'Rama Rating:

The Adventures of Tintin, 8 out of 10

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, 9 out of 10

You wouldn't necessarily expect Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and The Adventures of Tintin to have a whole lot in common other than the fact that they both came out in domestic wide release on the same day.

But beyond the obvious — both are action-adventure films based on existing properties chasing holiday box office dollars — there's a weird type of symmetry at play. After an acclaimed career in animation directing The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille, Ghost Protocol is Brad Bird's first live-action film. Then on the other side of the multiplex, The Adventures of Tintin is the first-ever animated film directed by all-time legend Steven Spielberg.

Both have dabbled in the fields before — Bird co-wrote the screenplay to 1987's Batteries Not Included, and Spielberg has produced animated projects from An American Tail to Animaniacs. But the fact that both films are such successes is a tribute to the notion that talent is talent, no matter where it's applied.


If you know anything about The Adventures of Tintin, it's probably that it's roughly the comic book equivalent of soccer — hugely popular just about everywhere in the world except America, where it's never really permeated the mainstream. Fittingly, the movie's already made $239 million in foreign box office, before even debuting on American screens.

The Adventures of Tintin is an adaptation of three different stories by Hergé — "The Crab with the Golden Claws," "The Secret of the Unicorn" and "Red Rackham's Treasure." Hearing that might give American audiences pause — conjuring up '90s Batman movie-esque thoughts of cramming too many things into one film — but it's rather seamless here, with one narrative intersecting nicely into the next.

Tintin has a geek genre dream team behind it — along with Spielberg, it's produced by Peter Jackson, and features a screenplay by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish — and is keenly respectful to the source material, with no attempt at modernizing the 1940s stories beyond the visual update inherent in the motion-capture animation. Speaking of which, yes: That type of storytelling can tend to have a creepy effect, presenting human characters that look roughly like walking, talking embalmed corpses — the well-documented "uncanny valley."

The good news to report is that the look is much smoother in Tintin, with most characters retaining a recognizably cartoonish charm, thanks in no small part to game performances from actors like title player Jamie Bell. (It's in 3D, too, falling under the category of "pretty cool, but not an absolute necessity to see it in that format.")

With Tintin just now released stateside, it should be interesting to see how American audiences, especially kids, respond to it. It doesn't shy away from "adult" elements — it may be a bit jarring for some to see Tintin pull a gun, or watch Captain Haddock's unabashed alcoholism. Unlike most contemporary cartoons, it's completely devoid of winking "see, the adults have something to laugh at, too!" metahumor — or even any real type of lesson or societal message — and focuses strictly on earnest, globetrotting adventure. It shuffles so eagerly from one action sequence to the next, though, that it plays out almost like a video game — so maybe it won't be lost on kids.


Globetrotting adventure is sort of the whole point of any Mission: Impossible movie, and is prominently on display in Ghost Protocol, with several startlingly impressive location scenes filmed in the IMAX format. So though just a few paragraphs ago Tintin was dismissed as not necessary to see in 3D, the IMAX experience really does enhance Ghost Protocol, much in the same way as The Dark Knight back in 2008.

With a practically conservative four films in 15 years, the Mission: Impossible franchise hasn't exactly overloaded audiences with material, but this one feels like the most Mission: Impossible-y yet, with an emphasis on gadgets and old-school espionage — some of the more out-there aspects, like a mask so technologically advanced it could actually physically transform Tom Cruise into Philip Seymour Hoffman, are taken off the table.

Tom Cruise is back as main character Ethan Hunt, but unlike 2006's Mission: Impossible III, there's much more of a focus on a team dynamic this time around, with the notable inclusion of possible franchise-successor Jeremy Renner, coming across here undeniably appealing, like an action-movie version of Jason Bateman (the simile works even better if you ignore the fact that Jason Bateman has been in a couple of action movies).

Paula Patton — Alan Thicke's daughter-in-law, we feel somehow compelled to note — also makes her franchise debut, holding her own despite not getting as much cool stuff to do as the guys. (One of her main tasks is to — surprise! — seduce a sleazy TV exec with her feminine wiles.) The team is rounded out by Simon Pegg, upgraded beyond his III role as the comic relief tech guy into a full-fledged team member, getting to show off a bit more of an edge while still being plenty funny. Also in the mix: An all-too-short appearance from Lost veteran Josh Holloway.

Of course, solid acting performances are always nice, but not exactly why you buy a ticket for Mission: Impossible. And the action is suitably engaging — advertising has zeroed in on the building-climbing scene in Dubai, and with good reason. It instills the audience with an inescapable "oh crap!" feeling, and, not to harp on it, is especially captivating in IMAX.

The Adventures of Tintin and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol are the right type of escapist entertainment; examples of not only masterful directors working outside their comfort zones, but taking something from another era and presenting it with a distinctly modern flair — and the end result is two worthwhile, family-friendly holiday films, in a season that's already seen excellent fare like Hugo and The Muppets. 

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