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The Adventures of Tintin: Red Rackham’s Treasure (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.

It’s quite strange, given how lukewarm I was to The Secret of the Unicorn, that I am undeniably fond of Red Rackham’s Treasure. At a time when Hergé seemed to be aiming for fantastic escapism, perhaps to avoid dealing with wartime reality, I think that Red Rackham’s Treasure perfectly encapsulates a lot of what was fun about Tintin, at least for my inner child. There’s hidden treasure, untouched tropic islands, walks along the ocean floor, submarines and even a shark attack! It’s all very light and whimsical, but it’s pure adventure all the way through, with a giddy enthusiasm sustaining the narrative.

Pushing the boat out...

Truth be told, I missed this aspect of Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. The film compiled data from three different stories, but I feel that Red Rackham’s Treasure got a bit of a short straw when it came to plot coverage, with relatively little treasure-hunting unfolding during the movie. It’s not a huge complaint, as Spielberg is a deft hand at impressive action sequences, but I do feel that it might have been nice to include some elements of this story.

That said, I can see why Red Rackham’s Treasure might be difficult to adapt. In fact, this animated series only gave the story a half-an-hour to unfold, while most of Tintin’s exploits get the deluxe two-part treatment. Red Rackham’s Treasurefeels consciously odd in that there are no villains. There’s the tight core cast, and the pursuit of mysterious treasure. There’s no sabotage, there’s no conspiracy, there’s no competition. The escape of the Bird brothers from the previous story is mentioned, but only in passing – it’s a plot device to get Thomson and Thompson along. Indeed, a rogue shark attack is perhaps the most exciting plot development, and it’s dealt with fairly quickly and efficiently.

Swimming with sharks...

And, yet, I enjoy it greatly. It’s strange, because I think my younger self objected to the structure and pacing of The Secret of the Unicorn. I think I felt that was always extended a bit further than it should have been, and the story could have been much better structured, feeling relatively sedate. After all, it’s a story about the danger posed by a couple of weird antiques dealers. I think a lot of fans respond to the stately pace, which allows Hergé to broaden and deepen the fictional world he’s creating, but I’ve never been able to engage.

Still, Red Rackham’s Treasureholds my attention, despite being at least as pointless as its predecessor. After all, the entire story is pointless, with the adventure to the tropic island and the wreckage of the Unicorn itself proving fruitless. It turns out that Tintin’s quite familiar with the location of the treasure, even if he never knew it. It isn’t the best way of telling a story, with so much of the cast’s action seeming futile and ineffective in retrospect. Still, I’ll confess that the journey itself is great fun, and that I like the idea of Tintin and Haddock finding fame and fortune by returning to their roots.

Bare bones story...

After all, the ending of Red Rackham’s Treasure sees pair come in to quite the bit of wealth. I think that’s a fascinating European idol – this notion of a life of leisure, where fortunes and title are inherited rather than earned through hard work or dedication. Hell, Tintin isn’t even the most effective reporter in this particular story. Tintin and Haddock effectively inherit their way into the upper echelons of European society, something that Hergé seems strangely comfortable with.

Of course, the start of the next adventure with mock some of Haddock’s new-found pretension, but I think it’s this sort of thing that firmly delineates the approach from American comics – populated with characters working far harder in order to sustain their existence. That said, it’s also interesting to contrast the European attitude to Haddock, Tintin and Nestor the butler living together to that of Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson and Alfred the butler living together. I hopeit indicates a far more open-mind from the European audience, who never lived through anything like the Comic Book Code.

Shark attack!

The animated adaptation is grand. Like Tintin in America, the original story is light enough that we don’t miss any of the omitted material. The picture quality is again superb, after a disappointing transfer on The Secret of the Unicorn. David Fox continues to be awesome as Haddock, although I worry that Colin O’Meara’s Tintin might somehow be growing on me. I’m trying to resist, but it appears to be pointless.

Red Rackham’s Treasure is effectively the third part of The Secret of the Unicorn, but it’s probably the best – at least in my opinion. It’s just good fun, which excuses a largely pointless treasure hunt, with a satisfying conclusion. It’s disappointing Spielberg’s film didn’t capture this aspect of the story, but it’s all here and well worth a look.

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