January 5, 2012 -- This motion capture animated film from director Steven Spielberg is a dandy adventure yarn with some brilliant visual effects. The story is the result of two extremes, an old story, “The Secret of the Unicorn,” dates back to 1948 (the Belgian comic strip character Tintin dates back to 1929), told using the latest motion capture technology. The computer animation was done by producer Peter Jackson's Weta studio.
Motion capture technology has come a long way since “Polar Express” and these characters appear lifelike with a fair amount of facial expressions. The main character, Tintin, is a little strange. He is supposed to be an adult, but looks like a boy. There is not a lot of character development because the story is basically one headlong chase for hidden treasure, complete with cryptic clues. It all starts when Tintin, a newspaper reporter, buys a model ship, the Unicorn. Unbeknownst to him, the model ship has a clue to the location of a treasure hidden inside.
As often happens in this kind of story, someone else is hot on the trail of the treasure too. A villain, Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine, and his henchmen steal the clue from Tintin and the chase is on. Tintin and his clever little dog, Snowy, try to steal the clue back from Sakharine. They find out there are two more of the model ships, each hiding additional clues to the location of the treasure. All three clues are needed to find the treasure, along with a descendant of the man who hid the treasure in the first place. It turns out that descendant is none other than a perpetually drunken sea captain named Haddock.
Tintin, Haddock and Snowy embark on a globe-trotting chase to find the clues, and the treasure, before Sakharine does. This involves escape from a ship in the ocean, crashing an airplane, a trek across a desert, car chases, fist fights, gun fights and all kinds of stunts. There is very little letup in the action. Along the way, there are some marvelous images, including one where sand dunes in the desert magically transform into a raging ocean with the Unicorn riding the waves in Haddock's imagination.
Reportedly, Spielberg became interested in Tintin when people told him that his film “Raiders of the Lost Ark” reminded them of the stories of Tintin. You can see the similarities between Tintin and Indiana Jones. As a result, Spielberg bought the rights to Tintin following the death of the original author, Hergé (Georges Remi). As expected, this film has been more successful in Europe, where Tintin remains popular, than it has been in the U.S. Even so, it has made over $300 million worldwide, so sequels are possible. It has also garnered some awards for best animated film of the year. It should have received an Academy Award nomination too. I have seen most of the top animated films of the year and I think this one is the best of the lot. It isn't as good as “Coraline” from 2009, or “How to Train Your Dragon” from 2010, or the best of the Pixar films, but I think it is the best animated film of this year. It rates a B.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.