For me, Tintin falls under the category of Things I Know Very Little About That Are Popular In Europe, next to Mr. Bean, bidets, socialized medicine, and soccer. So I have no preexisting attachment to the character when I report that “The Adventures of Tintin” is a buoyant tale of junior heroics that offers a good bit of fun and may well produce a new generation of fans.
The Belgian lad could probably use some new fans. The old ones must be dying off rapidly, since the character’s been around since 1929, and it’s been 40 years since the last of a handful of European Tintin cartoons was made. The new one, directed by Steven Spielberg and co-produced by Peter Jackson, uses motion-capture technology to create an animated world that’s almost life-like, comfortably bridging the gap between the original comic book drawings and live-action. The people are still a little dead-eyed, but motion-capture has gotten better since “The Polar Express,” seven years ago — heck, since “A Christmas Carol,” two years ago — and the Spielberg/Jackson partnership yields the kind of visually impressive results that you’d expect.
In the film, Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell) is an intrepid teenage journalist in the 1930s who stumbles into an international mystery involving sunken treasure, hidden clues, biplanes, dynamite, and Morse code — all the hallmarks of an adventure tale for boys. Accompanied by his faithful dog Snowy, Tintin ends up shanghaied on a steamer ship whose commander, Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), is so drunk his breath is intoxicating. Haddock and Tintin joins forces to stop the evil Sakharine (Daniel Craig) from gathering the puzzle pieces he needs to locate the treasure, which belonged to Haddock’s grandfather.
That’s the basic plot, culled from three of the original Tintin comic book stories and adapted by veteran U.K. TV writer Steven Moffat (“Dr. Who”), Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz”), and Joe Cornish (“Attack the Block”). The details are standard Saturday matinee fodder; you can see why “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was compared to Tintin when it came out. Spielberg had actually never heard of Tintin when he made “Raiders,” but he became a fan soon afterward, recognizing the similarities between the Belgian boy and Indiana Jones. He’s been trying off and on to make a Tintin movie ever since. Certain scenes vividly recall Indy’s adventures, especially a virtuoso chase sequence through a Moroccan seaside village that’s presented in one long, dizzying take. This marvelous segment would have been impossible in a strictly live-action movie. It’s an example of Spielberg stretching his creative muscles in a new medium, like an artist trying out a new kind of brush.
But though it moves along at a steady pace, “The Adventures of Tintin” is also airy and hollow, almost by-the-numbers. Comical side characters like a pair of bumbling detectives voiced by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost seem to have been included out of obligation, not because they had anything to contribute. The dialogue is amusing but rarely laugh-out-loud funny, and apart from the sequence mentioned in the last paragraph none of the action is especially memorable. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is fine as a see-it-once-and-forget-it lark. I just get the impression it was supposed to be more than that, and it isn’t.
B- (1 hr., 47 min.; )