We should stop referring to great action films as “thrill rides,” not only because it’s a cliche, but also because no other film can match The Adventures of Tintin. Tintin (Jamie Bell), a bold young reporter on a quest for lost wealth with the help of his dog Snowy and the washed-up Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), never ceases to amaze.
There’s the stunningly realistic representation of distant locations in the past, from a European port town to the Sahara desert to a North African metropolis that hasn’t aged a day despite a decade of technological advances. Then there’s the action—fencing matches with industrial cranes, a pirate ship swinging from its quarry’s mast as cutthroats jump from one deck to the next, and a chase between a falcon and a motorcycle that morphs into a unicycle — that director Steven Spielberg fills that world with. That isn’t even taking into account the tank that transforms a hotel into a mobile fortification.
Tintin in Tibet HD | The Adventures of Tintin
In other words, it has everything that kids will like, but if adults can get their jaws off the floor long enough to slow down and analyze the intricacies, they’ll discover plenty of subtler pleasures to keep them interested. Just a few of them are listed here.
A cameo appearance is made by Tintin’s creator.
Since Belgian cartoonist Hergé first illustrated Tintin for the children’s magazine Le Petit Vingtiéme in 1929, Tintin’s comic book adventures have captivated audiences all over the world. If you recognize that name, it’s because it appears in the movie. What location are you in? The dying Interpol agent spells out a final message for the hero on the newspaper masthead. That’s just the start of Spielberg’s references to Tintin for adults who grew up with the character’s adventures.
Hergé’s fingerprints can be found in almost every scene of The Adventures of Tintin, albeit some are more literal than others. Tintin is first seen waiting for a caricature at a flea market. “I believe I’ve drawn you before,” the artist says, and he is correct. Hergé himself looks exactly like the caricaturist. He then gives Tintin a portrait that looks just like our hero in the novels — a simple, smiley-face-like image that’s a far cry from the motion-capture-assisted detail of the film’s Tintin.
There are more references to be found. The caricaturist is surrounded by portraits of previous clients, all of which are drawn from the original comics and should be recognizable from the endpapers of the Little Brown editions that have kept Tintin in print in the United States for decades.
Easter eggs abound in the credits for Tintin.
Many of the strongest nods to Hergé’s novels occur right at the start of the picture, in a credits sequence animated with silhouettes and vibrant colors in a far more straightforward approach than the film’s breakthrough mo-cap. The stars that erupt from Tintin’s skull when he’s cold-cocked or the original cover of the Secret of the Unicorn story that inspired the film are just a few examples of Hergé’s original art that can be found throughout the film. Tintin is also following the thief of a glowing ball that looks just like the ones from Hergé’s The Seven Crystal Balls, according to the credits.
One scene also takes him to a train station, and if you pause at the right moment, you’ll notice that it’s jam-packed with hidden callbacks, with every destination on the departures board — from the real (Tibet) to the imagined (Syldavia), from the mundane (Hergé’s hometown, Brussels) to the fantastical (Syldavia) (the moon). Tintin chases the bad guys onto a train that whizzes by imagery from the Tintin stories, including the rocket from Destination Moon, the title site from The Black Island, and the Olmec head from Flight 714. There are many more Easter eggs to be found, but we won’t tell you about them all. Simply grab a stack of Tintin books and rewatch the film.
Fans of Tintin will recognize the cows as belonging to a butcher.
Everything in Tintin’s computer-animated world had to be built from the ground up, so it’s only natural that the army of designers and technologists tasked with bringing it to life would crack a few inside jokes. This means you’ll need to keep an eye on any background signage and lettering.
When Captain Allan and his men put Tintin in a container and load him onto their ship, Snowy chases them through the docks, evading traffic and cutting through a cattle enclosure. Snowy goes by “E. Cutts, Butchershop” on his way. Because he sells meat slices, that’s a brilliant pun, and Tintin aficionados will recognize it.
Captain Haddock has been interrupted by phone calls at increasingly inopportune times, which turn out to be the wrong number for Mr. Cutts the butcher, since 1954’s The Calculus Affair. Translators Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner provided the character’s English name, but his French name, Sanzot, is just as punny (boneless).
There are allusions to another well-known adventurer.
Tintin has been around for a long time, but he isn’t the first fictional hero to travel the globe solving riddles. The Adventures of Tintin pays homage to its forefather, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detective Sherlock Holmes.
Mrs. Hudson, Holmes’ longsuffering landlady, was a dowdy old woman who was frequently surprised by Holmes’ eccentricities, according to Doyle’s stories. Mrs. Finch, Tintin’s dowdy old landlady, makes a cameo appearance in The Adventures of Tintin. Mrs. Hudson may learn a thing or two about Tintin’s antics from her laid-back demeanor. “A man has been shot on our porch,” he says. “What, again?” she says.
You may debate whether Mrs. Finch’s appearance is a deliberate reference or not, but a few scenes later, there’s another unmistakable Holmes nod. Tintin climbs up to Captain Haddock’s cabin to get out of the hole where he’s been held by the evil men, but not before tossing Snowy ahead of him. The little white dog isn’t unique, but Haddock is so inebriated that the sight terrifies him, and he exclaims, “The Sumatran huge rat!”
He’s been reading Doyle, it appears. “A ship that is associated with the huge rat of Sumatra, a narrative for which the world is not yet prepared,” Holmes recalls in “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire.” Doyle never penned that story, thus it appears that the world was never prepared for it.
There’s at least one joke that isn’t appropriate for children.
Many of Tintin’s jokes will be lost on children, and there will be others that parents will have to hope their children will not understand. One, in particular, is so nasty that it’s difficult to picture it ever making it to the screen, even in an R-rated film, if it wasn’t so obscure.
Tintin discovers that a storehouse full of materials needed for their escape is actually locked after assisting Haddock in escaping from his cabin (it wasn’t locked, he simply imagined it was), This means he’ll have to sneak into the bunks and steal the keys without rousing the lethal cutthroats. “He was terminated as a shepherd on account of his… animal husbandry,” Haddock tells Tintin specifically about Mr. Kitsch.
That delay, combined with Haddock’s disgusting attitude, suggests there’s something nasty going on, and it’s difficult to believe it’s anything other than some X-rated sheep-shagging. Kitsch is snuggling up with an uneasy rat while he sleeps, which has some unsettling connotations. It’s difficult to conceive how they got away with this, but that’s part of the comedy.