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.
Of course, for many readers, Tintin is as familiar as Asterix and Ginger Meggs. He 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.
Introducing Tintin to the 21st century also involved some careful re-thinking of the cartoon’s messages. In the original series Haddock is a hopeless but lovable drunk who is never far away from his next bottle. In this version Tintin’s criticisms drive him towards a new level of moderation. Spielberg also seems to have a message of perseverance for a generation addicted to immediate communication, instant gratification and easy success. A setback leaves Tintin slumped in depression, but Haddock challenges his concept of failure:
“Failed? I'll tell you something about failure. You can’t let it defeat you. You hit a wall? You've got to push through it.”
It reminded me strongly of something C.S. Lewis wrote to struggling Christians. Like children we often stumble on our way home and our failures leave us covered in mud. However,
“No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us.”
Seeing how much we need God to get through this world is in fact evidence he’s already drawing us closer. And though Tintin is disheartened by the struggle, Haddock reminds him the treasure he thinks he’s lost can still be found by someone who’s prepared to persevere.
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