Tintin Type

Steven Spielberg brings the boy reporter to life in
animated version of The Adventures of Tintin
BUMPY RIDE: Tintin and Captain Haddock crash land in the desert in 'The Adventures of Tintin.' Courtesy Paramount Pictures

THE WORST THING to be said about The Adventures of Tintin is that Andy Sirkis' voice isn't quite what elder ex-kids associate with Captain Archibald Haddock. Paul Frees dubbed the voice of that bibulous captain when the French TV series of the 1950s came to the United States.

Frees' barnacle-encrusted baritone seems as distinctive in the memory as the Cornish accent Robert Newton gave Long John Silver, a catarrh-rich raspiness, a throat-clearing "arrrr," possibly the result of too much exposure to fog or grog.

This time Haddock is a lowland Scotsman (should it not be "Haddoch?"), and he has narrow eyes, indicating occasional amnesia and a perpetual sense of lostness. Thus, Steven Spielberg's insistence on the child within us all is overlaid upon a sea captain second only to Popeye as a brawler, and second to none as a boozer.

Apart from this quibble, everything is terrific. John Williams' novel, small-scale jazz theme accompanies Saul Bass–worthy silhouette animation of Herg–'s characters during the titles. In them, our hero, the intrepid of all intrepids, and his wonder-terrier Snowy pursue a pearl the size of a grapefruit. They chase it through alleys, airports and the machinery of Bob Kane–size giant typewriters.

Then comes the motion-capture animation; justly maligned for its essential wigginess, the technique works here delightfully. It ought to be grotesque to pose a realistic human character next to a character with a knob or banana nose or jumbo ears, but in this vaguely French, vaguely 1950ish backdrop everything fits together.

Jamie Bell voices the famed cub reporter with the frontal cowlick. At the flea market, Tintin purchases a model of the famous man-of-war of 1676, the HMS Unicorn. The purchase turns out to be hazardous. Tintin's wallet gets pinched by a gentleman pickpocket, and he's menaced by a needle-nosed Russian named Ivan Sakharine (Daniel Craig).

Soon Tintin discovers a secret message inside the ship model, and the ball begins rolling in earnest. Tintin is knocked out and shanghaied aboard a rusty freighter. A few decks below our hero sits the ship's rightful captain, imprisoned by paid mutineers and kept tranquil by a constant supply of whiskey.

What follows is a Captains Outrageous kind of journey. Man, boy and dog escape the cutthroats. This segment has lines that show the team rewrite, particularly in the story of the seaman who lost his eyelids ("That was a memorable card game!").

Haddock, Tintin and Snowy survive an open-boat ordeal, a plane crash and a desert crossing. Due to the absence of alcohol, Haddock has what they used to call in the days of psychedelics "an ancestral memory trip," during which Haddock recovers lost memories of his grandfather: master and commander of the actual Unicorn, taken by the infamous buccaneer Red Rackham.

The combat condenses in a few minutes all of the best parts of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies—the seas heavy, the sky afire with lightning, the trussed cannons slamming across the decks. Tangled in the rigging, Rackham's own ship hangs crosswise over the Unicorn, slicing at it like the pendulum in the Poe story.

That's just a sidebar. The mystery (involving Sakharine's secret weapon, the "Milanese Nightingale") is resolved in the desert port of Bagghar. Here one is certain Spielberg's tendency to caricature Arabs is going to get a workout. In fact, the sultan ("a patron of the arts") seems to be artistically modeled on Spielberg, bespectacled and simpering in his palace. The action comes to a carnival finale including a trained falcon and an out-of-control motorcycle.

If Tintin as a character is undynamic, he's got the same thing going on as Jerry Seinfeld or Archie Andrews: He is the steadfast center of a world of peculiar men and uncanny adventure. Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson have made this holiday film much in the mood of the comics and yet without stodginess. The Adventures of Tintin is suffused with antique charm and yet it's a really ripping yarn.

The Adventures of Tintin

PG; 107 min.

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