Last year, Shout! Factory brought us Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom, an off-kilter, yet charming blend of kid-vid and the writings of horror maestro H.P. Lovecraft that blended world devouring ancient gods and doe-eyed, cutesy character design in a flick that worked way better than it had any right to. Well, a year has passed, and ol’ SF have brought us a new installment in the franchise titled Howard Lovecraft and the Undersea Kingdom…and I’m happy to say that much of the fun has been retained (hell, there have actually been some improvements), but all is not rainbows and puppies in R’lyeh…
Howard Lovecraft and the Undersea Kingdom continues the adventures of a young Howard Philips Lovecraft who is charged with protecting the realms of R’lyeh and it’s surrounding locales with a bit of the ol’ inherited family magic. While contending with that, he must rescue his parents who find themselves all proper kidnapped by the mad King Abdul (voiced by the legendary Jeffrey Combs …no stranger to the Lovecraft mythos thanks to his appearances in the Re-Animator films and From Beyond). Abdul has troubles of his own dealing with the constant jibes of Nyarlathotep (voiced by ol’ Pinhead himself, Doug Bradley). Anyway, Howard must team up with the sorcerer Dr. Henry Armitage (Mark Hamill…yeah the voice cast in this is pretty impressive) and the Cthulhu spawn Spot (voiced by writer/director Sean Patrick O’Reilly, who unfortunately isn’t the greatest voice actor in the world, so I guess not completely impressive) to get them back, protect some magic books, and try not to turn into a fish man (yup, our boy develops a nasty case of the ‘Innsmouth Look’ and even manages to go gill to gill with everyone’s favorite sentient fish stick Dagon).
Howard Lovecraft and the Undersea Kingdom does a lot of things right; it’s fun, packed with high adventure, and manages to soften the Lovecraft mythos to make it palatable to younger viewers without ever taking a huge shit on it (a delicate balancing act indeed)…plus it tells a stronger, faster paced story than it’s predecessor (an nearly jettisons those damn squid kids that took up waaaay too much of the first film’s runtime).
On the negative side, the story is muddy in some areas with a myriad of story points going on simultaneously over a rather short runtime (an hour and nineteen minutes to be precise); there are tons of characters running around (some from the first film, some new), and there isn’t much time given to introduce new viewers to what came before. Also, the animation hasn’t improved from the first film, and is a mixed bag, to wit; great monster designs versus inconsistent character models for the human characters (why does Armitage look almost like an actual human, but the other characters look like stylized representations of the human form…the world may never know…or care).
As for the extras on this release they are ultra-light; just a trailer and a short interview with actor Jeffrey Combs are all we get here.
Howard Lovecraft and the Undersea Kingdom is a fun lil’ flick, and a good primer for kids with an inquisitive bent towards the pillars of horror literature (I know they’re out there somewhere); it’ll entertain horror hounds and their boils and ghouls well enough, but just make sure you see the first flick before diving into the Undersea Kindom.