BRUSSELS — Tintin came home to Belgium on Saturday for the world premiere of Steven Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn."
If the proverbial intrepid reporter was more than a cartoon and movie character, he would have been pushing and shoving amid all the other hometown reporters lining the red carpet.
Instead, Tintin and his creator, the late
Herge, were the stars of the show, and Belgian Princess Astrid gave the occasion an old-world royal touch amid the movie nobility headed by Spielberg.
The movie is rolling out first across Europe and elsewhere before hitting the United States by the Christmas movie season.
"To highjack Tintin and bring it to America first, and then release it overseas second, would be something that would not have even occurred to us," Spielberg said. "From the outset, the plan was to give Tintin back to the countries where Tintin was the most beloved."
The director has been riding a wave of support from local critics despite opening in a tradition-bound nation ready to pounce on any desecration of its cultural icon by Americans.
"Action adventure and slapstick: Spielberg's Tintin movie has it all," was the headline Saturday in the De Morgen paper.
Spielberg bought the rights to the character in the 1980s — and three decades of waiting for the result ended with "what they call in the movies, a happy ending," said cartoon and movie expert Hugues Dayez.
And the Belgian government even made Spielberg a Commander in the Order of the Crown.
For Spielberg, a happy ending will mean the movie is such a box office success that a sequel becomes unavoidable. Together with "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson, he will be ready.
"We have chosen the next story. We have a screenplay that is being written right now," Spielberg said, refusing to say which of Herge's two-dozen Tintin books he would take.
The books have sold over 220 million copies around the world.
The first movie tells how Tintin discovers a key to a treasure by accident, then is sent fleeing evil criminals across the world, with the drunken sailor Captain Haddock in tow.
The tough part might be selling to 21st century kids a bygone world where good and evil were so clearly cut and where Jamie Bell's Tintin, enhanced in performance-capture technology, is virtuous without even a whiff of vice. Some critics have called him boring because of it.
Bell, best known for his "Billy Elliot" performances, used his dancing skills in chase scenes to give his Tintin as much a cartoonesque flair as possible.
Yet flaws, or even a girlfriend, are not for Tintin, Spielberg said.
"There is a purity about Tintin," he said. "Tintin is part of a world, I hope, is in some places still with us, and perhaps will come back some day."
Sticking to Herge's 80-year-old legacy was more important than adapting to modern whims, the director said.
"We weren't really interested in using Tintin as a commercial tool to get younger people into a film like this," he said.
Tintin opens in several European nations Wednesday and in South America and Asia on Nov. 10 before hitting U.S. and Canadian movie screens Dec. 21.
"From 'Schrek' to 'Toy Story,' you can name all the animated films that have come out in recent decades that are wholly original and that is exactly how America will receive Tintin," Spielberg said.
The director knows one sure way of finding out whether fans believe he respected the cultural legacy of Tintin.
"When this thing opens, I will just have to see which country I am allowed back in," he said.