Let me tell you something about film critics. It's easy to pick faults in someone else's work, even if you do not have it in your power to create an equal work of art. The average film critic, by his very nature, is just a pretentious know-it-all who is quite frequently talking from the wrong end of his alimentary canal. When HTD came along in 1986 it was the first true victim to the pop culture critic.
For 22 years it has been called 'the biggest flop of all time' and other such terrible labels. Well, it cost $30 million dollars (nothing compared to today's budgets) and took $37 million worldwide and that's not even counting the higher-than-you-think rental revenue. Add it altogether and HTD is most definitely NOT the flop it is accused of being. But since it was a rather eccentric family comedy (an easy target) and one of the first films to significantly under-perform at the domestic box office (George Lucas expected the returns to be astronomical) it became a scapegoat for bad studio spending and taste.
I guess that the world needs something or someone to blame when pop culture goes wrong and the jackass critics I mentioned already seized upon Howard's failings to make a name for themselves. Derogatory soundbites are easy to come up with and everyone who hated the film used some kind of duck-themed insult to put it down and make themselves feel clever. But, when you think about it, these are basically the same people who will deliberately give a bad film a great review just to see their own name on the poster (yes, I am talking to you Paul Ross).
The film also suffered a further bad rep when George Lucas publicly disowned the film. It's under-performance forced him to sell off a part of his company which went on to become Pixar (think of how much he could have earned if he didn't) and it really made him quite angry. Wouldn't you be? Me? I am a huge fan of the late Steve Gerber's comic-books. HTD was basically the first BIG comic-book movie and came surprisingly soon after he found success in his own series. Howard first appeared in an issue of Man-Thing and starred in a few other issues of Conan and even Spider-Man before getting his own wings in the late 70s. The comic-book stories are the most surreal, archaic and satirical I have ever read and it's a shame that they had to tone it down for the movie, but that's to be expected.
As an ordinary duck working for an advertising company on his home planet of Duckworld, Howard is blasted across the universe right out of his living room by an experimental laser developed by Dr. Jenning (Jeffrey Jones). He lands in Cleveland, where he meets Beverly Switzler (Lea Thompson) a singer who takes him under her wing...I mean arm. Now trapped in a world he never made the one attempt at sending him back home unleashes the forces of the Dark Overlord of the Universe on earth through the possession of Dr. Jenning and he intends to bring more of his demons through the portal. Yeah, that sounds pretty heavy.
I'm actually a sucker for duck-related stuff. I don't know why. Donald Duck, Daffy Duck, Duck Tales, Darkwing Duck, Duckman etc. The list goes on and on. What I particularly like about the HTD movie is how most people seem to be completely at ease at talking to a humanoid bird.
Some of the fairer critics claimed that the film might have been a bigger hit if they had used CGI or traditional animation to bring Howard to life, but I must disagree. Part of the appeal of Howard is the fact that he is actually physically there and not some ghost who has been photo-shopped in afterwards. I love the duck suit, to me it is completely convincing and Chip Zien's voice work is perfect. I'd totally love to have Howard as a pal.
No joke, this film has a unfairly notorious history and a totally wrong perception by the general public or those who turned their noses and beaks up when it came out in 1986. Clear your head of any preconceptions that you might have and enjoy it on its own level. Though we really could have done without that silly narration over the opening title.