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The Adventures of Tintin: Destination Moon (Review)

To celebrate the release of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn in the United States later this month, I’ll be taking a look at some of nineties animated television show. Check back daily!

Note: This is our review of the animated episode, check out our review of the book here.

I think that Destination: Moon represents perhaps the most significant challenge to the producers of the animated series so far. While they managed to harvest a plot from the disjointed collection of scenes Hergé knitted together to form Tintin in America, this is the perhaps the least standard instalment of the series they’ve tried to adapt until this point. I’m a big fan of Destination: Moon, reading it as a wonderful optimistic and enthusiastic reflection on mankind’s potential, coming from Hergé after the Second World War. However, it’s also a bit unstructured and episodic, almost a collection of short stories tied together by the plan to send a manned mission to the moon. The animated adaptation doesn’t have the luxury of cutting the adventure down to a single episode, and so it’s a standard two-parter. It seems that there was a bit of difficulty structuring the story for that format.

Blast off!

I think the biggest difficulty in bringing the story to the screen is one of tone. This story is essentially an optimistic and an upbeat adventure. The fact that the next story in the series is Explorers on the Moon removes any hint of suspense. There are problems, of course, including spies and sabotage and unfortunate accidents, but Destination: Moon feels almost whimsical, with Hergé taking considerable time out to have a bit of fun with his characters, and playing various set-ups entirely for laughs.

While the show does some individual gags quite well, it insists on playing the plot itself fairly straightforward. At one point in the adventure, Professor Calculus falls down a hatch and loses his memory. Naturally, the expedition cannot take place without the good scientist’s knowledge and experience, so Captain Haddock conspires to scare the Professor straight, re-awakening his memories and saving the mission. It’s ridiculous, and silly – and Hergé treats it as such. He never tries to create the impression there’s any sort of real risk, and just uses it as an excuse for physical comedy.

And he's flying to the moon and back...

In contrast, the episode gets some of the gags right, but it also struggles to create a sense of danger and suspense about all this. Part of the problem is the way that the episode uses the same dramatic music as every other episode in the series. I love the score, I think it gives a sense of scale to these grand globe-trotting adventures, but it doesn’t suit this episode. It seems to ask us to take the situation entirely seriously, which is a bit much. The direction doesn’t help either, managing to push what had been a silly self-aware amnesia plot twist into full-blown melodrama. The act break comes with a lingering shot of rocket, with the sunset in the background. A scientist observes, as we fade to black, “This is terrible, an absolute disaster!”

This makes me a bit uneasy about how the show will deal with some of the self-parody of later adventures like The Castafiore Emerald and Tintin and the Picaros. I think that the decision to frame the episode as a drama with some elements of comedy, rather than a full-blown comedy-drama, might reflect an insecurity about the audience, as if concerned that kids won’t get the jokes or will tune out because there isn’t an adequate sense of peril. I don’t know if that’s the case, but I think that trying to turn this series of connected segments into a suspense thriller does it a significant disservice.

Haddock suits up...

In fact, even the writing seems to reflect that desire to tie it all together as a thrilling adventure rather than the relatively quiet interlude that Hergé wrote. While Hergé’s plot did feature espionage and sabotage, to the point where it would pay off in the sequel, it never seemed quite as strong a theme as it did here. Perhaps it’s because of the more serious tone of the other interludes, or perhaps it’s because this aspect of the plot is the one that seems to get the most emphasis, but it feels like the attempt to hijack and undermine the space programme are the episode’s plot.

Perhaps, again, it was necessary to anchor the episode in one particular plotline rather than treating it as a collection of scenes, but I can’t help but feel a little disappointed with how they handled it. The show has done such a wonderful job with Hergé’s plot-driven material that I am beginning to worry about how it might deal with the less conventional instalments. Still, I guess there’s only one way to find out.

The scope of the enemy plan has increased...

By the way, the episode apparently featured some 3D animation, mapping the rocket over existing artwork. It was reportedly revolutionary for the time. Perhaps there wasn’t a lot on display here (as compared to Explorers on the Moon), or perhaps I have grown too familiar with it as it became more common in the years that followed, but I didn’t notice anything. I’ll keep my eyes out during the next episode. Other than that, though, the animation continues to be top-notch.

Next stop: the moon!

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