Thursday, August 16, 2012

Horrible Non-Horror! Delgo

A “children’s film” that appeals equally to adults is, in my opinion, one of the greatest feats cinema can achieve. WALL-E, The Wizard of Oz, both Babe films and a select batch of others are celebrated for simultaneously being both eye candy with good messages for any time’s youth, and wonderful entertainment that doesn’t have an age limit. Most filmmakers can throw pretty colors and goofy characters onscreen long enough to entertain the under 8 crowd. It takes true talent and vision to keep their parents from calling the babysitter.

Then there comes a film like Delgo, a now legendary box office bomb that fails every generation (of which there are very few) that dares to watch it. Too ugly for toddlers, too violent for pre-Kers, too convoluted for the elementary crowd and too exceedingly dull for any adult charged with supervising.

In other words, it’s horrible non-horror at its very base.

Quick Plot: Let’s start with the onscreen voice credits, something you rarely see in a children’s film because most filmmakers assume children aren’t actively reading to see which of their favorite Monty Python members show up for a paycheck. Sure, The Muppets’ Christmas Carol also featured onscreen credits in its opening, but that’s probably because the kids that could read would get actively excited to see the words “Fozzie Bear as Fozziwig.” Granted I’m not a parent, but even the very subtle motherly instincts inside me say most six-year-olds aren’t overly thrilled at the prospect of picturing Sally Kellerman and Kelly Ripa in a recording studio.

Kellerman’s narration introduces us to the planet Jhamora, where the lizard-ish green race of Lokni have peacefully played with ugly dolls and moved red stones with their minds for generations. One day, the Nohrin—fairy-ish things that sort of look like something Toy Story’s sadistic Sid might have created if he were a little girl—flutter to Jhamora and stake it as their new settlement, first peacefully, then with force from the fair king (Louis Gossett Jr.)’s evil sister Sedessa (Anne Bancroft, in her final film role). After trying to kill the king’s infant daughter and brutally slaughtering a whole lot of Lokni, Sedessa is banished and a tentative peace is reached.

I know what you’re thinking: if I were six, all this talk of genocide and monarchy and revolution in a fantasy world would be absolutely RIVETING. AND I haven’t even told you about Chris Kattan yet!

15 years after the prologue, we meet the titular Delgo, voiced by that ever so dry slice of white bread that is and will always be Freddie Prinze Jr. Delgo is a Lokni orphaned by Sedessa’s war but raised by Michael Clarke-Duncan’s wannabe Obi Wan Kenobi of a master, who teaches the ways of what is never called, but obviously ripped off from The Force. Delgo’s best bud is named JarJar—er, Filo. But you can see where I’m going with this…

Chris Kattan has never been, how do you say, a subtle performer. Often such a style is ideal for the world of animation, where overactive personalities like Robin Williams or Gilbert Gottfried feel perfectly at home in the guise of colorful caricatures unlimited by live action restraints. In the case of the far less talented Chris Kattan, however, ‘free reign’ is never good direction.

As Filo, Kattan irks and grates in a manner seemingly intent on giving viewers hives. It’s not his fault that his character (like all the creatures in the film) looks like a Saturday morning cartoon rejected design later thrown into a paper shredder and messily glued back together, but hearing him mug and cry cliché after cliché as flat comic relief is just painful.

As for the rest of the movie, it’s not much better. Delgo sort of kind of falls for Kyla, the teenage Nohrin princess voiced by Jennifer Love Hewitt. I suppose we’re supposed to feel something of a Romeo & Juliet vibe, but at the risk of sounding racist towards ugly fairy/lizard CGI creations, I don’t know that I want to live in a world where such awful things are allowed to reproduce. Their kiss in the final shot is remnant of the awkward first time smooches seen on TLC’s Virgin Diaries, and while I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve watched that sad excuse for a reality show, I’m less embarrassed to say I’d take a marathon of that over a second viewing of Delgo any day.

It’s not that the film is bad; it is, but any glance at my archives proves I’ve seen far worse. The problem with Delgo is that it’s a snooze with no understanding of any member of its potential audience. Yes, there are magical creatures designed to appeal to little girls…

if little girls dig plain-looking fairies in yoga pants.

There’s comic relief…
in the form of incredibly annoying and not-at-all comic sidekicks. 
We’re on a fantasy pre-Pandora-ish planet…

filled with all the whimsy of an antiquated screensaver. 

Toss in subplots involving meditation, war councils, and—I lie not—the devastating effects of gambling addiction and you have a kids film as ill-thought-out, but not nearly as kooky as The Nutcracker In 3D.

I’m sure directors Marc  Adler and Jason Maurer made Delgo with the best of intentions, especially considering it was a decade-long project that seemed enthusiastically intent on being a new frontier for animation. There’s an earnestness in the story and styling, which really seems to want to warn its audience about the perils of power, racism, colonization, and, um, gambling addiction. The film eschews easy pop culture references for an actual plot and imagined society. On paper, the idea of Delgo is a wonderful right step for children’s entertainment.

It’s just a shame—or guilty pleasure—that the end result is what it is. Because seriously: this-

is supposed to be charming.

High Notes
With all the heavily touted voice talent, it’s a shame to admit only one leaves any form of lasting impression. Thankfully, Anne Bancroft imbues Sedessa with a throaty cunning that adds a touch of sexiness to an otherwise dull 90 minutes, occasionally helped out by the always welcome raspings of Malcom McDowell in a villainous role

Low Notes
Between the uninspired dialogue, bland characters, overcomplicated plot and excessive violence, it’s hard to pick the ultimate offender of Delgo…until you pause at any given scene and wonder how any filmmaker with color vision can look at the brown/gray palette of his film and not think of the water you use to rinse off your brush when painting with watercolors. This is an aggressively ugly film.

Lessons Learned
Cutting off a fairy thing’s wings be twisted

Fairy thingies are easily distracted by flipped coins

In order to secure a PG rating for a film in which one character is stabbed by a belly complete with a grisly sound effect of someone pulling the sword OUT of his belly, make sure all your characters are so physically repulsive that even the most Puritan MPAA member will cheer for their extinction

The Winning Line
“Does this make my wings look wide?”

Not because it’s actually funny, but more because it represents much of what is wrong about Delgo. A princess wearing the same outfit she wears for the entire film suddenly worries about her girth with a trite question meant so earnestly to garner a chuckle from the moms in the audience. Except the script can’t even bring a desperate smile to the ticketbuyer’s face because, well, who says “wide” when they mean “fat?”

Delgo is more legendary for its box office failure than its actual quality, but this is still a very, very bad film. Badly written, blandly acted, and most shamefully, dreadfully designed, it makes no attempt whatsoever to appeal to its presumed 21st century 4 to 11 year old audience, assuming instead that whatever magic was thought up by its adult creators is enough to lighten everybody’s world. The DVD is oozing with special features, including a commentary track and batch of making-of featurettes. So if you really, um, like Delgo, it’s certainly worth a purchase. But if you really like Delgo, I’m also assuming you shouldn’t play with sharp things and therefore don’t really want you touching the potential weapon that is a DVD.


  1. There's a British kid's show that I've seen called Young Dracula, and it failed hard! At times, it was a really immature, kid-friendly show, and other times, it'd get way too dark for kids! haha! Especially with the cliffhanger ending to the show, where, after a vampire massacre, one vamp chick decides to make 'the rivers of her town run red with blood'. FOR KIDS! haha!

  2. Nice! Nothing is quite as wonderful as failed for-kids cinema.