Tad the Explorer – aka Tad Stones the Chicago bricklayer – is onto his third adventure in new Enrique Gato feature, Tad the Lost Explorer and the Curse of the Mummy (or Tad the Lost Explorer and the Emerald Tablet in some regions) and is as accident-prone as ever as he tries to gain acceptance into the upper echelons of archaeological circles.
Indeed, we first see Tad (voiced by Trevor White) making a major discovery on a dig in Mexico led by the University of Chicago’s archaeological department which (naturally) all ends in disaster. Expelled from the site and leaving ever patient girlfriend Sara (Alex Kelly) behind, a crestfallen Tad returns home to decomposing old friend Mummy (Joseph Balderrama) who is as addicted to gadgets and social media as any youth is today (parents/guardians unite in rolling their collective eyes to the cinema ceiling in weary recognition here). However, in the chaos that follows, Tad’s archaeological find is both significant and deadly, the result of which will render one individual the most powerful on the planet, but will also endanger the lives of Tad’s friends.
For those not in the know, think ‘animated Indiana Jones’, only a goofier main character in Tad who is nevertheless, just as determined, curious and passionate about history. Tad is a great introduction to Indy for youngsters, until they are old enough to enjoy those classic films without having nightmares.
Tad is the serious side of a hapless but lovable duo with Mummy, who is actually the film’s ‘fall guy’ and provides the majority of the gags throughout a swift 89 minutes. Along the way, they meet another, rather haughty mummified Egyptian pharaoh called ‘Ra Amon Ah’ (Pippa Bennett-Warner) – or Ramona as they all mishear – and so embark on a madcap spree that begins in a bathtub being chased by the authorities along Paris’s River Seine and ends at the pyramids of Egypt, facing off a possessed TV supernatural investigator called Victoria (Elena Sanz).
The writers have capture the spirit of the Indiana Jones saga in this third installment, even paying tribute to Indy’s beloved fedora hat that he nearly always loses. They have also fleshed out some really fun characters for families to rally behind and grow to love. Lack of slick Pixar-quality animation aside but still a commendable render by the European production team, the Pixar writing magic that gives us a clever blend of life lessons, real heart-jerking moments, great action set-pieces and more depth of character is absent in favour of a sketchy adventure, resulting in a whirl of activity propelling us, the characters and the narrative onto the next location before anyone can ask any questions or delve any deeper.
Even as we pause for breath, the running joke of a yellow jersey Tour de France cyclist with the most dreadful bad luck starts to wear a little thin by the end, not before a gag involving the damaged Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris raises a few adult eyebrows. It is the tone of the writing that appears ‘off’ at times, which could be lost in translation as the film goes global, as well as lip sync issues that have to be expected of a dubbed Spanish film. The writing team do try to engage the grown-ups, for example, a nod of U.S. political mockery played out between the ridiculous CIA agent and the ever suffering but wiser Mexican Agent Ramirez who are pursuing Tad and co. However, it is soon evident that the film is meant to be light on substance and breezy – for the kids only. Still, nothing wrong with kicking back and watching the amusing effects of an ancient shape-shifting spell on three of Tad’s friends and seeing the youngsters thrilled by its effects is perhaps reward enough.
It does feel like Tad and friends need another, better penned adventure which clearly the filmmaking team sets us up for in the finale. This series has legs and is a kiddie hit for under 10s. We just have been spoiled by Pixar in both quality and quantity, but it would not be implausible to have Tad eventually join the ranks of Woody, Buzz, Sullivan and Mike and the Incredibles in our affections if next time, more a little more substance is injected into the works.
The film is out now.