Film Reviews: “War Horse” / “The Adventures of Tintin”

by Jason LeRoy on December 23, 2011

Sarah Jessica Parker and Jeremy Irvine in WAR HORSE

War Horse

starring: Jeremy Irvine, Peter Mullan, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston, David Kross, David Thewlis

written by: Lee Hall and Richard Curtis

directed by: Steven Spielberg

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of war violence.

The Adventures of Tintin

starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost

written by: Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish

directed by: Steven Spielberg

MPAA: Rated PG for adventure action violence, some drunkenness and brief smoking.

It is not an unusual thing to get two Steven Spielberg films in the same year. This is actually the seventh time it’s happened. On one such year, 1993, Spielberg released two of the biggest and best films of his storied career: Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List. The other years similarly reflect this blockbuster-and-prestige pattern: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Always (1989), The Lost World and Amistad (1997), Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can (2002), and War of the Worlds and Munich (2005). You may notice that many of these years provided mixed results, and that he tends to switch back and forth between serious prestige and schmaltzy prestige. 2011 is decidedly in the mixed-schmaltzy bag. In one corner we have War Horse, one of the most bogus and cloying dramas Spielberg has ever touched. And in the other we have The Adventures of Tintin, a genuinely fun and exciting animated caper of considerable delights.

War Horse began as a novel by Michael Morpurgo, and was adapted into a hugely successful stage play by Nick Stafford. It made ingenious use of puppetry to invoke the presence of the titular horse, and apparently it was a very moving experience (according to Spielberg, who saw it). I’ll have to take everyone’s word for it, because it stinks as a movie with a real horse in it. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but this was an especially insufferable thing to sit through. From its very first moments, it verges obliviously on self-parody; it feels like the kind of prestige-movie parody you’d see in a satire about awards season.

The horse starts out living in the English countryside as the beloved companion of young Albert (cute newcomer Jeremy Irvine, given the unfortunate duty of carrying all the dopey “Come on, boy!” training sequences), who spends years helping the horse to become…the best horse it can be? I don’t know. He names it Joey. But then it’s time for World War I, and Albert’s father (Peter Mullan) sells Joey to the cavalry. Albert is devastated, and makes a series of heartbroken proclamations to Joey that sound startlingly similar to Nicole Kidman’s lovelorn pleas to Jude Law before he heads into battle in Cold Mountain. So Joey is shipped off to Europe to become a war horse, while Albert desperately looks for a way to enlist and be reunited with his horse.

At this point the film transforms into a trite and clichéd combination of Saving Mr. Ed and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Seabiscuit (sorry) as Joey becomes the connecting thread between a tapestry of stories across WWI Europe. He is smuggled from one army to another, gets nabbed by some deserters, becomes the plaything of a sick young girl and her grandfather, etc. None of the stories are especially affecting, and are too brief to really become invested in. Meanwhile Albert has managed to enlist (good thing they didn’t find out he’s gay…for a horse), and is battling his way across the continent to once again be in the presence of his most cherished companion.

War Horse is interminably slow and dull until Spielberg finally hits his battle-scene comfort zone. And while these sequences are riveting, they could have also been done in his sleep. Spielberg would do the world a great favor if he’d consider getting past his fixation on the Great Wars. Like, if you’re the guy who already made Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, maybe give it a rest? I know he feels like it’s his Boomer responsibility to keep telling the stories of his parents’ generation, but he proved with Munich that he is far more interesting when taking on less-covered topics of war and revenge. And admittedly, the Boomers’ parent stories are certainly more interesting than those of my generation’s parents (the ones too young to be sent to Vietnam). Thrill as they watch nationwide protests and immense social change from the safety of their televisions! Chill as they contemplate disco! Spill as they try and then reject sexual liberation! Anyway.

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN

The Adventures of Tintin has a few surface resemblances to War Horse: both tell the stories of determined young men with remarkable animal companions who leave England for an overseas adventure. But fortunately for Tintin, the similarities stop there. This is a film that succeeds almost despite Spielberg; its strongest attribute, aside from its remarkably lifelike motion-capture animation, is the incredibly droll script, loaded with dry British humor by its three accomplished writers: Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead), Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), and Steven Moffat (Dr. Who, Coupling). It further bolsters its Brit comedy credentials with the vocal talents of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as bumbling twin detectives names Thomson and Thompson.

I was completely unaware of Hergé’s “Tintin” stories prior to this film, so I can offer no perspective on its fidelity to the source. Regardless, this is a very fun, fast, entertaining animated feature. The story, of course, is a wildly convoluted caper that has something to do with a model ship and a sunken treasure and a Moroccan sheik and I don’t know. It’s incidental to the great writing and animation. Spielberg does start to get in his own way by predictably piling on far too many consecutive action sequences toward the end, which gets to be exhausting, especially since the film is at its best when it’s more of a feet-on-the-ground mystery.

The Adventures of Tintin is unquestionably the better of the two Spielberg films from which you can choose for your holiday season movie. It is the kind of rollicking animated adventure for which family trips to the movies during the holidays were invented.

War Horse opens nationwide on Christmas Day (of course it does).

The Adventures of Tintin is now playing nationwide.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Raffi December 25, 2011 at 12:07 pm

I wholeheartedly agree on War Horse. I wish I’d seen the puppet version instead!!! The kindest thing I have to say about the movie is that the horse was cute. Please don’t waste your time people!

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Hannah December 29, 2011 at 7:38 pm

This movie was amazing you guys are crazy!!! I loved it, yes it was slow at the begining but so are many amazing movies. Speilberg should be proud to have released this as his movie. I would recomend this movie to many people!!!

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