ANNECY, France — “Tad the Lost Explorer” marked a milestone in Spain’s animation industry, which is long on talent, short on governmental support, consolidating the backing of Spain’s powerful private broadcasters – here, via Mediaset España’s Telecinco Cinema – as well as Telefonica for select, higher-end Spanish animated features. It demonstrated what Mediaset España’s muscular marketing machine could do with a movie which merited its marketing. Directed by Enrique Gato, it won three Spanish Academy Goyas – best animated feature, new director and, notably, original screenplay. And it grossed about $50 million worldwide, half outside its native Spain, sparking a two-picture Paramount Pictures worldwide distribution deal on its creators’ next two features, “Capture the Flag” and “Tadeo Jones 2, and the Secret of King Midas.” And it turned its hero, the chinless Chicago bricklayer Tad, an amateur adventurer-archeologist and kind of cack-handed Indiana Jones, into a social phenomenon in Spain. It is a mark of its original’s achievement that its sequel, which Paramount Pictures releases this August, is expected to be one of the highest-grossing Spanish movies of the year. In it, Tad, still besotted by Sara Lavroff who, after the events of the original, has become the best-known archeologist in the world, pursues her kidnappers to Spain and the deserts of Turkey, accompanied by his dog, amute parrot and an irrepressible mummy. In the run-up to “Tadeo Jones 2’s” world premiere out of competition at Annecy, Variety talked to its co-screenwriter and producer, Jordi Gasull.
“Tad the Lost Explorer” was in industry terms the most successful animated feature in Spanish film industry history. How has that benefited producing “Tadeo Jones 2, and the Secret of King Midas,” whether in budget, merchandising, finance and distribution?
Some points have improved from the first movie. It has been easier to get worldwide distribution as Paramount decided to take world rights for the movie. We are super happy that Mark Viane and his team, specially Montse Gil, the Spanish Paramount CEO, decided to enhance Paramount’s participation in “Tad” after the success Mark had with “Tad, the Lost Explorer” when he was supervising Latin America for Paramount. Of course, Montse Gil and her team did an amazing job in Spain.
Merchandising has showed a great improvement. “Tad” had almost no merchandising or it came quite late; but now, a lot of brands have wanted to be related with the positive and enthusiastic image that the character reflects.
Finally, regarding budget, we have remained in a very similar range of budget. We have the best partners anybody can have in Spain, Telecinco Cinema. But because they are good, they are also very realistic. So Ghislain Barrois and Alvaro Augustin always remind us that although sequels can improve its audience up to a 50%, they generally show a 30% to 50% decrease in spectators; so we had to manage that reality.
Despite the success of the first installment, the second is not a dead ringer. What would you say you have kept, and what have you tried to make different?
The first thing we have kept is the same creative team, with some improvements. Enrique Gato is a great director with a powerful sense of rhythm and a master’s eye for camera angles. And this time, David Alonso came on board as a co-director doing a magnificent job. Three of the original writers, Javier Barreira, Neil Landau and myself came with a very powerful idea and the Lightbox Studio team. And we had the same producing team.
Of course, we had the obligation to keep the main characters and the adventure and comedic tone. And also to have an adventure that had some imagination but is also rooted in some kind of reality as we want kids to learn and appreciate history. We firmly believe that learning history is one of the best ways to learn about human beings.
The main changes were introducing new characters, making the tone of the movie more appealing to teenagers and adults and keeping the balance for the younger kids, adding more humor and making the adventure a little bit more urban.
Guillermo Arriaga said that one should be able to sum up what a film is about in one phrase. What is “Tadeo Jones 2” about?
The biggest treasure you can find is true love. Love is the center of the movie and the main narrative and the subplots are rooted in this idea. Tad starts the film sequel with some doubts about his relationship with Sara. In real terms, they kissed once but now Sara is a really famous archeologist traveling around the world and Tad is still living in Chicago and starting university. So Tad has some kind of doubts about whether they will become more than just friends.
Though the film is created out of Spain, the country is seen by its protagonists as a foreign country. Yet, Spain and its language is treated with a large knowingness. That gives the film a certain pan-Latin feel, I think. Could you comment?
First of all, you have to remember Sara is a Peruvian archeologist and the Mummy, who comes back in the sequel, is also Peruvian. So we have two characters that are foreign but also very familiar with Spanish culture as Spain and Peru share a lot of their past.
Regarding Tad, he is from Chicago and this is the first time he visits Spain so this is why his character is surprised by Spain. Also, I remember that when we were creating “Tad, the Lost Explorer,” one of the most important issues was where Tad comes from. On one side, we wanted him to be Spanish. But I remember I asked [Lighthouse’s] Nicolas Matji, if you have to choose between seeing a similar movie about a guy from Chicago or a movie about a guy from Hamburg, which one would you choose? And he said the Chicago one. And I said to him: “If you ask a guy from Hamburg if he wants to see a movie about a guy from Chicago or a guy from Valladolid, what do you think he would answer?”
So we all decided Tad would be from Chicago.
”Tadeo Jones 2” has its world premiere at Annecy. Where will it be seen after this outside Spain, and when? And will it open in China?
Paramount is in charge of worldwide distribution. Tad was quite successful in more than 30 countries, so I assume that Paramount will, at least, pursue the release in those countries. I know that the Paramount team has had a wonderful reaction with the movie. They are great professionals and I am sure they will do the best for the movie. China is a tricky market because of the release quota, but we all have great expectations because the movie is much better than the first one.
Following on “Planet 51,” “Tad the Lost Explorer” marked a milestone in Spanish animation. At the time, Jordi, you said that if “Justin and the Knights of Valor” and “Foosball” worked, Spain could see a Golden Age of animation. How much of a Golden Age has followed, and what are the factors driving Spanish animation now, for better or worse?
Reality is tough but full of hope. “Justin” and “Foosball” are very good movies but being a good movie does not mean guarantee success. And, sadly, those movies did not perform as we all expected in terms of box office. I still feel there is lot of work to do. But the industry seems to improving and I feel we have had our share of contribution to that. Spain has great talent. Sergio de Pablos, the creator of “Despicable Me’s” Gru, is now directing “Klaus.” Ilion Studios is working for Paramount, Think Lab has released “Deep,” Manuel Cristobal is producing an amazing animated movie, there are great new animation studios like Rokyn Animation and Pedro Solis, Lightbox’s line producer, has directed the most-awarded animated short film in film history; it’s in the Guinness Book of Records. So it looks like the Spanish animation industry has a bright future. But I still feel there is a long way to go before we have a solid and consistent industry. I hope some day Spanimation will be a reality.