Created by Belgian artist Georges Rémi – under the more famous pen name Hergé – the celebrated Tintin comics, published over a period between 1929 and 1976, follow the intrepid young journalist of the title and his pet dog snowy as they roam the globe solving crimes and getting into all sorts of trouble. The books have endured and for some continue to court controversy for their perceived racial stereotyping (notably in the colonial romp Tintin in the Congo), whilst at the other extreme obsessive fans have given a term to the rigorous study of all things Tintin: Tintinology. Several animated movies and TV series have been produced over the years, with the most celebrated until now being the French-Canadian animated series of the early 90s. Now, with the imminent release of an ambitious and high-profile CGI feature adaptation from Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, that series (long available on DVD) has come to Blu-ray.
As a child when the series made its début in 1991 – and with a father who could give the Tintinologists a run for their money – I have fond memories of these Saturday morning cartoons. They seemed slightly more adult and complex than other things from the same time slot and they were by and large faithful to the spirit of the source material. The character designs are the same as those in Hergé’s books and some panels are replicated exactly; to me at the time, the series felt like the comics brought to life. But beyond the still excellent opening theme music and energetic title sequence, it seems some things are best left to memory.
It’s not that the 21 adaptations (some comprising of several 20 minutes episodes – giving the set an 840 minute running time) that form this collection are awful – they are actually slightly above average for TV animation of the day – but they have aged poorly and robbed of their original early morning context are far less compelling. The limited animation (with often static background characters) and repeated elements make a lot of it look cheap, whilst the voice acting is also pretty tragic at times and across the board very cheesy (in a way the books aren’t when read in your head). Whilst I can just about get behind the majority of the main cast – with Tintin’s Canadian accent in particular having a naive charm – most supporting characters, and villains in particular, fall prey to ill-advised ethnic stereotyping in a world of broad caricature that somehow seems less offensive on the printed page.
It’s also true that the Tintin of the books is far less wimpy and clean-cut than this sanitised TV version, whilst Haddock’s alcoholism is also understandably played down for youngsters. The main problem though is one of pacing. Despite the fact that bits from the books are omitted due to the restrictions of TV running length (and likely budget), the episodes feel sluggish and for long spells uneventful. They take forever to get moving and moments of action seem to take place in slow-motion as characters’ reactions to events are delayed and car chases meander across the frame. Somehow Hergé’s original static panels feel more dynamic and alive than the animated version here.
More than a little annoying is the fact that almost every episode sees our resolute hero knocked unconscious from behind/held at gunpoint and/or imprisoned at some point. I haven’t read the books for at least a decade and don’t remember whether this is an inherent problem with the source material, but either way it’s faintly ridiculous that this guy – after all these adventures – has still not learnt to look over his shoulder every so often. The humour of the series is also a bit tired: Thompson and Thompson bump into things a lot, Professor Calculus is stone deaf and Haddock is quick to temper, but these archetypes are never exploited in an interesting way within this TV series. The characters feel like thinly-drawn parodies of themselves.
Probably the strongest attribute of the show is that, discounting the posthumously published Tintin and Alph-Art and the first two books later disowned by Hergé (the propagandist Tintin in the Land of the Soviets and the aforementioned Tintin in the Congo), it encompasses relatively faithful adaptations of all Tintin’s adventures – which take him around the world, deep under the sea and even onto the surface of the moon. They are presented here in the order in which the books were published rather than broadcast order, which is also a nice touch.
The strongest episodes undoubtedly occur after The Crab with the Golden Claws, which introduces Captain Haddock. The preceding shows are extremely dull, with a bastardised version of Tintin in America especially poor. Of the post-Haddock shows, the hunt for Red Rackham’s treasure is by far the best story arc of the series, starting with The Secret of the Unicorn and continuing for several episodes. It’s no wonder that this caper will be the focus of the upcoming Spielberg movie, especially as it introduces Calculus and sees Haddock and Tintin set out together on an adventure for the first time as friends.
Ultimately though this is only worth watching for hardcore Tintin completists, ardent 90s cartoon nostalgics or those wishing to introduce young children to the series in anticipation of the new movie. Those who fancy seeing it again twenty years later should hold onto their happy memories or seek out the books themselves.
Nothing to report. There aren’t even subtitles on these episodes, let alone alternate language tracks or even standard animated menus. A documentary contextualising the series and looking at the process of adapting the comics to episodic TV would have been interesting, but there is nothing of that sort here.
The “remastering” that has been done is also pretty weak, with the shows cropped into 16:9 and retaining the hazy, smudged look of earlier DVD releases. This Blu-ray seems to represent a marginal improvement in the image over the earlier those DVDs, but I suspect purists would rather stick to the original aspect ratio than buy this blatant cash-in box set.
The Aventures of Tintin is released on Blu-ray today.