Can Steven Spielberg’s ‘Tintin’ Save Motion-Capture Animation?

Film’s strong $55.8 million European debut helps the movie business to forget about Robert Zemeckis’ genre-killing “Mars Needs Moms”

Seven months after "Mars Needs Moms" led to questions about the future of motion-capture animation, Steven Spielberg is showing that audiences might not have totally rejected the technique, after all.

Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin" is off to a promising start at the interational box office, opening to $55.8 million abroad this weekend. It was No. 1 in 17 out of the 19 territories it debuted in.

In France, where "Tintin" enjoyed the biggest opening ever for an original, non-sequel Hollywood film, the movie took in $21.5 million on 935 screens.

Also read: Spielberg's 'Tintin' Opens Strong in Europe

"You couldn’t ask for a film that’s more immersive and incredible to look at than 'Tintin,'" said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution at Sony, which shares international distribution rights with Paramount Pictures International. "There’s no doubt about it. It just draws you into it, and it just is quite an amazing feat visually. Spectacular actually."

He noted that the character of Tintin, based on a comic book by Belgian artist Georges Remi (known also as "Herge"), is better known in Western Europe than in the United States.

Also read: Oscar Buzz: Raves for 'Tintin,' Lights Out for 'J. Edgar'

In "Tintin," which Spielberg directed and Peter Jackson produced, young adventurer Tintin and his friend Capt. Haddock search for a sunken treasure ship that was commanded by one of Haddock's ancestors.

"I think Herge would be smiling with the work they accomplished with the character in the film," Bruer said.

The movie enjoyed strong numbers across Europe: It was No. 1 in the U.K., where it grossed $10.7 million.

This weekend alone, the movie grossed $2.1 million from 169 screens in Herge's home nation, $1.9 million from 297 screens in Sweden, $1.8 million from 174 screens in Switzerland, $1.6 million on 221 screens in Denmark and $1.3 million on 250 screens in Holland and $1.3 million in Italy.

In Spain, it grossed $6.7 million on 798 screens — 50 percent of the country's entire market and nearly 10 times as much as what that nation's No. 2 film grossed. In Germany, "Tintin" took $4.6 million on 847 screens.

By contrast, "Mars Needs Moms" was such a flop, Disney shut down its motion-capture animation division, which was run by the movie's producer, Robert Zemeckis. And it canceled Zemeckis' plan to make a motion-capture version of The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine."

Reaction was so bad, in fact, the New York Times wrote that it "may lead to the end for the Zemeckis style of motion-capture filmmaking, which has proven increasingly unpopular with audiences."

"Tintin," however, is disproving that theory.

"When something is captured in such an incredible way that just feels so real and immersive, I don't think you could have done it any better," Bruer said.

He continued that he expects the strong international reaction will translate to big audiences when it opens in the United States Dec. 21.

"It's going to give it an extra boost for people to embrace this incredible story," he said. "The press has been very good, of course, and it's going to make it resonate in the U.S. even that much more."

Paramount is handling the film's domestic release.

"There's going to be a tremendous box office already accumulated by the time it gets here," Bruer said.