The Adventures of Tintin (***)

Part of me wishes so hard that Steven Spielberg had opted to film ‘The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn’ as a live action feature instead of motion capture.  My reasoning is this…if it had been live action, this would have been his best straight adventure story in years.  With motion capture however, it feels more like a great extended trailer for a video game.  The heart and soul is missing from it.  Perhaps I’m not as invested in the character as others?  I only know of Tintin from seeing a few cartoons when I was a kid, but he never wowed me.  I’d imagine more people than not here in the U.S. will be thinking along my lines, so Spielberg had his work cut out for him as director (and Peter Jackson as producer) in getting us to think of the journalist/detective in the same way as our European counterparts.  Whatever the case, to me this is just an exciting piece of animation that is one of the better ones of 2011, mostly due to a lack of competition.  It’s entertaining enough, but like ‘War Horse’, it just seems like Spielberg could have spent his time elsewhere on a better project.  At the very least, making it a rousing live action epic instead of a really nice looking cartoon would have been a step in the right direction for me.

This particular adventure concerns Tintin (Jamie Bell), his faithful dog Snowy, and the lush Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) searching for a sunken ship and the treasure attached to it.  It all starts when Tintin buys a model ship and is warned about the danger that it holds.  The actual ship has a connection to Haddock’s past, which leads to them meeting up, but obviously they are not alone in searching for this booty.  Also on the hunt is the villainous Sakharine (Daniel Craig).  They each have a piece of the puzzle for this ship, so the race is on to find the next piece before the other one can.  Also along for the ride at times are bumbling INTERPOL cops Thomson (Nick Frost) and Thompson (Simon Pegg).  There are plenty of set pieces, but it all seems like it would be more compelling if you had more of a stake in Tintin.

The motion capture voice acting is fine and doesn’t ever take you out of the experience, but they don’t really elevate the material at all.  Jamie Bell is earnest and much like a young Indiana Jones in the title role, while Andy Serkis amusingly stumbles around.  Daniel Craig’s voice fits perhaps best as a bad guy, so he’s a highlight.  As for the rest of the cast, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg are almost an inside joke, and the others include Toby Jones and Cary Elwes.  There’s not a whole lot to talk about with the acting, but I suppose it’s a plus that they never take the material down a peg at all.  I just wish they had pushed it up a bit though.  Had it been live action, I feel like I would have connected with them all a bit more.

Steven Spielberg is playing in a new directorial sandbox here, and I think he does fine, if perhaps not quite as good as Martin Scorsese did with ‘Hugo’.  Spielberg has some good creative juices flowing, but it doesn’t feel like a “Steven Spielberg” flick.  At least ‘War Horse’ did.  This one is mostly like the best video game trailer ever.  The script that Spielberg got is co-written by Steven Moffat (the original scribe for the flick), Joe Cornish, and Edgar Wright (who took over once Moffat got tapped to run ‘Doctor Who’), and it’s fine but not extraordinary.  Mainly, it just lacks the heart that you’d expect from Spielberg.  It’s fast paced and a nice enough adventure, but it never reaches that next level.  That last sentence is more or less indicative of the entire project…

Overall, ‘The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn’ is a good time at the movies, but it’s not anything too special or noteworthy.  I wish Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson had simply produced this and let a smaller profile filmmaker actually direct, as it might have lowered expectations a little.  I liked the movie just fine, but I was left strangely cold.  Like I said, it has no heart or soul.  Perhaps I’m being too hard on the flick, but that’s just how I saw it.  In the end, if you’re looking for a family adventure film this holiday season, it’s far from a bad pick.  Give it a shot and if you like Tintin, you’ll like this even more than I did…

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