After his flat was ransacked and his property stolen, Tintin could have simply reported the matter to police and left the detective work to them. But, well, that’s not the kind of fellow Tintin is. His boy-reporter instincts told him that there was a great story here. And he was determined to root it out.
It all started with a fabulous scale model of an old ship he and his dog pal Snowy spot at an outdoor market. It’s a beautiful triple-masted Man o’ War called the Unicorn. And just as soon as he snatches it up, a rather suspicious looking gent named Sakharine shows up wishing to buy it.
Of course, the man’s impassioned interest drives Tintin to do a little research at the library. And soon the mysterious journey of the Unicorn and her captain, Sir Francis Haddock, begins to unspool before Tintin’s eyes. “There may be something interesting here, Snowy,” he murmurs.
Before you say Belgian waffles three time fast, the young detective is putting together the pieces of Sir Francis’ story—his three sons, three scale models, three sets of clues and the possibility of a bounty measuring 400 weight of gold, jewels and treasure.
So a little ransacking of his flat isn’t going to slow Tintin down. He’s in the hunt. Even if that means he raises the ire of the wrong sort of folks. And he’s subsequently shanghaied in broad daylight. And he’s taken to an old steamer ship. And he’s tied up. And he’s thrown into a cage in the hold.
If anything, this just means he’s getting somewhere. Why, he even overhears a thug say that the captain of the ship is one Archibald Haddock. Surely he’s a descendant of Sir Francis Haddock! All Tintin needs to do is get untied and slip out of this cage.
“So keep chewing those ropes, Snowy. There’s a good boy. Keep chewing!”
Tintin is the heroic sort who won’t flinch from a fight if he believes the cause to be just. And he goes to great lengths to help Captain Haddock reclaim his family fortune. Reflecting on his own failures, Captain Haddock turns to a self-denigrating Tintin and tells him, “There are plenty of people ready to call you a failure. Don’t say it about yourself!”
Given the choice to either surrender his treasure or see his crew killed, Sir Francis gives up the gold. For Snowy’s part, he shows extraordinary courage while pursuing his kidnapped master.
We see a stone statue of Saint John in Sir Francis’ cellar, and there’s a reference to the apostle’s exile on Patmos. “Signs from above” are mentioned. Curses are called down by a villain.
Captain Haddock giggles over the idea that one of the rugged seamen—who’s seen sleeping with a rat cradled in his hand—was kicked off his last ship for showing too much “enthusiasm” for his animal husbandry “hobby.”
Many of the crunching and tumbling situations are played out with cartoon simplicity—including head thumps, drunken bumbles and a whole series of pratfalls that never seem to leave a mark. But there’s a little more to it than that:
An American agent is standing outside Tintin’s door when machine gun fire riddles the door with holes. The man crashes through to the entryway floor and with his last dying effort leaves a message on a newspaper using his own blood. Onboard the steamer ship, thugs chase Tintin, bullets flying in every direction. They use TNT to blow open a cargo door, and Tintin and several thugs exchange punches to the face. Sackharine gives his men permission to break every bone in Tintin’s body if he fails to cooperate. Tintin, for the record, isn’t shy about using his handgun.
A flashback battle between Sir Francis’ crew and Red Rackham and his pirates is a swashbuckling, cannon-blazing affair that includes heated mano a mano sword and knife battles. Men are hammered, stabbed and slashed (small red smears appear on their shirts and vests). Many are forced to walk the plank, plunging into shark-infested waters. The conflict ultimately sinks both ships, leaving all but a few dead.
Captain Haddock, Tintin and Snowy are in a small plane that crash-lands in the desert, sending Tintin smashing headfirst through the cockpit window. Lying unconscious on the nose of the plane, he slides precariously down toward the spinning propeller while Snowy tries desperately to pull him back. Haddock and Sackharine engage in a swordfight of sorts, using giant port cranes to demolish everything around them. The fight goes on until both men end up on the deck of a ship swinging blades, bottles and other makeshift weapons at each other.
We see a sleeping seaman with his eyes open; it’s said that he lost his eyelids in a card game. Another sleeping sailor holds a sharp razor in his hand. At different points in the action, Tintin is hit on the head with various bludgeons.
The English profanity “bleeding” shows up once. We also hear “d‑‑ned,” “swear to god” and “all h‑‑‑ broke loose.”
Captain Haddock is a drunkard. In fact he’s spent so much of his life inebriated that he’s burned out his memory. We see him filling his pockets with and swigging hard from any number of bottles of booze, including one of medicinal alcohol. Haddock is such a souse that his belch keeps a combustion engine running for a short while.
The movie therefore regularly uses Haddock’s alcoholism as a comic foil to the action at hand. That’s despite the fact that Tintin makes it very clear the Captain’s never-ending thirst is badly hurting him and repeatedly attempts to sober him up.
Snowy, for his part, accidentally ingests some of the medicinal alcohol. Bleary eyed, he tries to come back for more.
Thugs hold a chloroform-doused cloth over Tintin’s face. The Unicorn’s original cargo was said to be rum and tobacco. After an explosion, a rack full of champagne bottles pop their corks.
A pickpocket slips his way through a crowded marketplace, stealing as he goes.
If the celluloid spirit of the intrepid adventurer Indiana Jones could be peeled off a movie reel, pumped up with a shot of espresso, reshaped into the form of an animated boy-reporter and sent off on a rollercoaster ride that spanned the globe … The Adventures of Tintin would be the result.
I’ve heard it said that director Steven Spielberg was actually inspired by the classic European comic book serial Tintin when he was making his rollicking Indy flicks. So I guess it only makes sense that his adaptation of that muse would end up being such an animated thrill ride.
Like many a thrill ride, though, this one has its ups and its downs.
The ups: This PG-rated flick stays soundly tethered to its teen-friendly source material. Profanity is limited to isolated (mild) interjections. And toilet-bound wisecracks have gone missing altogether. The eye-popping animation is a visual feast, with computer-generated images that immediately recall The Polar Express and Disney’s latest version of A Christmas Carol. But Tintin goes further than those films. So much further, in fact, that some critics will be calling this a whole new motion-capture era.
The weightlessness in between: Based loosely on parts of three different Tintin tales, the adrenaline-inducing action begins with a mysterious murder and soars from there through gun battles on a steamer ship to a plane crash in the Sahara to raucous car chases through the crowded streets of Morocco to a fiery pirate battle on the high seas—all with barely a breath to spare along the way.
The downs: That frantic pace doesn’t give us enough time to actually get to know or really care about the hero. So things can feel a little emotionless by movie’s end. And when it comes to content, the comic books from the 1930s may have steered clear of foul language, but they didn’t even blink at free-flowing alcohol or having a pistol put in your face. The movie follows right along. Captain Haddock’s drunkenness is (intermittently) pointed to as a detriment, but his constant swigging is more regularly played for laughs. Meanwhile, rough-and-tumble pummelings, gunfights, swordfights, head-thunks and explosions are relentless.
None of that is anything that would give someone like Tintin or Indiana Jones even a moment’s worth of pause. But neither one of those guys is a parent. They don’t have kids. They wouldn’t know that yours, with popcorn bag in small hands and eyes all a goggle, might not see things that way.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.