Tin Tin lives in the Uncanny Valley. For the uninitiated, that's the mysterious land where computers give birth to movie characters that are supposed to look like real people. That they never quite achieve that goal often results in distraction, annoyance, repulsion, creepy feelings and rage on the part of more easily unnerved audience members. The ugly children and Aerosmith elves of The Polar Express live in the Uncanny Valley, too. So do most of the characters from the blisteringly unpleasant version of A Christmas Carol in which Jim Carrey was Ebenezer Scrooge (Carrey didn't look so bad, though). Jar Jar Binks doesn't live in the Uncanny Valley. Jar Jar Binks lives in movie prison. Everybody who starred in New Year's Eve lives there, too, and they're actual people, so you can guess how crappy that experience was. The latter crew will eventually get time off for good behavior but Jar Jar is a lifer.
Tin Tin didn't have to live in the Uncanny Valley. Steven Spielberg forced him to live there against his will. Tin Tin's a comic character, after all, and it's not like anyone ever tried to turn him into a real boy before. Even the vintage animated TV shows he starred in were faithful to his cartoon-face. Expressive human details were never part of the bargain. So if you're going to blame somebody for the moments where everybody on screen looks like they're made of Silly Putty, go to the Pinocchio-obsessed man in charge.
Having said all that, the technology is slowly, inch by digital inch, catching up with the creative desires of performance capture's true believers. Because more than any other movie that has tried, Tin Tin fails the least, mostly because the action never calms down long enough to give its adventuring Boy Reporter a chance to have more than 1.5 seconds of thoughtful facial expression in the first place. He's got a mystery to solve and a treasure waiting at the end of it. So off he goes with his exceptionally alcoholic pal Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), racing the globe together in search of clues and signposts that will guide them to the loot. They employ every time of transportation available and, when that fails then, they fly by the seats of their pants.
Now, let's say you grew up on the Indiana Jones movies. And let's say you worship those movies. You're the audience who'll be least impressed here. It's aiming for that level of excitement and thrill, and Tin Tin can physically maneuver himself into spaces that flesh-and-blood Indy can't, but that also means there's less at stake. When a giant boulder threatens to squash Harrison Ford, you get nervous. When a cartoon facsimile aims for a cartoon victim, the stakes just aren't as high. That means you get the pleasure of a movie where the camera can go places a real one can't, and that's solidly entertaining to witness. It's never boring, not too long, un-obnoxious and doesn't get too preachy about its drunken sailor. Not to damn it with meaninglessness, but it's a decent example of the "pretty good" family film, the kind of efficiently generated entertainment that results in a reasonably satisfying consumer experience while you're engaged with its 107 minutes of nonstop action. But in the end it's made of air and code, a machine at heart, so don't expect to carry it home in yours.