It’s not the highest of praise to say Steven Spielberg’s first foray into animation, “The Adventures of Tintin,” is better than his last “Indiana Jones” adventure, but you could do a lot worse than this fast-paced action yarn based on the comics by Belgian artist Herge.

It’s not the highest of praise to say Steven Spielberg’s first foray into animation, “The Adventures of Tintin,” is better than his last “Indiana Jones” adventure, but you could do a lot worse than this fast-paced action yarn based on the comics by Belgian artist Herge.


While Tintin, a young newspaper reporter with a nose for trouble, is largely a European phenomenon, as evidenced by the $240 million the movie has already grossed overseas, the Spielberg name should give the film traction in the U.S., where audiences will be much harder to win over. If they do warm to Tintin, I suspect it will be due to how closely the kid in the towering pompadour resembles a certain whip-toting dude in a fedora. In fact, Tintin could well pass for Indiana’s offspring, given his superior intelligence, clever ingenuity and lethal fighting skills. All of which come in handy when he is inadvertently drawn into a race to recover a lost treasure.


What the kid has that Indiana doesn’t is the advantage of stop-motion animation, which allows Tintin to consistently defy gravity by chasing birds through the sky or falling great distance without acquiring even a scratch. The process, which involves attaching sensors to real actors and then converting their movements into animated characters, a la “The Polar Express,” has never been a favorite of mine. The characters just look too creepy, as if they are trapped in a netherworld between real life and the land of Bugs Bunny. But when it’s converted into 3-D, like it is in “Tintin,” the look is pretty close to mesmerizing.


The 3-D process, applied by Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital (the company that handled all of the effects in “The Lord of the Rings” flicks) not only lends the characters added depth, it also makes the imaginative backgrounds pop, be they set at sea, in a desert or in a crowded cityscape. “Tintin” employs all three environments in telling the tale of Tintin’s search for a long-lost treasure belonging to the drunken, broken-down heir of a surly sea captain named Sir Francis Haddock. Standing in the way is a greedy villain called Sakharine, voiced by Daniel Craig with far more enthusiasm than he exhibits in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” He is indeed animated in more ways than one, but unfortunately the script by a trio of writers is as rote as they come. You always know where the story is headed next, and the ending is practically a forgone conclusion. What holds your interest, at least for much of the first hour, is the spectacular animation, the heart-pounding action and the fine performances by Jamie Bell as Tintin and Andy Serkis as his perpetually sloshed compagnon de voyage, Captain Haddock, the rightful owner of the lost loot.


After a while, though, you start to lose interest and patience, as the story drags on with a series of false endings that severely dilute the film’s impact. Spielberg and company also obsess much too intently on Tintin, inserting him into virtually every scene, often to the detriment of the vastly more entertaining supporting characters like the bumbling, bowler-hatted detectives, Thompson & Thompson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), and Tintin’s adorable scene-stealing mutt, Snowy.


Never, though, do you tire of the dazzling animation or John Williams’ bouncy score, which adds to the film’s old-fashioned sense of adventure. It’s not perfect, but “Tintin” has something other animated flicks don’t. And that’s Spielberg, who even on his worst day can make the mundane seem spectacular. So it is with “The Adventures of Tintin,” a terrific piece of eye candy that always seems to be better than it really is.


THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (PG for adventure action violence some drunkenness and brief smoking.) Featuring the voices of Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. Directed by Steven Spielberg. 2.5 stars out of 4