There must be some point where you become so successful as a director or a producer that your financial backers stop asking you to send them ideas, and just start mailing you blank cheques. Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson have clearly reached it. Their Boxing Day animation owes more to their nostalgia for a classic 1940s cartoon character than any current hunger. But Spielberg’s feel for the heroic blockbuster is as sure as ever, and The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn seems set for success.
The Adventures of Tintin introduces modern viewers to a young Belgian journalist who has a penchant for following up mysterious stories. Visiting a flea-market with his trusty dog Snowy, Tintin purchases the model of an old sailing ship that contains part of a map to a lost fortune. A villainous aristocrat kidnaps the hero, hoping to get his hands on the parchment. In the process Tintin meets the scotch-swilling Captain Haddock, a fellow prisoner whose ancestor created the map. They escape into the Sahara and a race begins to unite the ancient fragments, solve their riddle and beat a shipload of modern and ancient pirates to the treasure.
Tintin is the creation of cartoonist Georges Rémi, writing under the pen name Hergé, whose graphic stories have been translated into more than 80 languages for over 350 million books. But will his Euro-centric, post World War Two antics appeal to an international market raised on Toy Story and Kung Fu Panda?
Spielberg has been looking at Tintin scripts since the 1980s and originally intended on directing a live-action feature. He contacted Jackson to see if his Weta Productions would work on the film and discovered the producer was another long-term Tintin fan. Jackson convinced Spielberg to do an animation and together they’ve worked to modernize the little Belgian without losing any of his original flare. Their story is a gorgeous 3D animation that still manages to evoke Hergé’s trademark ligne claire (“clear line”) style – not so much in the pictures, but the author’s equally determined focus on a straightforward plot. The Adventures of Tintin are as easy to follow as an Indiana Jones escapade, and just as thrilling. A motorcycle chase through a crowded bazaar had my audience swaying and dodging in their seats as much as any live-action feature. The voice talents of Jamie Bell as Tintin and the addition of Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis and Nick Frost also increases its familiarity.