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A Movie Nerd with Kids Reviews "Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom" (2016)

The Plot at a Glance

HP Lovecraft transforms from talented racist to an adorable dark-eyed icon sure to appear on a moody teenager's backpack in Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom.  It's a computer-animated movie based on a graphic novel series that throws a bunch of snippets of the Cthulhu mythos into a hat and shakes 'em up, then tosses them out in kid movie format.

The story starts when li'l Howard goes to a sanitarium to visit his father, who begs him to destroy a book he was writing (the Necronomicon, naturally).  Howie reads it instead and gets transported to the mysterious and magical dream world of R'yleh, where he meets a bunch of creatures and has to work with them to get back home again.

Pretty much everything you need to know about this movie can be summed up like this: Howie befriends Cthulhu, who introduces himself as "Thu Thu Hmong," but Howie finds that impossible to pronounce despite hearing it three times.  So he names him "Spot" instead and Cthulhu gives him a piggyback ride.  Then they have a snowball fight.

My Thoughts

Okay, so, let's be clear.  I'm not naive enough to think that a Lovecraft movie for kids would actually be Lovecraftian. I may be a dummy, but this is hardly the first shameless cash-grab I've subjected myself to.  So, yes, I was well aware before I started it that Frozen Kingdom was incredibly unlikely to be a proper horror tale.

Even so, it's worth repeating that point for anybody who might still have a glimmer of hope: This is not a Lovecraftian story.  Not even remotely.  This is a plush Cthulhu doll.  This is a game of Cthulhu Fluxx.  It's more of the same deluge of loosely-conceived pop culture / merchandise that's been pumping out into the world over the last 20 years or so.  I would describe the neo-Lovecraftian glut as a halfhearted attempt to appeal to hipster irony, except at this point, to be a true hipster you'd have to read Lovecraft first so you can sneer at all the garbage.

But what can I say.  Even after telling myself ahead of time it was probably just going to be a crappy, mildly squid-flavored kids' movie, there was still a tiny part of me excited to see if they could pull it off.  Lovecraft for kids?  Sure, why not?  Not all of his stories were gory and violent.  All you really have to do is capture a feeling of dread as some timid New Englander learns about a dark and mysterious secret hidden in their town.  You could have fun with that - maybe turn it into a little bit of an Indiana Jones, Jr. type deal, possibly throw in some psychic powers, and presto, you've got a winner.

Frozen Kingdom barely tries.  It's content to just name drop the Cthulhu mythos and then string together a D-grade Alice in Wonderland knockoff and call it a day.  Still.  I could have forgiven that and at least called this a "passable" movie.


But I can't.  Apologies to the O'Reilly family that made it, but this movie is wretched.

There's nothing in it to grab you.  The voice acting is dull, the plot is anemic, the character designs are uninspired, the music's boring, the jokes aren't funny.  I kept waiting for the moment where the movie kicks into high gear and becomes, y'know, a movie, but that never happened.

What I got instead was some of the worst computer animation I've seen since the '90s.  People used to use the phrase "looks like a video game" as an insult, but my God, the animation here is so much crappier than modern games.  It honestly looks like it was animated by the staff that made Escape from Monkey Island, a game that came out in 2000, using rejected models from Psychonauts, a game from 2005.  Except, even the in-game graphics for Psychonauts had more nuance.

I guess I could put a twist on that and say, "Wow, they did a great job with their budget," since it's quite possible this movie was made for like ten grand and a box of donuts.  But if that's the case - why bother?  If you know you can't afford the animation, don't make an animated movie.

I mean, there are characters in Frozen Kingdom that forget to blink.  They just stare off with dead, plastic ping-pong ball eyes and make you wonder if they're peering into the back of your soul.  So... uh, I guess it is kind of Lovecraftian, after all.

Summary

My Score

1 / 5

How Did Lulabelle (2.5 years old) React?

She was invested almost immediately.  To the point that she was disappointed when the streaming service we were using conked out and we had to stop and reload the website.  Cthulhu was probably her favorite part; the second he showed up her face broke out into a huge grin and she wanted him as a pet.  Big fan of the shoggoth, too.

How Did Sonja (15 months old) React?

She was concerned.  Not quite scared.  But not altogether happy.  She kept turning away from the screen and then looking back to keep an eye on it, then looking at us like, "Is this okay, you guys?"

How Did Stephanie (My Wife) React?

She hasn't told me yet what she thought.  But her expression looked like I had given her a nicely wrapped gift box, and then she opened it to see a broken mug that had I hastily scribbled "I luv you honee babbe" onto.

Any Useful Ethical, Educational, or Thematic Content?

I doubt it.

Trigger Warnings / Egregious Offenses?

Not from the content, no.  The actual story itself is pretty boring and generic, and the horror isn't really all that punchy.  I'd say the most unnerving thing is just the bad animation.

How Likely Are You to Be Annoyed?

Let's go with 50%.  This is ultimately just an ordinary crappy kids' movie and doesn't deserve intense hate, but the Burton-lite character designs, flat line readings, and overall de-Lovecrafting of Lovecraft could put you in a bad mood if you go in with the wrong expectations.

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

Not very.  I don't rate in extremes, so I'll say 10% instead of an even zero.

Final Weighted Score: 3 / 5

Regrettably, I think the monsters are interesting enough to get some kids on board, so if you've got a kid who's fascinated by creatures, they'll want to see this despite all its flaws.  The good news: it's only about 80 minutes and isn't overly loud.  Maybe you can sneak in a quick nap, or do your taxes or something.