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A Movie Nerd With Kids Reviews "Tad: The Lost Explorer" (2012)

The Plot at a Glance

A daydreaming construction worker named Tad Jones idolizes a world-traveling archaeologist and hopes to go on a grand adventure of his own some day.  The opportunity presents itself when he stumbles ass-first into an ancient stone tablet that is rumored to unlock the secret location of the lost city of Paititi, an epic treasure trove of riches and fame.

Tad is supposed to serve as an assistant to a bumbling professor who actually knows what he's doing, but through happenstance winds up being mistaken as a real-deal archaeologist / adventurer.  He also has to square off a group of greedy pirates / thieves who want to plunder Paititi's riches for themselves.

The result is a big ol' Indiana Jones ripoff that hops from one country to the next for very loosely-connected reasons.  There is also a bird who uses signs to talk for some reason.

My Thoughts

Tad: The Lost Explorer is a pretty average kids' movie.  If it wasn't for the fact that it's the only new kids' movie I've seen in awhile, I wouldn't bother to review it - there just isn't much to say.

The animation is blocky and not great, but it's serviceable.  The voice acting  / dubbing is likewise passable.  The story's pretty rote and predictable, the characters are exactly as you'd expect, and you can pretty much watch just the first ten minutes and figure out everything that'll happen by replaying every other kids' movie ever in your head.  It's not bad. It's just been done to death.

So, how about I go on a bit of an incidental rant instead?

Lately I've been listening to the Archaeological Fantasies podcast, which is a terrific show featuring actual archaeologists who seek out to debunk misconceptions and myths about both their profession and history.  The hosts are all terrific and the content is incredible, which offsets some of the technical flaws and occasional audio quality issues that come up from time to time.

One of the things that they make heartbreakingly clear, episode after episode, is that legitimate archaeology is a painstakingly slow and drawn-out process.  It involves careful exhumation of a site over the course of weeks and months, during which time the most useful data usually isn't in any artifacts themselves, but rather in the surrounding dirt and detritus.

Now, nobody wants to shit on a cartoon just for having a good time, but Tad: The Lost Explorer is pretty much the exact stereotype of archaeology that the podcast is trying to dissolve.  The problem is that people see movies like this and go, "Huh, so that's what archaeologists do, huh?  Shit, I can do that!  I'll go get me a shovel and a flashlight and I'll learn all kindsa cool stuff!"

That leads to fringe archaeology, which leads to bullshit "theories," which help to fuel racism and xenophobia and all other kinds of horrible stuff.  I don't want to accuse Tad of ruining the world, but it's surely not helping in that respect.

The thing is, there's also a lot of good in something like this.  People who get inspired by a silly adventure like Tad, even if it's not true to life, may go on to pursue a career in archaeology despite it not being glamorous like the movies.  And they may very well go on to be amazing in their field and make the world a richer, smarter, better place.  After all, how many physicist are where they are now because they liked Star Trek?

Tad is an adventure story that needs the right context.  The protagonist himself is the exact surrogate of his audience - a starry-eyed dreamer who wants to do big things and change the world because he's heard terrific stories.  As a parent, my mission is to find a way to stoke that same fire in my kids, but give them the right guidance so they don't metaphorically burn the house down.

It's not a great movie, but it did bring to mind an important thought for me.  One that I doubt the filmmakers intended at all.


My Score: 2.5 / 5

It's very bland.

How Did Lulabelle (2 years old) React?

She was invested.  She got distracted very little and really enjoyed the action scenes.

How Did Sonja (8 months old) React?

She was split.  Half of her wanted to see the bright colors, the other half wanted to pull my hair.

How Did Stephanie (My Wife) React?

N/A - She did not watch with us.

Any Useful Ethical, Educational, or Thematic Content?

Depends on how you look at it.  It's not even remotely educational, but there's a nice little "follow your dreams" arc that you could turn into a motivational lesson.

Trigger Warnings / Egregious Offenses?

If you're really squeamish about sexual content, you'll probably be turned off by a couple of throwaway gags here and there.  This is a Spanish movie, which means they're less inhibited about that kinda thing, even though nothing is graphic or terribly direct.

The bigger issue, to me, is that the female lead is such a cliche.  She's one of those "grab her by the wrist and pull her along because she can't do anything on her own" types who ends up being a reward for Tad in the end.  The problem is not unique to this movie, but there's so many better role models out there for my daughters.

How Likely Are You to Be Annoyed?

Let's say 30%.  There are some aggravating animal sidekicks who keep inserting themselves into the movie, and they might try your patience.

How Likely Are You to Cry In Front of Your Kids?

Since I can't speak in extremes, I'll have to go with 10%.  There's nothing in here that I can see being overly emotional.

Final Weighted Score: 3.5 / 5

It's a very meh-worthy movie, but it kept Lulabelle pretty entertained, so that'll push the score up a bit.  This is another one of those "just fold the laundry while it's on" movies.