Intrepid young reporter Tintin--accompanied by canine pal Snowy, crusty Captain Haddock, dotty Professor Calculus, and bumbling policemen Thomson and Thompson--trudges headlong through seven action-packed adventures.
Believe it or not, this series served as my introduction to the world of Tintin. I’ve been aware of the character--who was created by Belgian cartoonist Hergé and made his first appearance way back in 1929--and his adventures for years, but I’ve never flipped through one of the books (or at least don’t remember doing so), and until now I’d never trained my eyes on any of the movie or TV adaptations.
In my defense, the books (which are more or less compilations of serialized comic strips) weren’t widely available here in the states (a consequence of their limited popularity), and the movie/TV adaptations were even harder to find (especially if you wanted to obtain them via legally sound methods). Truth be told, had Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson not teamed up to give the character his big-screen due, I might very well have gone my whole life in the dark.
The series being offered up here began airing in 1991. It ran for three seasons, adapting several of the titular character’s adventures over the course of thirty-nine episodes. A co-production of France’s Ellipse and Canada’s Nelvana animation houses, the show was a noble attempt to expose these tales to a largely uninitiated American audience, but they’re a little too kid-friendly to do justice to the source material. (I say that as someone whose knowledge of the original strips is based on what I’ve absorbed over the past couple months; knowing the movie was coming didn’t make we want to hurry up and read the books but did make me want to read about them.)
It’s no surprise that some of the less politically correct elements were removed or softened (although I wish they hadn’t been; they’re reflective of the time in which Hergé worked and should be acknowledged as such), but the harder edges of the thrills have been sanded away, with bloodless gunplay and fisticuffs replacing the somewhat realistic action of the original strips. (The show originally ran on HBO, so it seems a bit odd that the material was toned down, but I guess the reach of those spoilsport bozos at Action for Children’s Television extended even further than I thought.)
The stories themselves don’t appear to have been drastically affected in any way by all of this, but it’s very easy to tell where a change has been made, and many of these moments are quite silly. For instance, in one episode a bad guy unloads a machinegun on Tintin and Haddock, and our heroes somehow manage to duck out of the way before the bullets reach them, the rounds doing little more than knock wholes in the wall where Tintin and Haddock had previously been standing, after which the bad guy continues to fire.
The limited animation certainly doesn’t help matters. Nelvana has managed to build quite a reputation for itself over the years, but this is largely due to a handful of visually impressive offerings, such as cult favorite Rock & Rule. But most of its small-screen output has been nothing special, employing the same sort of cheapjack techniques and shortcuts you find in television animation.
Attempts were made to mimic the basic flavor of Hergé’s style, which is something of a plus, but other than that there’s nothing dynamic about the visuals, and that’s a serious minus when you’re dealing with action-centric stories. There’s a ridiculous amount of recycled footage (I winced the second time Thompson and Thomson rushed out of their office, quickly realizing it was reused shots from the first time they’d rushed out of their office), and the lack of “in-between” drawings results in herky-jerky movements and stuttered flow. So while there’s action to spare, it’s more than a little perfunctory and ho-hum, dampening the thrills.
Is this likely to bother little kids? I can’t say. I know it wouldn’t have bothered me when I was very young, just as the cut-rate nature of the junk I used to watch back in the day didn’t bother me (at least until I was exposed to anime, after which I couldn’t help but notice it). But it bothered the adult me, and it could very well be a problem for the likeminded. Hergé’s work appeals to all age groups (its adult followers are legion; there are even scholarly tomes that attempt to dissect and deconstruct it), so it’s only natural to expect any adaptation to try to appeal to all age groups. That’s what I was expecting, but now I know better, so you may want to adjust your own expectations.
For all its flaws, though, the show does make it easy to see why the stories of this beady-eyed youngster with the weird haircut became such a phenomenon. The plots (three of the ones presented here served as inspiration for Spielberg’s movie) are adventures in the classic mode, chockfull of derring-do, narrow scrapes, and even narrower escapes. They rarely stop moving, zipping along at a furious clip. (With one exception, the stories here are two-parters; totaling up to roughly forty-six minutes each, I was surprised by how quickly they flew by.) But the real draw is the characters. Tintin is something of a snooze, especially when compared to his colorful companions, but those companions more than compensate (especially Thompson and Thomson, who are clichés but are both played to the hilt and done to a turn, making them the most memorable part of the whole enterprise).
There’s one final pleasure to be had from immersing yourself in this world, and that’s slowly realizing just how bloody influential it’s been. I’m not sure Doug Wildey ever made mention of drawing inspiration from these stories while he was developing Jonny Quest, but it’s impossible to watch this show and come away thinking the similarities (and I’m not talking about just the dog) were nothing more than coincidence. I know Spielberg has said he knew nothing about Tintin until after he’d made Raiders, but it’s clear either George Lucas or Lawrence Kasdan had absorbed some of it. And it’s clear the enlightened Spielberg used his newfound love in the Indy sequels; the boat chase from Last Crusade is an obvious homage.
There’s a good chance the show will work for those too young to read the books, or those whose parents for some ungodly reason want a sanitized, somewhat dumbed-down version. It may not completely capture the charms of its source material (I’m guessing), but given its limitations and intent, it’s okay enough for what it is.
The series is presented in its original 1.33:1 ratio; the thirteen episodes of this first season are spread across two dual-layer discs. The transfers were undoubtedly culled from a second-generation tape source, as colors are slightly faded and the softness that is something of a hallmark of TV animation of this vintage is more pronounced that you’d expect from a newer master or transfers sourced from the original elements. In other words, it’s pretty much what you’d expect.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, which comes in English and Spanish options. As with the video, what you get here is pretty much what you’d expect. There’s minor separation, effects sound somewhat canned, there’s not much heft to anything, and dialogue is intelligible but colorless. And it doesn’t sound any better coming through a fully tweaked sound system than it does TV speakers. English subtitles are available.
No extras whatsoever are included.
This is a perfectly okay introduction to the world of Tintin--nothing more, nothing less.