frequently reacts to whiskey as though it were spinach to Popeye, is also an integral part of the mystery, and it isn't long before he and Tintin have escaped and embarked upon a grand adventure to beat the villain to the MacGuffin.

When Raiders of the Lost Ark first came out, many French critics compared it to Tintin, sparking a curiosity in Spielberg that ultimately brought us to this point. Thankfully, as with his older films, he has managed to embrace his inner child without dragging along the overly sentimental outer parent he more frequently embodies. Yes, there is some boilerplate Hollywood stuff about being yourself and token finger-wagging at Captain Haddock's drinking, but not as badly as you'd expect. This Tintin is a fun, zippy adventure well under two hours, and Serkis' Haddock is a marvel.

The 180—a Second Opinion: Tintin himself still has that uncanny valley problem of looking a little too much like a toy doll. Again, this may be intentional, but it's also unfortunate.

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