The Adventures of Tintin

Allow me to wax nostalgic for a moment – not an unusual thing to do when discussing Tintin. For I discovered the beloved graphic novels when I was a wee lad visiting my grandparents in Norway. At the local general store – they really lived in the middle of nowhere, some 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle – I was astounded to find exactly one book for sale in English: the Tintin-starring The Red Sea Sharks.

I read and reread that book some twenty times during my Norwegian summer, so Tintin holds a special place in my heart. But most Americans didn't grow up with Tintin, and that's why, despite the Steven Spielberg/Peter Jackson pedigree, the movie has been a comparative flop stateside. Unsurprisingly, it's made big bucks across Europe and in other countries where Belgian writer/illustrator Hergé's characters are much more familiar.

Like most people, I'm not a fan of motion capture (MoCap), a technology that Tintin relies on. As a former animator, I find it an artless alternative to real, made-from-scratch character animation. It has its uses when blended with live action, but I've avoided fully-animated features that rely on MoCap because of the so-called "uncanny valley" – the term that describes hyperreal humanoid characters betrayed by creepy, soulless eyes.

The facial expressions in Tintin are actually pretty good, but there's still something missing, and I think I know what it is: When you watch an animated feature, you expect the characters' movements to be exaggerated. It's a cartoon, after all! But MoCap is based on real human movements by real actors. And those movements look stilted and formal within a fully animated environment. (The Tintin characters' faces and bodies are pretty closely modeled on Hergé's highly flexible cartoons, so their restricted movements here are especially noticeable.) For me this proved consistently distracting while watching the movie, and for that reason alone I can't recommend it, because it seriously detracts from the fun and excitement that the story (a pastiche of three Tintin books) has to offer.

Spielberg's visual talents and knack for suspense are still strong, but the awkwardness of the animation actually makes the storyline itself feel mechanical, and on several occasions I could predict the plot twists far in advance. A well-paced action movie like Tintin should leave me so breathless that I don't have time to think about what's coming next. Still, the movie is entertaining to a degree. It just hasn't won me over to the MoCap dark side. I can't help but think that if it were a Pixar-type film, with the characters animated from scratch, then it would have been a significantly more satisfying movie.