Release Date: 2012
Rating: PG (a few tongue-in-cheek moments)
Language: English (originally Spanish)
Director: Enrique Gato
Cast Includes: Kerry Shale, Ariel Winter and Cheech Marin.
Ever dreamt of being an intrepid explorer, a thrill seeking danger junkie, treasure and glory hunter?…
Thanks to Indiana Jones, the Thousand and One Nights and a bunch of other classics and epics many of us probably have and still do to varying extents and this family friendly film speaks to that escapism but is convincingly warm too.
Introducing Tadeo Stones aka ‘Tad’ a construction worker whose about to lose his 7th job this year, he’s always wanted to be an archaeologist and akin to ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ (1947) he can lose sight of reality whilst daydreaming but they won’t be dreams for much longer.
His friend Professor Humbert explains to him that 500 years ago when the Inca’s were being conquered by the Spaniards they asked ‘Mother Nature’ for help and were told to take their gold to Paititi. Once there they were given a magical, golden statue ‘the golden Indian of Paititi’ which gave the bearer(s) immortality (you’d think people would get over that idea but thankfully this film shows it’s not as it first might appear). All very El Dorado (hence I’ll bypass the use of ‘Indian’ which is insulting to native Americans and actual Indians) though bear in mind that Paititi is also a legendary lost city.
Then in a journey the spans from Chicago to Peru (Machu Picchu and the Nazca Lines) Tad and his faithful dog take the place of the professor, meet a lady, her father, parrot, hustler, a celebrity and a shifty organization all on the hunt for the treasure and race for their lives.
THE STORY & ITS PLAYERS
Being an action movie it has to have wanderlust; a goal, a journey and a PSA (public service announcement) aka a dream, a convoluted set of events and a happy or at least a satisfying ending.
The theme of this movie speaks to me; archaeology, history, myth and truth wrapped in mystery but it’s also a parody/spoof and I love those too. It has many odes, most noticeably to the Indiana Jones, The Mummy and Tomb Raider franchises but there are other modern cultural references throughout. It starts out in the usual fashion of films in this target bracket, a bit boring but laced with eyebrow raising fun moments like an Uncle Sam poster morphed into a call for potential archaeologists instead of soldiers and ‘patriots’ to Tad finding a Coca-Cola bottle at his work and going to the Metropolitan Museum to have it authenticated and I have to say that I related to Tad’s Egyptian hieroglyph printed blanket. Once the main cast is introduced the ball really gets rolling, even though the death defying action sequences are already well underway (and very impressive).
The supposed ‘nice guy finishes last’ syndrome and fanboy to boot. A homely ‘bricklayer’ dubbed ‘monkey’ by his idol, he haplessly ends up living his dream on the run from the big, bad guys with guns of the Odysseus group in a conspiracy to steal the long lost treasure. He falls in lust or we’ll be nice and call it love at first sight for Sara and doggedly stands by her and her father in daring rescue, all whilst hiding his identity. He finds that his construction skills come in very handy. Kitted out like as the adventurer archetype he’s actually given Indiana’s hat to wear (sans the whip, gun and obnoxiousness) though he doesn’t recognize the namesake.
A typical modern heroine; attractive, clever, a bit cynical/sharp and trying to improve a situation. She became an archaeologist to spend time with her father Professor Lavrof and subsequently got engaged to Max Morden (celebrity), both of whom are workaholics after big finds and having little time nor seemingly care for much else. She calls her father ‘Professor’ as they don’t really have a familial relationship but that’s about to change and her knowledge leads to the right locale of Paititi. Like Lara Croft she’s invested in the practical and recommended robust boots/socks combo but doesn’t see how that protection should also apply to the rest of the body which is instead kitted out in a vest and short shorts.
The Professors – Lavrof and Humbert
Stereotypical aged profs i.e. they could be more beard than man if left to their own devices; portrayed as benevolent and esteemed (the film leaves out a predisposition to pubs). They found half of the key to Paititi 30+ years ago and Lavrof has finally found the other half. We only see Humbert at the beginning of the movie as he is quickly displaced by Tad and sent off to hospital but what we see of his colleague Lavrof is a man who cares for his daughter, doesn’t like his soon-to-be son-in-law and doesn’t want Odysseus to get to the lost city.
Maximillian ‘Max’ Modern
With a name like Maximillian how can you not be chiselled and conceited? Ok, ok so Greeks and Italians can have very long names and if you go by the meaning of names that’d make it hard to define a personality but this is film of predictable characters. Basically he’s the world’s most famous archaeologist, not critically renowned but commercially popular and so generally deemed a himbo. He also happens to have dastardly plans and profitable intentions when it comes to his alliances.
Odysseus (à la Ulysses)
A shady organization trying to find Paititi, it is due to them that Tad ends up on the quest instead of Professor Humbert and they also abduct Professor Lavrof using Sara as a hostage to get him to translate the directions/riddle to the lost city. They’re military in structure, resources and tactics. We don’t really learn anything else about them other that they don’t acknowledge much in the way of limits.
