Delgo (review)

Toon It Out

It’s a good thing I just bought the Wall-E DVD, because I’m gonna need to watch it at least a dozen times to scrub the horrors of Delgo out of my brain. It’s kinda funny, actually: I’ve got a few more year-end awards contenders to see yet, but it’s hard to imagine that the philosophical Disney toon about the little robot will get pushed out of my top five movies of 2008. And now, shellshocked as I am from the experience of enduring Delgo, it’s hard to imagine that this won’t be in my bottom five movies of 2008. I suppose that’s an indication of how much variety we’re getting out of our animated movies these days, that they’re competing on this kind of level with live-action movies, but maybe we don’t need quite that much variety.
I barely know where to begin with the cinematic atrocity that is this independently produced cartoon. Dwelling on it is so painful that I’d rather do my best to forget the trauma of it, but I am compelled to ensure that no one else suffers as I have. Perhaps it’s best to start with what anyone can see for him- or herself via the poster and the trailer (please, for your own safety, take only the briefest of glances): The style of the computer animation is terrifying. The characters are disturbingly human-looking aliens, emphasis on the disturbing — they’re wrong in a way that’s hard to pinpoint but that gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies. Some of them have weird froglike faces atop human bodies, and others have weird elfen faces atop bodies that are otherwise human except for their wings, but all of them make me think that a mad, mad geneticist has been mucked about with DNA in a way that would be considered a crime against humanity.

Oh, and they move with a stiltedness that it would be an insult to video games to call videogame-ish.

Much detail has been lavished by first-time directors Marc F. Adler and Jason Maurer on the backdrops of their not-alien alien world, but the same was true of the groundbreaking immersively alien video game Myst, which the movie bears some physical resemblance to, except that game was groundbreaking in 1993. Would that as much attention had been lavished on the script… although maybe it was. It is almost exquisitely excruciating, as if it had been rendered, with deliberate forethought and great care, to be as awful as possible.

Delgo, as a script and a story, is awful on the small scale, as when one character, Princess Kyla (the voice of Jennifer Love Hewitt: Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, The Tuxedo), of the flying Nohrin race, wonders whether an article of clothing “make[s] my wings look wide”; or, perhaps, when the froggish Elder Marley (the voice of Michael Clarke Duncan: Kung Fu Panda, Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins), of the Lockni race, offers the sage advice that “there’s only honor in fighting for what you believe in if what you believe in is honorable,” which is actually the least worst example of the script’s reliance on trite declamation and clichéd conversation. (I’ve blocked out all the others.) It is awful on a middle scale, with plot points and jokes and imagery and characters stolen whole cloth from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Star Wars films, and The Lord of the Rings — the completely unexplained Force-like powers that the Lockni possess may be the worst of it. Also in the awful middle are characters like Filo (the voice of Chris Kattan: Nancy Drew, Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters), a screeching harpy of a “loveable sidekick” who made me want to puncture my own eardrums so I wouldn’t have to listen to him any further. Though he get serious competition from Spig (the voice of Eric Idle: Shrek the Third, Ella Enchanted), a “goofy minion” who spouts such unfunny, unwitty malapropisms that I can only guess the writers have no idea of the literary purpose malapropisms are generally considered to serve.

And Delgo is, of course, awful on the grand scale, demonstrating no hint that the writers — the directors and four additional first-timers — gave any thought whatsoever to, well, anything beyond creating an obvious metaphor for the badness of colonization and bigotry in their tale. You see, 15 years earlier, the winged Nohrin invaded the ground-bound Lockni, and bad feelings abound. Now, it looks as if there will be a new war between the races, cooked up by the Nohrin king’s evil sister (the voice of Anne Bancroft: Up at the Villa, G.I. Jane). But maybe, just maybe, the newfound friendship between Nohrin Kyla and Lockni Delgo (the voice of Freddie Prinze Jr.: Happily N’Ever After, Scooby-Doo) can stop it, and show everyone how to live in peace. That’s all sort of dreadful and obvious and stale enough, but there’s no context for anything: these beings have no culture that we can see, the names the writers invented for the races feel completely inorganic — it’s all as random as can be. The writers don’t even appear to have decided whether gravity works on this planet: enormous boulders float in the sky, but a character can still make a joke to someone falling with “Say hello to gravity.” What does he say to the floating rocks?

And here I’ve been giving more thought to Delgo than any of its creators did. This is an unforgivably sloppy, lazy movie, one that defies its own logic. It’s loud dumb boring pointless charmless soulless and shameless.

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