While there are an infinite number of stories that can be told, the number of ways to tell those stories can sometimes feel very limited due to the constraints that come with live actors and the real world. Special effects have raised the bar to amazing levels in recent history, allowing actors to interact believably with computer images, but filmmakers are still dealing with a physical camera that can only be manipulated so far. The ultimate solution, then, is to virtualize everything. While animated features have existed for some time, The Adventures of Tintin blurs the lines of reality the most effectively with amazing art and breathtaking shots. The genuinely interesting story and endearing characters don’t hurt either.
Based on the Belgian comic books by Hergé, Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell) is a plucky, young journalist who has a knack for solving gigantic mysteries. He’s aided by his ever-faithful and equally courageous dog, Snowy. Here, Tintin unwittingly stumbles upon adventure when he purchases a model ship wanted by several interested parties, including an imposing collector named Ivanovich Sakharine (voiced by Daniel Craig). Tintin quickly realizes that his model ship is a piece of a three-part puzzle that Ivanovich will do anything to solve, including kidnapping Tintin for the information he knows. Trapped on a boat heading for parts unknown, Tintin discovers that the ship’s crew has mutinied against the captain, Haddock (voiced by Andy Serkis), and trapped him in his cabin. Together they set out to escape their predicament and try to get to the bottom of this international mystery before Ivanovich can.
Watching The Adventures of Tintin is like catching a glimpse of movies from the future. Every aspect of the film is maxed out, ranging from performances to the cinematography. By consolidating the creativity and minimizing variables, the filmmakers were able to present a highly polished product that will absolutely astound. Extras never do anything that pulls focus, actors all emote appropriately and everyone appears to be 100% committed. This is a rarity in pure live-action movies, but is an everyday occurrence in this hybrid-medium.
The power of animation truly shines in the cinematography. The boundlessness of the medium is apparent in every perfectly timed action sequence, with scenes showcasing lengthy takes and a camera that whips around the environment with impossible agility. While the shots don’t quite reach the creative heights of Japanese animation’s best, it’s obvious that filmmakers took their newfound freedom and ran with it.
Ultimately, however, The Adventures of Tintin is an animation based on a comic book. Therefore, audiences can expect at least a handful of moments that will remind them that they’re watching a cartoon. Sometimes this works to the film’s advantage for comedy purposes, like when Tintin has to sneak through a room full of sleeping boat crew, sliding back and forth with the ship’s pitch and yaw. Other times, it detracts from the experience, like when a character has to refuel a plane with an alcoholic belch…in midair. Overall, however, Tintin plays it closer to reality than absurdity.
While the presentation is absolutely wonderful — it really is — the story is also engaging to the end. The film is full of juicy characters who have fully developed motivations, histories and arcs. Tintin’s journey takes him to exotic locales and pits him against overwhelming odds. By the end of the film, audiences will truly have experienced an adventure. It’s also pleasant to see that the screenwriters drew several elements from the source material and fans of the literature will marvel at familiar faces brought to life. Surprisingly, the flattest character in the film is Tintin who seems unwaveringly plucky and fearless no matter the circumstances. Early on, he also seems to have an annoying habit of talking to himself since he doesn’t have anyone to interact with except his dog. These grievances, however, are forgivable as being true to the comics and disappear as the film gets going.
As computer graphics continue to progress across the uncanny valley, live actors become less and less necessary. There is an unspoken comfort in watching characters in a film as wholly that character and not a character melded with the actor playing him or her. There are no real life meltdowns, political rants, environmental pleas or nipple slips to mentally block when watching animation. These characters won’t age, get fat or die in between sequels, and since voices are easier to mimic than faces, it’s unlikely that actor fees are going to hold up productions. Here’s hoping that excellent animation like The Adventures of Tintin become more prevalent in the film industry — they’re some of the best and most satisfying ways to tell stories.