A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that though this PG film derives from a Marvel Comics superhero spoof, it's in sort of a no-duck's-land of an audience demographic, with the animal-costumed main character and childish sci-fi (and rock and roll) attitude mixed with satire, violence, and PG-13 raunch better appreciated by grownups. Howard smokes and drinks and reads the duck equivalent of pornography -- we have clues that he's sexually active with a number of lady ducks and nearly has a sex scene with the scantily-dressed human heroine. There is light swearing, and police-as-dumb-goons prevail among the stereotypes. Younger kids might be disturbed by the villain's monster mutations.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Howard T. Duck comes from a remote Earth-like world where humanoid ducks have evolved like human beings, right down to parallel waterfowl-centric culture -- a movie hit titled Breeders of the Lost Stork, for example. Accidentally dragged to Cleveland, Ohio (badly played by southern California), via the humans' deep-probing observatory laser-scope, the wisecracking flightless bird bumblingly tries to fit in with our society, becoming manager of an all-female rock band and gaining a "girlfriend" in the form of lead singer Beverly (Lea Thompson). When the same laser-probe materializes a sort of space demon that possesses a scientist (Jeffrey Jones), Howard turns unlikely hero to save Beverly and her fellow "hairless apes" of this planet from doom.
Is it any good?
Whatever appeal the original character held got left behind on the funny pages by this version produced by George Lucas, of all people. (Some commentators thought he just owed somebody a favor.). It was made with all the glitz money could buy -- as much as $50 million, by some estimates. But HOWARD THE DUCK is just one big empty bird-dropping, with obnoxious characters, tinny 1980s synth-pop music, heavy drinking/partying, death rays, monsters, repetitious and thrill-free car-chase scenes, bad-taste gags (a few revolving around the potential of human-duck lovemaking), merciless avian puns -- maybe Tim Robbins got cast solely on the basis of his last name -- and the underwhelming title character.
Howard is so clearly a little-person actor in a near-immobile duck mask and suit that one appreciates all the more how well Jim Henson's Creature Shop brought personality and movement to the equally gonzo Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a few years later. in their live-action films. Neither hitting the target for the kiddie element or grownups (as the comics character did, at least to a point), Howard the Duck laid an egg at the box office, and remains a cautionary reminder: Despite later exceptions, not all superhero-based epics are super-quality, and George Lucas could do a lot worse than Jar Jar Binks.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Howard the Duck as a satire of superhero mythologies, and how "serious" Marvel characters such as Spider-Man even made guest appearances in the printed version. Have kids read the original Howard the Duck comics (now in book form, some compilations more risqué than others) to appreciate the spoofing as it was intended. Ask them if they enjoy their comics characters served as big jokes, like the Adam West TV Batman, or completely straightfaced like the X-Men and Iron Man. Impress kids with your superhero knowledge (or just look pretty geeky) by saying that the character of She-Hulk also became something of running spoof for the Marvel writing staff.
- In theaters: August 1, 1986
- On DVD or streaming: March 10, 2009
- Cast: David Paymer, Jeffrey Jones, Lea Thompson, Tim Robbins
- Director: Willard Huyck
- Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Adventures, Space and Aliens
- Run time: 111 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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