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The Adventures of Tintin: The Castafiore Emerald (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.

The Castafiore Emeraldis certainly a strange title to adapt for an animated television series. Essentially an excuse for Hergé to play with the assorted tropes and clichés he had established for the series, the story is a mystery that refuses to conform to what Tintin and the audience might expect it to, with each and every avenue of exploration turning into a dead end. As such, it allows Hergé to explore the more personal interactions of his supporting cast (like Haddock and Calculus), while having a bit of fun with his lead character – the boyish reporter. While it makes for an interesting book, I’m not convinced that it could ever really work as an animated episode.

Faithful to the letter...

I wonder why this adventure had to be spread over two episodes. It’s a Tintin story without a plot, so I figured that it would be an adventure covered in a single half-hour instalment, rather than taking up a significant amount of space. Indeed, while Red Rackham’s Treasure and The Shooting Star work reasonably well as one-part adventures, I’d rather that one of them had been extended and this shortened, if only because there really isn’t enough here to sustain two whole episodes. I know that’s entirely the point of Hergé’s story, but it doesn’t work as well in animation, particularly when the story is cut in half.

I remarked in reviewing Destination: Moon that I was worried about how the animation team dealt with comedy, seemingly a bit uncomfortable with the relatively light tone of that instalment. Here, however, the comedy works much better, if only because Hergé wrote The Castafiore Emeraldas an affectionate parody of his own work. So it seems appropriate to use the same overly melodramatic music, and for the team to play up the suspense in what is ultimately a fairly light little mystery, and one that’ only solved in the last minute (or so) of screentime. Each in the series of red herrings is presented by the episode with utmost sincerity, which makes the joke even funnier – it’s as if the show is delivering Hergé’s wittiest story in the most deadpan style possible. It works, and it’s hilarious.

Do not adjust your set...

To be fair to the episodes extended length, even if the split between the two episodes does make it rather irritating, it does afford the show the opportunity to fully develop Hergé’s plot threads, and also to include most of the jokes. There’s a sense that very little is missing. While I would have been happy to lose a little bit for a more streamlined finished product, it means that the best bits of the book are definitely included.

In particular, there’s a wonderful little sequence with Calculus and his new television, which seemed like a surreal inclusion even in an adventure composed entirely of plot tangents. Still, it’s a great bit, and I’m glad to see it here, especially because it actually works better in animation, with the distorted video effects and strange colours seeming like a friendly way of toying with the fourth wall. We’re watching Tintin watching telly, and the signal’s distorted, almost like feedback. There’s only so much recursion that we can take, after all! It’s also nice that it’s this sequence that provides the requisite Hergé cameo, as some of the creator’s most wonderful work came from this sort of playful absurdity.

Haddock takes the fall for this...

The Castafiore Emerald doesn’t work quite as well on screen as it does in print, but it’s not a bad adaptation at all.

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