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Of those heading to the movies this holiday season, plenty should find their way to The Adventures of Tintin. After all, the days off and family overload make the multiplexes very tempting. Add to that the Steven Spielberg directing credit and the motion-capture 3D magic, and it’s no wonder the Ubisoft video-game version hit the shelves before the movie hit the screens.
In those theater seats, a quick and dirty distinction is that some will be new to Tintin, some not. In the U.S., we might guess the native Belgian is not so well known. It’s important to make the distinction, because these two demographics will be seeing two different movies.
The Adventures of Tintin
First, for the newbies: Tintin is primarily for the kids. The puns are bad enough for some children to grasp, which means bad enough to make adults groan. The kids will love the action – so very much action – that often ventures beyond the eye-popping into the ridiculous. One swashbuckling scene in particular seems ready-made for a ride at whichever theme park is in bed with Columbia/Paramount. And there’s an animal sidekick, Snowy. Kids love animal sidekicks.
Second, for the initiated: This could be the kids whose Gen X parents want their offspring to be just a little bit cooler – in that uninterested European way – than their Capri Sun-swilling, Disney-loving peers, and started them early on a diet of Tintin books. (In their original French, of course.) Or it could be the parents themselves, who discovered Tintin during that college study-abroad. It could be quite a few others, too, considering illustrator Hergé began telling his Tintin tales in 1929 – later translated into about a hundred languages. A Tintin figurine even set up residence in the D.C. government’s Wilson Building. Tintin gets around. He has fans far and wide.
Those initiated will be looking for acknowledgment of their devotion. And to a large extent, they get it. Most lovingly is an early scene that has a caricature artist drawing Tintin in Hergé style, which is expanded to include a gallery of all a fan’s favorites. There is the newspaper headline, which will not be as important to fans as the newspaper itself, Le Petit Vingtième, the children’s paper that first featured the youthful reporter with the signature bangs. There are golden crabs galore. On and on, fans will find the cameos.
What they will miss, however, is Snowy. The novices won’t even know what they’re missing. Hergé gave Tintin’s terrier a role that doesn’t translate to the cinema experience. While Snowy only vocalized barks, growls and cries of typical dogs at the hands of Hergé, the books allowed him thought bubbles of a sort. And they were gems. Trying to bring that precious element to the screen would’ve been awkward, at best. To a troubling degree, however, audiences are now denied Snowy’s occasional puzzled observation that, in print, gave readers empathetic comfort. Essentially, ”Tintin, what are you doing? That’s ridiculous.”
But that’s the nature of Tintin: always losing something in translation (the French ”Milou” sounds so much cuter than ”Snowy”), while picking up new fans.
The fans Spielberg and company are aiming for with a blockbuster can be pretty fickle. They demand the razzle-dazzle, which this retooling delivers. It has jettisoned much of the past, which is good. Based on The Secret of the Unicorn, the new narrative sets a course far from the one Hergé plotted. Bianca Castafiore is a Tintin staple, but she was never part of this story. But whereas the latest Star Trek carelessly jettisoned its decades-long legacy, basically claiming the Star Trek universe as it existed too constraining, the Tintin folks’ break with the past is welcome. Some of Hergé’s early 20th century drawings, for example, are considered so racist by today’s standards that books such as 1931’s Tintin in the Congo have been sequestered in adults-only sections of bookstores. If Tintin is to be brought into the 21st century, some of his parts – for both moral and practical reasons – should be left behind.
What remains, at least in this incarnation, is fun. The art is breathtaking, from exotic vistas right down to Captain Haddock’s nostril hairs. Jamie Bell is an ideal voice for Tintin, while Andy Serkis delivers a worthy Haddock. And although there’s no reason to expect Daniel Craig to return to the franchise, his villain’s voice as Ivanovich Sakharine/Red Rackham is seductive.
For the nostalgic, there is Tintin with a wink and a nod. For the newcomers, it’s going to be all about the adventure.