By Marty Mulrooney
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is a computer animated film based on The Adventures Of Tintin, a series of European comic books created by Belgian artist Georges Rémi, who wrote under the pen name of Hergé. Directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson, the film is based on three of the original comic books: The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham’s Treasure.
The opening credits of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn are absolutely charming, traditionally animated in a silhouetted style reminiscent of the credits of another highly memorable Spielberg flick, 2002’s Catch Me If You Can. It’s a risky gamble that pays off – a 2D Tintin film could have looked great and these opening credits certainly prove it.
Yet when the film transitions to state-of-the-art computer animation – with a gentle wink to Tintin’s comic book roots raising the first delighted laugh of many – it immediately takes your breath away. The Adventures of Tintin is undoubtedly one of the most accomplished and visually splendid computer animated films ever made, with Weta Digital giving Pixar a serious run for their money.
As the film opens, Tintin (Jamie Bell) and his dog Snowy are browsing an outdoor market when they come across a three-masted model sailing ship, the Unicorn. However, Tintin is not the only one who is interested in this antique: after buying the ship, he is continually pestered by the sinister Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig). What secrets does the Unicorn hold? Elsewhere, a side plot featuring blithering detectives Thomson and Thompson (almost unrecognisably voiced by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) as they pursue a pickpocket blends in very nicely with the main plot.
After discovering a cryptic parchment inside the central mast of the model ship, Tintin and Snowy embark on an adventure that will see them crossing both stormy ocean and sweltering desert before finally reaching the (fictitious) Moroccan port of Bagghar. Along the way, they befriend Captain Haddock (played by Andy Serkis, who steals the entire show), the alcoholic descendant of the legendary Sir Francis Haddock. Together, they must outsmart Sakharine and his men and beat him to the real sunken Unicorn ship, which legend says is filled with priceless treasure…
The chemistry between the understated Tintin and the outrageous Captain Haddock is worth the price of admission alone. The physical comedy is golden throughout, with a midway sequence in a seaplane proving a major highlight. Watching Haddock have a midair drink-off with Snowy is pant-wettingly funny – when he then clumsily climbs outside the plane mid-flight and kick-starts the engine with his alcohol-laden burp fumes, you won’t be able to stop laughing. By contrast, Tintin plays the heroic “straight man”, grounding the wilder moments and making the comedy shine brightly alongside his continual looks of sheer disbelief.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is basically a 107 minute string of stunning setpieces held together by a story that, although not particularly intricate, still hits all the right notes for an adventure film that the whole family can enjoy. Although the final action sequence involving cranes feels somewhat out of place, the majority of Tintin is highly entertaining and thoroughly memorable.
The characters are extremely likable and realistic – the creepy dead eyes of The Polar Express are certainly not a problem here – and the film taken as whole is a visually splendid rollercoaster that never bothers – or needs – to pause for breath. The hinting-at-adventures-to-come ending is only disappointing because it’s just that: the ending. Peter Jackson plans to direct a sequel and in all honesty, it can’t come soon enough. Good, old-fashioned fun complete with a fresh coat of digital paint. Tintin has never looked better.
9 OUT OF 10
All Images © 2011 Sony Pictures Digital Inc. All Rights Reserved.