Howard Lovecraft and the Undersea Kingdom
Howard Lovecraft and the Undersea Kingdom 2017
Last year I decided to take a chance on the first Howard Lovecraft movie. At the time, I thought it was just a low budget knock off film that somehow was trying to trade in on the HP Lovecraft lore and was also based on an indie comic. This year I did a little bit more digging and discovered Arcana Studio spun off of Arcana Comics. They do seem to be a low budget animation studio, but the majority of their films are adaptations of their comics which I think is a great concept. I wasn’t a huge fan of the first Howard Lovecraft film, it seemed like a fascinating world, but there wasn’t much of a character arc and the tone seemed like a weird childish goth with mediocre voice actors except a couple token cameos. The sequel works much better with an overall darker tone with less kid-centric humor, bigger roles for the notable voice actors, and more of a character arc for Howard himself. I actually quite enjoyed this one and am curious to see where things end up in the third movie coming out in a couple weeks.
One great thing about this movie is the darker tone which comes across right out of the gate with a creepy dream sequence, and Howard’s mother acting obviously oddly like something is wrong. There’s also many fewer sequences of the more kid-friendly aspects of the first movie like the cutesy minions and the squid family. They’re still there, but their presence is much more truncated. We also get a much more interesting villain voiced by Jeffrey Combs. Even though his actual plan and actions are rather weak, Combs sells his performance to make King Abdul an interesting character. There’s also another new villain that pops in a couple times but it’s difficult to really get a handle as he just speaks to King Abdul a couple times then disappears without really doing anything. But besides that, this also brings much more magic into the mix with Mark Hamill’s character Dr. Henry Armitage who becomes the Obi-Wan to Howard’s Luke. Despite voicing plenty of villains that makes you question his motives, Dr. Armitage is a pretty great character.
One disappointment with the previous film was the lack of character development for Howard himself. In many of these types of stories, it’s all about the growth of the main character, yet he previously let everyone else do the majority of the work for him and he was already pretty confident to begin with. Here, Howard gets a lot more growth to him. Besides just learning magic, he also does a lot more on his own after Armitage goes away and he’s travelling with his father and the astral projection of Spot who also isn’t able to be the muscle this time around. Howard solves puzzles, uses his magic to defeat Ron Perlman-voiced tentacle heads who only say one word. He also has the overarching goal of saving his mother and protecting the three journals. There’s even a nice moment where he dives after the newly created Necronomicon to prevent Dr. Armitage from getting it even though there had been no signs of wrongdoing on his part before or after. It still adds a nice touch of distrust without being overt as Howard was warned to keep the journals from everyone, including and especially his father.
The art design and animation is similar to the previous movie. It’s quite obviously lower budget with relatively simple movements, but the designs of the creatures and some of the backgrounds look pretty good. The characters, especially the Lovecraft family have great little goth features like the bags under the eyes and Howard’s father Winfield has one iris smaller than the other. The music wasn’t anything special, unnoticeable as being especially bad or good. The humor overall also worked well as it was mostly relegated to the crazed rantings of Winfield and only occasionally devolved into childlike humor like having two of the giant Shuggoth creatures slamming headlong into each other.
One of the most disappointing things about this film is potentially one of the best things about it. It is quite obviously steeped in the mythology of the writings of HP Lovecraft. The unfortunate thing is that if you’re someone who is unfamiliar with those writings, there is a lot of unnatural sounding words that don’t necessarily make any sense. And if you are a fan, it’s questionable how faithfully this children’s animation lives up to the author’s original intent. There is a lot more talk about the creeping madness, and Cthulu as the destroyer of worlds this time around. This isn’t quite the level of growing up that happens in the later Harry Potter books and movies, but this is still a good step up from the first film. It’s a little unfortunate that it is beneficial to have watched the first movie, but there’s enough going on that’s standalone that it’s not entirely required. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to and I’m looking forward to checking out the third film in the series. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.