The Other Side of Animation: Tad the Lost Explorer Review


While doing research for a film I want to review, Nocturna by Adrià Garcìa and Victor Maldonado, I came across Spain’s film award system known as Goya. It’s basically Spain’s answer to the Oscars. I bring this up because Nocturna was a film that won the Goya award for best animated feature back in 2007. I decided to do some digging to see what other films won, and you won’t believe how many other animated films that I want to cover, ended up winning this award. Chico & Rita, Nocturna, and Wrinkles, are obviously going to appear later on down the review line. For now, I just want to say that the standard of entry for a Goya must be rather low. I have seen a lot of these movies that won a Goya award, and they are usually those movies that are brought over and slapped onto the early morning run of Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon when no one is watching the channel. For example, today’s review will cover one of the winners of the Goya award for animation. Directed by Enrique Gato, Tad the Lost Explorer was released in 2012 to a positive reception in its home country of Spain, but to a more lukewarm reception everywhere else.  It’s essentially baby’s first Indiana Jones. It’s harmless and entertaining to an extent, but it’s also not as good as the really good Indiana Jones movies. It’s at least better than Temple of Doom, though.

The story revolves around Tad, voiced by Kerry Shale, who you might know better as Rufus from the popular Deponia adventure games. He is an aspiring archeologist who wants to hit it big and find treasure from all over the world. Unfortunately, his aspiring goals seem to get him in a lot of trouble at his construction job. After bringing a bottle that was buried underground to a professor at a museum, Tad ends up taking the professor’s place on a plane to Peru to solve some long lost puzzle that could lead the archeologist group to a mysterious city and the power of immortality. Along the way, Tad meets up with a female archeologist voiced by Ariel Winter of Modern Family fame, a “quirky” con man voiced by Cheech Marin, and a voiceless parrot, as they try to stop an evil group of modern day pirates from reaching the lost city first.

So, with all the Indiana Jones name dropping, it should be a fun action movie for kids. Well, if you really wanted something like Indiana Jones, but for a younger audience, you are better off finding a copy of the Ducktales movie, since the characters in Tad the Lost Explorer are very boilerplate for this kind of movie. Tad is your eccentric hopeful, the main female, Sara is your plain Jane character, and Cheech Marin’s character is your con artist with a heart of gold. Even the villains, who are usually the most interesting and entertaining characters of an animated film, are as stale as a loaf of ciabatta that has been outside in the sun for four days. I mean, how many times must I say how boring the characters in a film like this are? Let’s see if I can come up with something new to say about the boring characters. Well, I did find some uncomfortably offensive moments with Cheech Marin’s character, Freddy. There is never a time where Freddy isn’t either trying to sell you something, running away like a coward, only doing something for money, or attempting to be the comic relief of the film. It doesn’t really help that in a film that takes place in Peru, Freddy doesn’t really portray a likable character. It’s like saying “hey, all of my people are cowardly con artists!” Not that he is trying to be a positive role model, but still.  It doesn’t help either that a running gag at the beginning of the film is where Freddy tries to convince people he has a family to feed, and each time he says this, he pulls out a photo of him taped onto another picture with a random family. The first picture that shows up is this family from Africa. Yeah, let’s just say that apparently, Spain does not share the same ideals of racial sensibility that Americans do. It feels like a cheap laugh. The picture at hand might appear for a few seconds, but it’s enough to be noticeable. Since we are talking about jokes, the jokes never made me laugh. I didn’t get one single chuckle. I think the blame can be sourced at how this film is aimed at kids. The best part about any movie is that it hits both kids and adults at the same time. It’s why I love films distributed by GKIDS, and even though I have my issues with them, Disney, Dreamworks, and especially Pixar. These companies hit it out of the park by making films that anyone, young or old, can enjoy. There always seems to be this thing where the rule of thumb is that if the film is aimed at kids, there doesn’t need a whole lot of effort put into it. Well, sorry to those lazy executives who think that, but it’s not true. We will keep rewatching films like Inside Out, Ernest & Celestine, Spirited Away, and How to Train your Dragon because while they might have a goofy kid moment here and there, the message, the characters, the story, and the breath-taking moments pulled us into the film’s world. We were right there with each of the characters. When you limit your audience, you don’t give them the respect they deserve, and the effort put into the movie will most likely not be there. You end up with a movie that seems slow and drawn out for a 92 minute-long movie.

The animation is your cookie cutter Pixar rip-off art style that so many films try to pull off, but don’t. The animation itself is clunky, and is about as good as any CGI you see in any modern children cartoons that are done in CGI. I don’t know what fetish Europe has with making clunky looking CGI films, but they need to start upping the budget or technology so they can to make better animated films using CGI.

With all this said, did I find something about the movie that I actually liked or at least tolerated? Well, I think if a kid has not seen Indiana Jones, though I don’t know who hasn’t seen it, I could see them thinking this film is exciting. It tries to capture that timeless feel of adventure/action in some ways, like the moment they find the city and where it is located. If you lower your expectations, you can find some slightly above average entertaining sequences for what is the diet version of Indiana Jones. I also like the passion that Tad and Sara have for their jobs. I like how Sara, even though she falls into so many tropes of women in animated films like being the love interest and being a tad sexualized, does actually have a profession, and she does something instead of being a damsel in distress 99% of the time in the movie. I also enjoy the sad irony of the fate of the villain in this movie. While the villain is boring as tar, and predictable, the end result of finding immortality, while seen before, is rather scary in a sense. Like I said, the outcome isn’t mind-blowing, but at least it’s something different.

As I sat here and typed the review, I found myself curious as to how to label this film. Was it terrible? Yeah, it was, but was it as bad as something like The Snow Queen or Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return? No. I think it’s just middle of the road bad. Nothing outstandingly horrible besides one offensive joke, but nothing that amazing either. It’s on the American Netflix, if you are curious, but there are so much better movies to watch and check out like A Cat in Paris, Chico & Rita, and The Rabbi’s Cat. Well, now that we got this film out of the way, how about we shift our focus back onto a French animated film that tries to be too much all at once? Next time, we shall be looking at A Monster in Paris. Thanks for reading and see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

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