Originally, this was supposed to be the year of Steven Spielberg. After all, Spielberg had two major films open within days of each other and, earlier this year, various know-it-all pundits declared that both of these films (along with David Fincher’s dumbed down version of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) would be major awards contenders. This was, of course, before films like Hanna, The Artist, Drive, and The Tree Of Life came out and made Spielberg’s trademark suburban cinematic vision seem almost quaint. Spielberg’s two films — The Adventures of TinTin and War Horse — both very much remain in the hunt for nominations but few seem to be expecting them to actually win anything. Oddly enough, it’s as if Spielberg’s films somehow went from being overrated to underrated before they were even released.
I haven’t seen War Horse yet (and the commercials don’t fill me with hope) but, in the case of TinTin, this is unfortunate because I saw the film on Friday and it’s a perfectly enjoyable animated film that, while never reaching the intertextual heights of Rango or matching the “awww” factor of Puss in Boots , is still a bit more memorable than Pixar’s Cars 2. Based on a Belgian comic book, (which I had never heard of before so don’t expect me to get into the whole debate about whether Spielberg does the original justice) The Adventures of TinTin is about a “boy reporter” named TinTin (voiced by the always likable Jamie Bell) who, along with his adorable dog Snowy, ends up going on a quest for lost treasure. The film plays out like an old-fashioned adventure film with TinTin and Snowy’s quest taking them from one exotic locale to another. Continually, they find themselves getting captured by various bad guys and having to escape in some properly exciting manner. Along with the way, they meet an alcoholic sea captain (voiced by Andy Serkis) and a whole variety of flamboyant characters. My favorite characters were the two well-meaning but inept police detectives, Thompson and Thompson. Thompson and Thompson are voiced by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and the two of them have so much chemistry and play off each other so well that they’re even fun to just listen to.
When I saw The Adventures of TinTin, I was sincerely surprised by how quickly the film moved. Usually, I find that the majority of Spielberg films tend to drag in the middle. Whenever there’s nothing to blow up or an excuse to fill the scene with soaring music conducted by John Williams, Spielberg seems to lose his way as a filmmaker and can almost seem desperate in his attempts to convince us that he’s a serious artist. However, it almost seemed as if The Adventures of TinTin was over before it even started. This is not a film that drags but instead one that cheerfully leaps from one action sequence to another. It’s as if working on an animated film freed Spielberg up from his inherent need to remind us that he’s a respectable filmmaker. For once, he’s willing to just have fun without trying to justify it. Since I was seeing the film with two hyperactive children (my nephew who is five and my niece who is three), I was happy and relieved that the film didn’t have any slow spots. The movie, as a matter of fact, held their attention better than it held mine and all three of us loved Snowy. An important lesson for all aspiring filmmakers: If you’re ever in doubt, always cut to a small animal doing something cute.
Ultimately, TinTin is an enjoyable little film that really doesn’t add up too much. This isn’t another Toy Story 3 or a How To Train Your Dragon. This is not a film to bring tears to your eyes but it’s enjoyable enough and it’s a rare Spielberg film that seems to be unashamed of simply being message-free entertainment.