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Want to rile up the French? Mention the new Tintin movie

Atmosphere during the 'TINTIN: The Secret Of The Unicorn' World Premiere at Le Grand Rex on October 22, 2011 in Paris, France.

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images/Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

It had to happen. Even a cartoon gets the French going into paroxysms of theorizing and debate.

Steven Spielberg's blockbuster adaptation of the beloved Tintin stories, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, comes out in more than 500 French movie theatres today.

Naturally, the release uncorked a stream of intellectualizing and hand-wringing over how an American – and from Hollywood, no less! – presents the intrepid boy reporter.

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Do the characters in the film look enough like those in the original books or even the actors who played in the only other Tintin movie, a 1964 French film? Not enough, according to Europe 1 radio. Captain Haddock is uglier than he should be. Milou, or Snowy, the faithful white fox terrier, is too plump.

But let's not get too worked up about it, says the Belgian director, Bruno Podalydès. "An adaptation is just a likeness, an interpretation," he told Le Monde. "So just relax. This is Spielberg's Tintin, and not our Tintin." And yet, Mr. Podalydès is a bit discomfited.

American studios don't see heroes like we do, he says. Still, is it not "bizarre" to see the walls in Tintin's room pasted with press clippings of his past adventures? "I really don't see Tintin exhibiting his exploits," he tut-tuts.

Tintin, of course, is not a French creation but a character created by a Belgian artist, Hergé. The movie already had its premier in Belgium last week, to critical acclaim.

But the French, who grew up on the cartoon character along with much of Europe, have long enjoyed decrypting him. Back in 1999, the French National Assembly even held a debate on Tintin entitled, "Is he from the left or the right?"

The Spielberg film is a new excuse to pontificate on what symbolism and meaning can be gleaned from Tintin. A French news site has been running a series examining him from every angle.

Politically, says Frédéric Rouvillois, a constitutional law professor at the Sorbonne in Paris, he is "a young royalist without hang-ups" who is enraged by "traitors and rogue states." But that's another story altogether.

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About the Author
Foreign Editor

Susan Sachs is a former Foreign Editor of The Globe and Mail.Ms. Sachs was previously the Afghanistan correspondent for the newspaper, and covered the Middle East and European issues based in Paris. More

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