What SNOW WHITE was to the advancement of hand-drawn animation into a genuine art form, so is THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN to animation derived from motion capture and generated from a computer. Visually, it is a thing of singular and striking beauty. Story-wise, it is just as sublime, presenting a thumping good tale of action and intrigue starring the iconic Belgian comic-book boy reporter and his indispensable terrier companion, Snowy, a dog of impressive intellect and capacity for thinking quickly on his four tiny paws.
Tin Tin (Jaime Bell) stumbles into his adventure with the purchase of a ships model, a three-master called The Golden Unicorn that quickly yields high bids, veiled threats, and a bullet-ridden body on Tin Tins doorstep. Undaunted, Tin Tin sets out to solve the mystery of why Mr. Saccharine (Daniel Craig) is so desperate to posses the model, and of how the good-hearted but dipsomaniacally befuddled Cap. Haddock (Andy Serkis) could possibly be the key to it all. The search whisks them all from Belgium to North Africa, from the barren desert, to the Spanish main, with barely a moment to catch their collective breath.
The resourceful and upbeat Tin Tin is saved from the dull edge of fun-killing nobility thanks to a healthy soupcon of irony courtesy of screenwriters that include Edgar Wright of SHAUN OF THE DEAD fame, and based on several classic Herge stories. Tin Tin is embroiled in a devilishly clever plot that keeps the audience guessing while also being enormously entertained. Edge-of-the-seat in anticipation entertained, to be exact. The dialogue is just as clever, even during action sequences that unfold in ways live-action could never hope to achieve, even with the most cutting-edge CGI. They are kaleidoscopically choreographed with astonishing detail (is that really peach-fuzz on Tin Tins cheek?) and an imagination that takes full advantage of the virtual world at its disposal. That same imagination flirts wryly with the plastic, surreal possibilities of the medium without succumbing to the temptation of using those elements as anything more than grace notes to the film at hand. From a set of mirrors for sale in an open-air market that reflect their surroundings, each as a slightly different angle, to a sea-battle that engages the laws of physics with respect but not slavish devotion, and that morphs from past to present with elegant fluidity, this is a film to be savored, particularly in 3D, which makes its presence felt without resorting to cheap tricks of perspective.
The most successfully executed element, though, and the one on which all others depend, is a sense of both fun and of danger in the story. More than just the nod to the original drawings by Hergé inserted at the beginning, or the shout-out to co-director (with Peter Jackson) Steven Spielbergs JAWS, a shout-out as quick as it is sly, there are stunning cliff-hangers, the close-calls, and wild chases with the possibility of bodily harm viscerally intense.
THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN has a sophisticated appeal beyond fans of the Belgian boy and his dog. It is in a class by itself, transcending pigeon-holes of genre and of skeptics that an institution such as TIN TIN could be transmuted into a new and equally valid form.