Only a filmmaker of Steven Spielberg’s stature could convince two rival Hollywood studios to put out two films by him in the same week, and during Christmas, no less. The Adventures of Tintin is based specifically on three 1940s-vintage installments of the famous comics series by a Belgian artist calling himself Hergé. Though the comics are dated from a story standpoint, their artwork remains as accomplished and beautiful as anything drawn today, and you can easily see how their tales of an intrepid, globe-trotting reporter who barely escapes death at least once every five panels would appeal to the guy who made the Indiana Jones movies.
Jamie Bell provides the voice of Tintin, who buys a model ship at a flea market one day and is then surprised when a shadowy professorial type named Sakharine (voiced by Daniel Craig) is willing to kidnap and murder to get his hands on the model. Tintin’s investigations lead him all the way to Morocco, accompanied by his faithful dog Snowy, two bumbling Interpol cops named Thompson and Thomson (voiced by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), and a hard-drinking sea captain named Haddock (voiced with great zest by Andy Serkis) whose family history is inextricably bound up with the model and the hidden treasure that it leads to.
This is Spielberg’s first film as an animation director, and he brings his long-established flair for staging chase sequences. The film has several good ones, but none more awe-inspiring than the complex one through the streets of a Moroccan city, with all the characters fighting for possession of three sheets of paper and involving a bazooka, a burst dam, a trained hawk, and a luxury hotel being carried by a tank. Spielberg also executes some nimble cross-cutting between Haddock’s frenzied, drunken retelling of an old naval battle and the battle itself between Haddock’s naval ancestor and a pirate named Red Rackham (also voiced by Craig). The performance-capture animation by the firm of Weta Digital translates Hergé’s cartoonlike drawings into the polygonal look of modern video games. The three screenwriters, two of whom are talented filmmakers in their own right (Attack the Block’s Joe Cornish and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’s Edgar Wright), provide smart dialogue and pointed humor, even if they do make some regrettable puns on Sakharine’s name. All in all, everyone gets into the swing of Hergé’s irony-free grand adventure.