Watching "The Adventures of Tintin" gives you the same thrill you felt when you saw "Toy Story" for the first time: Here is a next-gen animated film that builds on everything that has come before to create something new and exciting.
Motion capture has been used everywhere from "The Polar Express" to "Avatar." But in his first foray into animation, director Steven Spielberg uses the technology to achieve something that could be described as cartoonish photo-realism - the images look like impossibly beautiful hand-drawn photographs - and then frees his camera from all earthly constraints.
And the 3-D! Spielberg is the third big-name director (after Wim Wenders and Martin Scorsese) to give the gimmick a try this year, and the results are so extraordinary, they make you wonder if 3-D is a good idea, after all.
This is the first in an intended series of films drawn from the comic books by the Belgian artist Herge. The character of Tintin (played by Jamie Bell), the intrepid reporter who looks like a boy but actually is a man, is a beloved icon around the world but not that well-known in the U.S. That's why the film already has opened in several countries overseas.
Tintin, his dog Snowy and supporting characters including reformed alcoholic Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) will be new to the majority of Americans. And Herge could not have asked for a better introduction. The script draws its plot from three separate books, and there are many in-jokes and appearances by Tintin regulars to delight the hardcore. But a working knowledge of the books is not required to enjoy what Spielberg has pulled off here. When a vendor at an open-air market points at Tintin and shouts "Him? Everybody knows him." the joke works in two ways.
The first action setpiece in "The Adventures of Tintin" comes just a few minutes into the film, a brief bit of business involving Snowy and a cat. From that point on, the sequences get bigger and bigger until an extended motorcycle chase through a city in Morocco, all done in one astonishing take, that is the most thrilling piece of film in any movie this year.
There are sequences in "The Adventures of Tintin" that rival some of the high points in "Raiders of the Lost Ark": Spielberg has no contemporary peer when it comes to cutting action together and finding just the right spot to place his camera, and Tintin gives him an opportunity to indulge his creativity without worrying too much about plot. The story of "The Adventures of Tintin" isn't all that engaging and a bit hard to follow, which makes the film feel more than a little frivolous. But there isn't a moment in the movie when you're not staring at the screen in wonder.
"The Adventures of Tintin" will seem frenetic and exhausting to some viewers, but the movie's relentless pace is a big part of its charm.
This one really is a roller-coaster ride, nothing more and nothing less. You've just never ridden one quite like this before, and seeing it simply won't be the same outside the theater.
Start lining up now.