Delgo Review

A still birth is sad no matter the medium: mammal or film. An initial seed of inspiration sparks a long enduring process of maturation and development where the defining features of the organism begin to develop. Meanwhile, the nurturing creators of this new life do their best to secure the best circumstances to await their child when it arrives. Again, whether it be an animal or a film, when the stillbirth arrives it’s a devastating disappointment. The comparison may seem somewhat coldly analytical in comparing a living, breathing thing to a collection of moving pictures constructed for entertainment – but just look at the similar stakes. Both filmmaking and reproduction require a certain gestation period whether it be production or incubation. The two have similarly high hopes for the future: one for sequels and DVD sales, the other for a bright prosperous future in a career of their choice.

But then the stillbirth.

This thing everyone has toiled over for so long arrives on this earth and just sits there lifeless. There’s nothing anyone can do; the choices were made back in the womb – and now there’s nothing to do but grieve. Morbidly somber, yes?

And so we grieve for Delgo.

After years spent perfecting animation, sound and finishing Delgo arrived DOA. It had a fresh albeit weird style for its characters. It had a slate of recognizable though less than stellar lineup of actors to provide voices. It had a sweeping story full of allegories and references to classic pieces of literature and film that could keep a film connoisseur on their feet for the first few viewings. With all these things Delgo should have managed a meager few weeks in theaters, but it didn’t even last one – and it’s no real mystery as to why.

The ban on dark themes in children’s films has long since lifted and many entries into the field have made great strides in introducing mature themes in ways a seven-year-old can enjoy even if not totally comprehending it. So is it possible to go too dark? Or to go too dark too soon in a children’s movie? Traditionally an animated feature keeps things bright and cheery as it introduces its characters to the impressionable youths in the audience – but Delgo will have none of this pandering. Jolting the audience straight into a prologue of war between the Lockni and the Nohrin, genocide and betrayal, Delgo would force you to invest yourself rather than slickly entice you to do so. By the time we meet Delgo (Freddie Prinze Jr.) in a meaningful way we’ve already seen his parents murdered and already had Chris Kattan pierce our eardrums with his obnoxious vocals –it’s almost too much to take. To fill in for Delgo’s parents, wise Elder Marley (Michael Clarke Duncan), who can use the force exclusively on glowing gems, raises Delgo and teaches him a cursory control of this mystical power; but, like Luke Skywalker, Delgo’s anger blinds him to a fuller control of his abilities.

But wait! Did you think there was only one case of parental murder to set up the film? Oh no! While sleeping, King Zahn (Louis Gossett Jr.) and his queen are attacked in their sleep by the treacherous Sedessa (Anne Bancroft), who manages to kill the queen only to be separated from her wings and exiled in a land far away. Thus, King Zahn is left to raise the free-spirited Princess Kyla (Jennifer Love Hewitt) on his own.

There’s no mystery in the plot once you get past the setup as a plot to overthrow King Zahn, masterminded by Sedessa and her supporters within the Nohrin kingdom, sweeps Delgo and Kyla into a race to expose the treachery even as they dodge the slings and arrows from both their people.

As far as rendering goes, Delgo is a beautifully animated film but there is a profoundly serious problem: the character design. The Lockni people look like lanky bipedal lizards with no snout while the Nohrin have an unfortunate resemblance to some hybrid of Dr. Seuss’s Who-people, dragonflies and Charlton Heston’s greatest foe: the ape. Their appearances are just endlessly odd and it’s just so hard to rally behind characters when you’re spending half your focus trying to figure out just what the hell they are. In terms of audio, the film more often than not feels somewhat flat. The score might be rousing sometimes, but at other key moments it’s muted and at other times the sound effects seem too sparse for the rich landscape the animators plotted out.

The one aspect of the audio that never suffers is the plethora of talent brought in to voice the characters. Beyond the leading cast, Val Kilmer, Kelly Ripa, Eric Idle, Malcolm McDowell and Burt Reynolds (in a 60 second role) all lend their voices – but none of them can really infuse the film with the vitality it needed. It’s all such a shame.

If you can get past the appearances of the characters, there are lots of lessons to be learned in this plodding tale of royal treachery and intrigue. If your kids are older than 9 the film might just be able to deliver the message while not seeming too odd. There’s potential for your kids to like this film, even if it may cause the adults no end of personal grief and agitation. Why hasn’t Chris Kattan been put out of his misery?

DVD Bonus Features

The disc’s greatest asset is the audio commentary. Listening to Marc F. Adler and Jason Maurer explain in no lack of detail all the small nuances they researched to make Delgo function, you begin to realize that Delgo may be the most overwrought animated film to ever have existed. In focusing in on all the details, the writers and directors forgot to make Delgo fun – to bring it to life. It’s as if Frankenstein had spent years seeking out the best organs and body parts for his monster only to then bring it to its feet without that key spark of life. Instead of walking about it just stands there looking like a masterwork of anatomy but with no inclination to use what the twisted doctor has given it. Delgo has so much promise – you can see it in the film even as it staggers and falls – but it just never lurches into being. Once you’re done with the commentary there is a short piece on the score and sound design, which similarly shows exuberance for making the film perfect without the final touch to make us care. After that you’ll find some deleted scenes which, for once, are interesting since they cut out so much for the harshly edited theatrical version.

"Delgo" is on sale August 4, 2009 and is rated PG. Action, Adventure, Animation, Children & Family, Drama, Fantasy. Directed by Jason Maurer, Marc F Adler. Written by Scott Biear, Marc F. Adler. Starring Anne Bancroft, Burt Reynolds, Kelly Ripa, Malcolm McDowell, Michael Clarke Duncan, Val Kilmer, Freddie Prinze Jr, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Chris Kattan, Louis Gossett Jr, Eric Idle.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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