I’m actually NOT going to do a typical review for “Delgo”. I had to watch it for a paper for my Honors Media Psychology course, so I’ll give you the review I wrote. Here’s the thing though- the assignment was to watch a HOLLYWOOD FLOP (so you *know* it’s great -_-) and then explain why it flopped. My official paper title was “Delgo: An Insult to Cinema”, but the save title was “Why Delgo Sucked Ass”, so you can guess my feelings about the movie pretty easily…
Delgo: An Insult to Cinema
For a movie to appeal to a wide audience it must have a clearly constructed plot, believable settings and characters, and aesthetic value. If one area is lacking then the others must attempt to compensate. Once the average viewer becomes aware of any problems the film is in danger. The star-studded 2008 animated feature Delgo went for an approach similar to that seen in The Producers: take the worst of everything and it will equal a resounding success. Unfortunately for Delgo it fell short of even that goal and became one of the top Hollywood flops. Issues with plot structure, character development and technical difficulties drew unwanted attention to the film and impacted it negatively.
A casual viewer will first be turned away by the plotline. It is basically a mash-up of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet as well as Disney’s The Lion King. The evil sister of a powerful King pours poison into the ear of the Queen and attempts to steal her brother’s throne after being humiliated and punished for starting a war between the Nohrin people and the Lockni. She is caught and forced into exile. Many years later a Lockni boy (and adopted son of the Head Elder of his people) falls in love with the Princess of the winged Nohrin. A sympathizer to the exiled royal kidnaps the girl and blames her disappearance on the Lockni boy, setting both sides up for war. The King’s sister sees this as an opportunity for revenge and a way to weaken his army and attack with a monstrous force of her own, naming herself Empress. Naturally the story’s hero stops her and gets the girl, securing peace between their people.
While the story was written to entertain a young audience there must also be elements within a story to grab the attention of older viewers, the ones who are actually paying to go see such a film. If the plot is overly simplistic then it is crucial that the writing be sufficient to create an engaging story that crosses generational boundaries. Delgo did not succeed. At best the setup for the story is vague. In one burst the entire back-story is given: the evil Sedessa starting a war, killing the Queen, and being exiled. It is very much oriented to show the Nohrin people, though the main lead of the movie, Delgo, is Lockni, so much of the movie is seen from their perspective. It is comparable to watching a historical piece on Germanic tribes before viewing the movie Gladiator, which is about ancient Rome primarily. With the Lockni people carrying much of the weight of the film it is ill-advised to orient the flashback around the Nohrins. This created an unlevel field upon which to tell the tale.
Disjointed settings also made the plot difficult to follow. The viewer is shown early on three distinct areas: the Lockni town, Nohrin city, and Sedessa’s base in exile. However, no clear shots exist to reference the three in relation to one another. We know the Nohrin city is somewhere behind the Lockni town, but in some shots it appears to be on the top of a mountain and in others it floats in the sky. Sedessa’s home is initially seen as the top of a cliff, but later becomes a floating palace without any clear distinction within the story to say if she built it, found it, or any other helpful leads. Within each setting are important locations: the Lockni village holds the sanctuary that serves as home-base for the Stone Sages, a governing council. Also repeatedly shown is Delgo’s own house. For all the attention the story gives to these settings, however, they could be hundreds of miles apart in any direction. Characters jump from one location to another without any tracking to give the viewer bearings. Lack of transition within the setting also makes it more difficult to follow the story. Viewers are never shown where buildings are in relation to one another, so they are forced to accept each scene almost as a separate act entirely. Characters have to say where they are and the audience is given free reign to try and figure out where the setting exists within the three distinct zones. It leaves one feeling that they missed an important piece of explanation, or that the writer assumes the viewer knows the layout automatically.
Assumptions made by the writers and director in terms of setting locations also carries over into the various fantastical creatures in this other world. Multiple times a creature is referenced in passing or directly and then forgotten, never to be seen again. Many monsters appear, are named, and then disappear and have no further bearing on the story. Overall it feels like a very disjointed and incomplete Dr. Seuss story. And this is not limited to monsters; it applies to characters as well. A great example is the character of Filo, friend to Delgo. He appears often in the movie, but not once does he give the viewer any reason as to why he even exists. The character complains loudly and talks over more key characters, somehow causes a disruption that is harmful to the intentions of the others, and has no apparent redeeming value. Such characters litter multiple scenes, some never even named, and removing them would go a long way towards cleaning up the story. These undefined characters such as Filo distract from the storyline, crowd the frames, and prevent the viewer from being able to peacefully follow the story.
Another issue with over-casting the film is that there is not enough time within which to create a sense of relation between the viewer and the story. By the end of Delgo you only just start to see why the characters may be important and to become emotionally invested in them. The character development is shallow and insufficient. Delgo and Princess Kyla are meant to be romantic leads, but instead they feel like strangers. Attempts at development are made multiple times, but are sudden and blunt, such as the attempt at Delgo. We see him arguing with his teacher about the importance of patience and learning to use his magical stone-moving powers, after an attack on the Stone Sage training center he decides such an ability is useless, then suddenly he is with the Princess and is using different techniques to masterfully move the stones and show off his powers. It makes the characters feel bipolar and unconnected between scenes, let alone with one another throughout the whole movie.
On the technical side of things you see, as with many animated films, an all star cast boasting such B and C-List celebrities as Freddie Prinze Jr., Chris Kattan, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Eric Idle, among many others. While having a big-name cast may draw in the older audiences a much better move would have been to cast people who would fit better with the characters. The artists and casting directors appear to never have met, as the voices and faces do not match sufficiently. Even in animated features there is a mental link made between voices and faces- if James Earl Jones had played Simba in The Lion King, for example, it would not have matched as well as Matthew Broderick did. Many Lockni have deeper voices while the Nohrin are of a higher register. Despite this there are multiple minor characters on each side who belong to the other end of the range. Filo, for example, has a high voice and an over exaggerated accent and tone, which fit better with the army of Sedessa. Delgo possesses a higher voice and Bogardus, a Nohrin general, has a deep voice that would sync well with the Lockni people. The disjointed vocals, combined with a disjointed setting and disjointed characters, distract the audience.
Finally, and perhaps the key to the films failure, is the animation style. Characters costumes, hair, and physical features are very simple. Settings are basic and without extra detail. The lighting is bright and clear, even in Sedessa’s fortress, the Lockni village, or Nohrin palaces. A lighter tone and basic designs give off the sense that this movie is for younger audiences, and indeed it carries the PG rating to support this. Within the plot, however, are issues that most parents would find inappropriate for a young age rang: scenes of Sedessa bound to a post and having her wings amputated, later on the Princess Kyla is similarly bound about to have hers removed as well, by a seemingly insane “doctor” with a rusty saw. Elements similar to this are grossly inappropriate with a story that seems to aim to work with viewers around the average age of 5 or 6. The plot elements speak of an older audience, around the age of ten, but the graphics and animation point to an audience in a totally different demographic. Instead of appealing to a wide range of children this would instead alienate both groups.
Delgo does a great job of showing how not to make a movie. The writing is disjointed, settings and time frames are unclear, characters have far flung personalities that differ scene to scene, voices do not match the faces, and there is no clear demographic for the film. The movie The Producers implies that if you combine the worst of everything you will end up with a hit, and Delgo’s writers and director seem to have forgotten a distinction between that message and reality. Multiple issues across various elements of the film hold the viewer back from immersing themselves in a new world with new characters. After watching the movie from a critical position it only seems surprising that the movie was released in the first place. The fact that it was officially labeled a “Flop” is hardly surprising.