The Comic Relief
What is a good, decent or semi-decent stereotypical animation without its supporting cast of loveable and inevitably funny/cool characters who would steal the show given half the chance and tend to have their eye on lucrative spin-offs.
101 ways to avoid dying in horrible, miserable and excruciatingly painful ways… AKA Freddy
Also called the walking shopping network Teddy is exactly that; the jack of all trades ‘guide’ with a large and interesting to say the least looking family which he constantly refers to as his reason for making money. His clothing is impossibly filled with all manner of items that presumably fell off the back of a lorry and he aptly sells Tad a ‘Swiss pincher with a thousand uses’ (instead of a Swiss army knife) for which one can only find out its uses through use and guessing since no manual or logic is forthcoming. Perhaps needless to say, he has some of the best lines in the movie, oh and he likes soap opera.
I’m so cool, I don’t need to waste words on you… AKA the mute parrot
Reminiscent of an ‘Angry Bird’ Belsoni (not sure of the spelling) portrays his super coolness with verve and style, from being a brave defender to playing poker I can only imagine what he’d be like with vocals. This bird has what it takes.
I’m sweet and loyal and will pee on you… AKA Jeff the dog
A cute, loyal dog and Tad’s companion. Not much to say about him really other than he fits right into the supporting cast and is a ‘good/brave/loveable dog’ helping his friends and he and the parrot play off each other well.
I’m a man called a mummy, wrapped in swathes and can’t technically be alive since that’s a contradiction in terms.
He’s guarded the treasure for 500 years, is a chief mummy of mummies and has interesting and funnily enough easy to understand pictorial instructions for the various traps and ways to generally incapacitate, maim and kill people (mainly the latter) inside the ruins he protects. He and his legion are apparently immortal and want to be left in relative peace away from presumably hordes of screaming tourists, business tycoons, government agencies and all those who’d just love to stampede and probably concrete the jungle to make it into a circus.
First let’s get the CGI issue out of the way; obvious cg movies (as opposed to those with cg elements that blend in) don’t appeal to everyone in fact some are put off (a tad like superhero blockbuster movies) and I have to say that like any other technique or even genre not all movies are created equal and interestingly enough I find I tend to prefer ones made in certain countries. As a general rule Canadian, French and French-Canadian cg animations make the top of my list for their artistic quality, fluid finesse in production and of course their storylines. The US take the second spot on the list. Hey I like many of their movies and tv programs too, they are undeniably impressive in visuals and sound but as the years go by I find them increasingly generic and whilst emotionally manipulated still lacking in depth. Tad, The Lost Explorer however is a Spanish feature and like Russia they don’t to my knowledge have many cg features but what they do produce is well done and spirited hence this film can easily hold its own amongst the US saturated market. It also managed to achieve that on the relatively tame budget of 8 million euros in contrast to grotesquely expensive costing a plethora of arms and legs to make US peer films. Yet it doesn’t suffer in animation quality, score or vocals in comparison.
It does have a technical quirk in its storytelling e.g. instead of doing the “I was born, I grew up and moving right on” opening the film shows Tad growing up from wide eyed youngster into detached but not yet disillusioned man in a more old fashioned animation, flash sequence. The same is done in a sort of film reel when highlighting the accolades of Max Morden, mixing styles makes a nice refresher.
In this type of movie the timing of the score is important and it uses an interesting mix of dynamic orchestra, songs with vocals and… Pop songs. For example you will hear a snippet of One Direction in this film and to me it seemed out of place but at least it was lively. The dubbing is very well done and believable, I didn’t notice the mouthing and voices to be out of sync and the lines were delivered with good pace and passion.
Ultimately this is a story about a bumbling fool with transferable skills getting the girl, packed with clichés and predictable but a very watchable feel good movie that unlike many others of its ilk grasping, headlining and producing shiploads of merchandise for our attention – this one wasn’t relegated to background noise and actually did pick me up from the crummy mood I was in. To reiterate; it did so on a relatively low budget, no massive ‘star’ vocals and without lowering one’s intelligence too much but stretching it just enough so that it can bounce back without depreciating its value. In one word: Result.
The obvious ones have been mentioned but perhaps some lesser known:
I.Q (1994) – A romantic comedy where scientists Albert Einstein, Nathan Liebknecht, Kurt Gödel and Boris Podolsky try to help a mechanic win the affection of Einstein’s neice Catherine (Meg Ryan) by passing him off as a scientist too and to separate her from her fiancé (Stephen Fry).
Relic Hunter (tv series 1999-2002) – Sydney Fox (Tia Carrere) is pretty much a female Indiana Jones; lecturer and adventurer but with a campus secretary and expeditions assistant.
Phi Brain (anime series 2011-13) – an intense series with many psychotically intelligent characters trying to solve dangerous puzzles, many situated in historical and/or purpose built architecture.