Steven Spielberg is most prominent this holiday season, and here works some movie magic with co-producer Peter Jackson in this very spirited animated adventure based on three comics (including this title) from Belgian artist Herge. The opening credit scroll wonderfully evokes Herge in the same nifty manner used in Spielberg's entertaining live-action Catch Me If You Can.
The motion-capture method of digitally recording actors then overlapping them with CGI into finished characters and sets shouldn't nag as many viewers as back when The Polar Express appeared, but The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn engages a little more from its action and visual touches than on an emotional level (there still may be some "hindsight" difficulties to clear up as the technology advances).
Still, most of Herge's devotees shouldn't be peeved by the script penned by three of them - Joe Cornish, Stephen Moffat, and Edgar Wright - that has Jamie Bell (Jane Eyre and Billy Elliott) voicing Tintin, a brave-hearted journalist. Along with loyal canine Snowy, there's trouble brewing when he procures The Unicorn, a model ship at a local flea market with thugs leering from a distance.
A parchment within the ship's mast puts the boy and dog on a global trek with relentless treasure-hunting Ivan Sakharine, aka Red Rackham, (Daniel Craig) and his aforementioned minions following them. On his side, to a degree, are goofy detectives Thompson (Simon Pegg) and Thompson (Nick Frost), as well as grizzled seaman, one Capt. Haddock (a lifelike Andy Serkis applauded by many for his performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes).
Bell brings some curiosity and inquisitiveness to the role, but isn't as spritely rendered as an often scene-stealing Snowy (though absent are his monologues from the comics). Craig offers an appropriately evil presence, while Pegg and Frost aren't up to their usual droll camaraderie. Again, Serkis rises to the kind of swift excitement on screen that the format provides, in full whiskey-swilling salty bravado.
Spielberg (and Jackson whose WETA visual-effects house is used for the animation) embraces the performance-capture well enough with allusions and wit with some standout set-pieces (as violence continuously lurks on them), most notably a cycle chase in an arid Morocco. Like Super 8 where he was a producer, Spielberg assuredly draws off past glory, in this case, "Raiders of the Lost Ark". He gets solid contributions from his crew, including longtime composer John Williams, adding to the rhythm of some impressively propulsive camerawork. Tintin has a fantastical, bravura climax poised for a sequel which Jackson is to helm and hopefully will continue the joyous beats of a potentially moving and another lucrative franchise for two cinematic stalwarts.