Director – Enrique Gato – 2022 – Spain – Cert. U – 90m
In Mexico, desperate for recognition as a bona fide archaeologist, our hero unearths an Egyptian sarcophagus and unleashes a mysterious power from an Inca temple – out in UK cinemas on Friday, September 9th
Gato’s third instalment of the Tad The Lost Explorer franchise is a lot better than it sounds, chiefly because it delivers narrative coherence and picks up and runs with numerous opportunities afforded by character and script where the similarly inventive Minions: The Rise Of Gru (Kyle Balda, Brad Ableson, Jonathan del Val, 2022) failed.
Having agreed with girlfriend Sara not to go public about his previous archaeological discoveries, Tad has with her help got on to the Chicago Museum’s dig in Mexico – as a lowly assistant, even though he seems more clued-up than the three qualified archaeologists in charge. Rashly opening a secret door by pushing a part of a wall frieze, he finds himself in a vast chamber containing an Egyptian sarcophagus, his report of which is pooh-poohed by his three superiors until, after firing him, they discover it for themselves and take the credit.
This rivalry between the ‘amateur’ Tad and qualified but comparatively clueless ‘professionals’ is kept up throughout the narrative, although the professionals remain secondary characters. The focus is rather on Tad’s exploits as, despite the professionals’ efforts to deter him, he finds and unleashes mummified Queen Ra Mon A (cue running gag about calling her Ramona) and watches not only his Inca mummy friend from an earlier adventure transform into a creature part-crocodile, part-leopard and part-hippopotamus but also his pet dog Jeff and Sara’s parrot Belzoni combine into a single creature as Tad pursues a quest that leads him to an Egyptian pyramid by way of a Napoleonic researcher’s hidden office in the Louvre, Paris.
Also in the frame is a former school friend of Sarah’s turned TV occult researcher celeb Victoria Moon, who joins forces with Tad and Sara in order to obtain an ancient Egyptian artefact, the emerald tablet of the film’s global title, which will bestow great power upon the owner.
En route, this delivers splendid set pieces. Among them is a pendulum in the opening Mexico sequence featuring an underground tomb cavern consisting of a giant polo-mint-shaped rock that bisects the rock path with a huge drop either side on which Tad and his dog Jeff walk, leading to Jeff jumping a chasm through the hole of the swinging rock. Then there’s a completely gratuitous but hugely enjoyable Parisian river Seine speedboat chase, including a game of chicken where one boat knows that the other will evade it at the last minute while the other is incapacitated and unable to evade the first.
Gags come thick and fast and prove surprisingly effective. The best repeating gag is the one involving Jeff getting caught up in a spell together with Sara’s parrot Belzoni, so that the front end of Jeff becomes half of a creature with the back half of Belzoni, which is liable to switch without warning into a creature wherein the front end of Belzoni becomes half of a creature with the back half of Jeff – Beljeff or Jeffzoni – and every switch is really funny.
If some of the Mexican mummy’s one-liners aren’t well judged, Ra Mon A’s voicing as if she were some privileged, posh Brit actress straight out of drama school more than compensates. Perhaps the actors were given a little too much latitude improvising their lines (this is pure guesswork – for all I know the cast stuck closely to the script, in which case the script would be where the fault lies) – but in the scheme of things, in a film which gets so much right, this is a fairly minor carp.
In between in rare moments which are to be cherished, Tad drives around in a tiny little urban smart car that poignantly and hilariously resembles a sort of anti-status symbol. Rather like Mr. Incredible in his car while attempting to adjust to normal, everyday life in The Incredibles, Brad Bird, 2004).
A curious gag misfire involves Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, with no sign of fire damage or restoration following the 2019 disaster. Perhaps in a couple of years time, this may not matter so much, but in 2022 it feels like a weird glitch, a sequence upstaged by a recent historical event. The addition of a crane or two on the skyline would have fixed this, not an especially difficult remedy in animation.
The Spanish production reaches the UK in an English-dubbed version – fair enough given the film is aimed squarely at kids – which feels like the voices might have been pre-recorded then the picture animated to that recording later. (If the voices were post-synced, which I doubt, it’s a remarkable job.) The film also exists in Spanish- and Catalan-dubbed versions, which I would guess (not having seen them, so I might be wrong) would be post-dubbed.
Overall, this is a marked improvement on the earlier, second film Tad The Lost Explorer And The Secret Of King Midas (Enrique Gato, 2017), which also got a UK theatrical release, demonstrating that the Spanish are perfectly capable of making anything as good as (or better than) your average, contemporary, Hollywood blockbuster family animation. Far more fun than anyone – well, this writer at least – expected, this is a movie that you might actually enjoy if you have to drag your kids to see something.
NB The English language voice cast list was not made available to press at the time of this review.
Tad The Lost Explorer And The Curse Of The Mummy is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, September 9th.