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The Adventures of Tintin: The Red Sea Sharks (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.

In many ways, The Red Sea Sharks feels like a conclusion to The Adventures of Tintin. Drawing together countless plot threads and supporting characters into one massive confrontation between Tintin and Rastapopoulos, providing some nice set pieces and a tour of the globe, the adventure feels like it’s really wrapping up all the left over bits and pieces the series has accumulated since Cigars of the Pharaoh. The four adventures that followed would have a markedly different tone, to the point where they almost felt like an epilogue, examining what happened after Tintin’s globe-trotting adventures had concluded. The animated adaptation of the episode seems to treat it as an adventure relatively epic in scope, and again makes a surprising case for an unconventional candidate for a potential movie adaptation.

Just plane trouble...

A lot has been written about The Red Sea Sharks. It has been suggested the Hergé wrote the book as part of a retroactive attempt to exonerate himself from various high-profile controversies the series had found itself occasionally wrapped up in. In particular, his book allowed Tintin and Haddock the chance to break up a slavery ring trafficking in Africans, as if to refute the allegations of racism that had been made against the author for earlier work like Tintin in the Congo. I remarked in my review that Hergé didn’t necessarily handle himself especially well in writing those characters, who attack Haddock for trying to save them, as if unfairly blaming Haddock for their captivity.

I’m actually really glad that the animated adaptation drops that aspect of the story, to be honest. I’ve never liked how Hergé drew black characters, with those ridiculous lips and the stereotypical hair. I know it’s a style that was wildly used during the thirties (including, for example, in Looney Tunes), but that only explains the decision – it doesn’t make it any more comfortable to watch or to read. As much as one can contextualise those sorts of things by dismissing them as a sign of the times, it’s still hard to get past such basic issues. It doesn’t help that Hergé was still illustrating the same characters the same way even years after the original controversy.

Alcazar, how bizarre!

The script abandons the slavery aspect completely, perhaps feeling that it isn’t an appropriate topic to broach on a family television show. That itself is a fascinating possibility, because some of the earlier stories dealt with opium smuggling. Instead, the episode tells us “some pretty nasty illegal traffic” is moving through the region. When Tintin and Haddock burst open the hold, they find some Arab prisoners. “We are refugees,” one explains. As well as speaking clearer English than Hergé’s African characters, it’s notable that their racial characteristics are not crudely exaggerated. And when Haddock asks for help running the ship, they do more than menial labour. The bad guys’ plans apparently don’t plan to make these people slaves, but instead just steal their money. “They probably intend to dump them at sea!” Tintin deduces.

It’s not a bad touch. Being honest, I don’t think Hergé handled the race aspect of the issue well enough to justify keeping it. His own defense of his attitudes raises quite a few awkward questions of itself, after all. This is one of the few cases where I’m actually perfectly happy for the animated series to carefully sidestep Hergé’s text, and I think the team actually do a great job with the source material. Indeed, they even keep in some of Hergé’s other ideas and themes, especially with the Marquis’ yatch.

Offering Haddock a sharp rebuke...

The upper class are completely taken in by the sinister ruse, perhaps like Hergé felt he was during his brief flirtation with fascism. It’s liberal fascination expressing itself without any experience to back it up, just abstract theories and concepts. “I’ve always wanted to see real castaways!” one guest shouts as the boat takes on three thirsty fugitives. It doesn’t matter that the three might be dying, they’re an abstract curiosity to the wealthy people on the boat itself.

More than that though, the episode actually catches a lot of fun and excitement, some of which I missed when reading the book, which felt a bit disjointed. In increasing the role of “the Mullpacha”, the team streamline the story enough to allow it work without all the characters and convolutions of Hergé’s story. I actually think this more efficient adaptation suits the source material almost perfectly, and it adds a sense of excitement and urgency to the story that got lost with the ridiculous scale.

There's something on the wing!

And I think the episode actually makes a solid case for this as an epic Tintin adventure story. With less convoluted elements and not feeling the need to fit in every tiny reference, there’s more room to appreciate the trip that takes Tintin around the world. There are also some nice bits of humour, as David Fox continues to put in a solid performance as Haddock. I love the idea of Tintin and Haddock being forced to look after a child, and there’s just something hilarious about the way that Haddock has to steel himself for Abdullah waking up. “That little terror will be up in a moment,” he advises Tintin, as if bracing himself.

There are also some lovely animated sequences. In particular, the crash-landing of the plane ferrying Haddock and Tintin back home is a wonderful little set piece, and I wonder what a big director might do with a moment like that in a film adaptation. Much like The Calculus Affair, I find myself imaging The Red Sea Sharksmore and more as a movie after watching the episode, despite feeling nothing of the sort while reading the book.

Snowy's newest coat...

The Red Sea Sharks is still far from my favourite Tintin story, but this adaptation goes quite a long way towards demonstrating it’s actually quite a worthwhile addition to the canon.

One Response

  1. very excited to see the secret of the unicorn!

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