Fast on its feet, using 3D and motion-capture animation to kick its comedy-adventure into a superhuman gear, Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin is a wittily kineticized adaptation of the internationally loved comic books. Starting (after a blissful globetrotting credit sequence) with a peak-era Blake Edwards vibe of Anglicized continental farce, this adaptation quickly finds the intrepid boy reporter (Jamie Bell) presented with a caricaturist’s portrait in his creator Hergé‘s classic “flat” style. So we’re served notice that, while the script (by three Brit hands from Shaun of the Dead and the last few seasons of Doctor Who) affectionately mashes up three of the paneled 1940s tales, this is not precisely your daddy’s Tintin; with his army of digital alchemists producing breathless chases by air and road, a fiery 16th-century battle with pirates, and chain-reaction slapstick, all within a world where the cartoonish denizens have some humanoid heft, Spielberg has clarified the quiff-topped hero’s identity as a careering European cousin of Indiana Jones. (Even most purists will stifle objections, given the anecdote of Hergé‘s endorsement of the director for this project upon seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark.)
That initial spirit of boulevard-meets-burlesque comedy, enhanced by Tintin’s haughtily inept detective pals Thompson and Thomson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), is a mere palate cleanser, of course. His purchase of a model ship revealing the cryptic clue to a 400-years-hidden treasure’s fate, Tintin finds himself menaced by snarling aristocrat Sakharine (Daniel Craig), then kidnapped with lionhearted fox terrier Snowy for the villain’s booty hunt on the open sea. Teaming up with whisky-loving, rant-prone Captain Haddock (motion-capture all-star Andy Serkis) for an escape and a bad case of the DTs on a trek through the Sahara, Tintin is a cipher aside from his core qualities of pluck and determination, but the colorfully executed silliness (“How did your mind used to work?” “I don’t remember!”) and, most significantly, the hyperactive action sequences keep him accelerating like a pinball wrapped in a blue sweater. The images, from the epic oceanscapes to the spittle flying from Haddock’s rubbery lips, are polished but also free of the aseptic stiffness that marred The Polar Express seven years ago. Among the set pieces, a giddy seaplane chase (leavened with a Jaws gag and centered on the Captain’s belching of rubbing alcohol) and a motorcycle pursuit that catapults Tintin over Moroccan roofs are as accomplished as any of Spielberg’s Indiana Jones climaxes. (A pirate-ship duel between Haddock’s and Sakharine’s ancestors, with both combatants stamping out an explosives fuse multiple times, has the flavor of the Jones cliffhangers and the somewhat unfairly reviled 1941.)
There ultimately isn’t anything meatier to Tintin and Haddock’s quest for lost treasure than souped-up laddish fantasy, but there’s a heartening zest behind these can-you-top-this thrills and mildly rude jokes, usually lacking in the generation of action-blockbuster Spielberg imitators. (The filmmakers are at first brazen, then skittish, about how to treat Haddock’s defining habit in a “drunks aren’t funny” culture; his hand grasping for a stashed bottle is perhaps the most vivid 3D effect aside from the chase scenes.) Though the final portside crane battle between Haddock and Sakharine is a bit clunky and the following wrap-up almost abrupt, The Adventures of Tintin stays sprightly for nearly 90 minutes of state-of-the-art escapism; its director has fashioned the animated equivalent of a rollicking Indy adventure while honoring Hergé‘s buoyant myth.