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The Adventures of Tintin: The Broken Ear (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 have to admit, I was curious about how the animated series would handle some of the more political material Hergé inserted into his work. I admired the way that Cigars of the Pharaoh handled international drug smuggling, but I suspected that broad political satire set in a banana republic might catch some viewers completely off guard. And, to be honest, there’s a lot of other stuff in Hergé’s The Broken Ear that makes it one of the tougher stories to adapt as a cartoon adventure. It’s very close to farce, and while the cartoon acknowledges that this business is a little sillier than usual, it never feels like the episode fully embraces the story it’s trying to tell, instead settling for a fairly generic run-around featuring characters and locales from the origin story.

Spotlight on the fetish...

I should confess, from the outset, that I am not the biggest fan of The Broken Ear. It’s a fine adventure in the middle of a rather wonderful run of them, but I just feel like Hergé did this sort of biting satire so much better in the much later Tintin and the Picaros. It just felt like a rather strange little adventure that never came together, offering any number of witty gags with no cohesive plot to tie it all together.

The animated adaptation decides to avoid the rather heavy political subtext of the adventure, where Hergé explored the sort of revolutions and absurdities that governed South American politics. While General Alcazar does appear here, it’s in a relatively tiny role. Tintin is barely his aide-de-camp before the plot moves on to another action sequence. There’s no hint of the foreign companies funding the constant cycle of revolutions and that whole angle of the plot seems to have been completely abandoned. Given how important that element was to Hergé’s tale, with the eponymous broken ear seeming like window-dressing, it feels slightly surreal.

All washed up...

Instead, the crew behind the animated series play it as a slightly more light-hearted adventure than those around it. Taking the emphasis off the politics means that there’s more time devoted to the idol itself, and one can detect the strong influence of Raiders of the Lost Ark as we’re treated to a flashback concerning “the heart of the jungle”, a mysterious relic with unexplained “healing powers.” Of course, it’s only fitting that the cartoon should feel like an homage to the adventurer, as Lucas and Spielberg created Indy as an affectionate throw-back to those old pulpy serials from the thirties – the type of vibe that early Tintin generated when on good form.

And there’s a fair amount of darkness here. Just as the last few episodes didn’t hold back dealing with drug smuggling, this one plays the cold-blooded murder of Lopez for laughs – as two witless goons happen to mistake the criminal for Tintin and throw him overboard, despite the fact he just so happened to be involved with the scheme in another way. That’s the sort of joke you seldom see on a show for all ages, and I appreciate the willingness to keep jokes like that in. On the other hand, the episode does soften Hergé’s final fate of the two murderous bad guys.

Tintin's firmly in Alcazar's camp...

I do feel a bit disappointed, though, that the television episode doesn’t retain that wonderful sequence from the book where two concurrent assassination attempts on Tintin (while serving Alcazar) end up cancelling one another out. I try not single out individual gags when discussing episodes, but that page is one of my favourites of the collection. Perhaps there was too much back story to fit in, or perhaps Hergé’s wonderful sense of humour would not have translated well to screen. Either way, it’s a shame it had to be left out.

On the other hand, the episode actually does a great job pacing itself – perhaps much better than those around it. It feelslike the first and second parts each naturally tell their own part of the story. The first details Tintin’s trip to South America, while the second deals with his activities when he gets there. It helps both parts seem distinct, while still telling the same story. It is a bit of a disappointment, though, that they couldn’t come up with a better cliffhanger. I think the firing squad would have worked wonders.

An idol to millions...

Hergé’s The Broken Ear never really worked for me because it felt so strange in tone and content measured against those stories around it. This adaptation, on the other hand, has a fairly generic problem – there’s very little in it to help distinguish it from most of the other adventures, with only a little more humour in this tale. It’s a shame, because I think a better balance was possible. Still, I’m very much looking forward to some of the adventures coming up.

3 Responses

  1. Have you any thoughts on the game? I think I’ll stick with my trusty old hardcover comics and give the game adaptation a miss this time! I’d quite like to try the board game though.

    • None actually. Game-playing is sadly a rare occurance for me these days… but I did buy Batman: Arkham City and I kinda fell in love. How could Kevin Conroy’s voice not change in twenty years?

      • Don’t even get me started on that cartoon. Or TMHT. So great and, indeed, a brilliant cast.

        I’ve yet to find a game that replaces the thrill of MS-DOS games or, a little later on, games like Daggerfall. Or even Chip’s Challenge. Just now, I took a look at an early 90s Carmen Sandiego video. My God, I haven’t seen it about 20 years! Warcraft hasn’t a patch on a gem like that.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mduklqelHKI Ah, like…music to my ears 😀 It still gives me the heebie jeebies though. I tried playing Assassin’s Creed a year or two ago, but my heart can’t quite take the stress of games anymore!

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