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The Adventures of Tintin: Season One

(USA - HBO, UK - Channel 4, Canada - Family; US DVD: 22 Nov 2011)

Billions of blue blistering barnacles!: Staying true to the ligne clair

The ‘Curious Fox’, Georges Remi, was born in 1907 in Brussels.  His career as a writer and cartoonist covered the most turbulent and violent years of the 20th century. He maintained an outlook towards his work that was always thorough and well-researched. He survived accusations of Nazi collaboration after the Second World War to achieve international renown through his creations: Tintin, Snowy, Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus and Thompson & Thomson.


Remi gave himself the pen-name Hergé, based on the reversal of his initials ‘R.G.’ This title and his nickname of the ‘Curious Fox’ when he was a boy scout help us to relate the origins of his hero, Tintin the Boy Reporter, to his own life. He was proud of the resourcefulness developed when a scout, and admired the research skills and mobility of the investigative journalist. From this he created a body of work that has an attraction like no other. His use of ligne clair: a precise and fluid style of draughtsmanship, marks out the Adventures of Tintin as an interesting combination of the most pure and simple of cartoon worlds but with the most meticulous accuracy.


This animated series mimics with perfect precision the style of the books. Like the books, it’s also fast-paced and tightly plotted. A French/Canadian production it closely replicates, in this Season One release, Tintin’s adventures from The Crab with the Golden Claws through The Calculus Affair. With this structured, chronological approach The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure are dramatised; these are the adventures in which Tintin first encounters Captain Haddock and the Professor.


The characters inhabit a hybrid world of down-to-earth and slapstick humour, delicate realisation of detailed scenes, and a sense of place and time in history and politics that would seem to be wholly out of place in a cartoon series. Yet, somehow it all works. Hergé’s obsession with detail and research provides a ready-made guide for the animators to reproduce the action, albeit in a sometimes stilted fashion. We have become so accustomed to the smoothness of computer-generated cartoons that tradition cel animation seems clumsy at times.


However, Hergé’s style is not compromised. It is apposite to mention now that there are unhappy rumblings from critics about the style that Spielberg has adopted in his new film version of Tintin’s adventures (for example Nicholas Lezard in the Guardian newspaper). Spielberg seems to have departed from the origins somewhat – even rewriting and writing out some of the key roles. Not to mention the loss of the ligne clair. This remains intact here and the characterisations are satisfying and authentic. Colin O’Meara’s voicing of Tintin in the English language version demonstrates all the youthful earnest that one has come to expect from the character.


There have been some attempts to tone down the depiction of Captain Haddock and his drinking bouts, a key feature of the books and the driving force in some of the plots. Similarly, some of Hergé’s stereotyping of nationality and race has been made less prominent. We often want our artists to be heroes as well, and his vision in some cases is undoubtedly out-of-date. But this cartoon series has a freshness and impact that maintains the elegance of the books and shows off a real intelligence.


That is the feeling that remains – they are so damned clever! Each element of the story carries Tintin seamlessly into a new episode of the adventures. He travels from continent to continent using all possible modes of transport – ever resourceful and inventive. He is the true Boy Scout and global citizen.


Tintin has inspired many over the years, and his world is enduring and enticing. It has cropped up in Spielberg’s films: the Indiana Jones series replicates some of the scenes from the books very closely. This led Hergé to endorse the director as the best person for the realisation of his work on screen before he died in 1983. Whatever the outcome and popularity of the new film, this animated version retains the appeal and stays true, from the gorgeous blue of the beautifully simple packaging and the episode trails, to the Tintin aesthetic.


There are no extras with this DVD. Read about the Musee Hergé in Brussels, here.

Rating:

Dr Gabrielle Malcolm is a writer, artist and academic based in the UK. She is known for her publications on Victorian literature and culture and her writing on Shakespeare on stage, TV and Film. She has published alongside writers such as AS Byatt in 'The Dickensian' journal, and her performance art pieces were featured in the Liverpool City of Culture celebrations in 2008, at the Liverpool Tate amongst other venues. Recent publications include a chapter in 'Writing Women of the Fin de Siecle: Authors of Change' (Palgrave McMillan, 2011). She is an avid fan of the Gothic and the Neo-Victorian. Her literary blog 'A Special Mention' has many followers and she can regularly be found tweeting @gabymalcolm, with fellow Shakespeareans and fans of Gene Kelly.


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