Before seeing the trailer for Delgo a few weeks ago before Madagascar 2, I really did not know much about it. I had never been to their website, had never seen any stills or video, and really did not know a lot about it’s long history. I say this because since seeing the film I’ve learned the filmmakers documented a lot of the in process production online and that there are a group of fans who have been following along for many years now. And I want to make clear up front that I am not one of those people. I’m coming at this with fresh eyes having not spent more than three minutes of my life before this week on any facet of Delgo. But I’m a fan now.

A pair of star-cross’d lovers?

On a distant world, a humanoid race of terrestrial aliens called the Lockni live a simple life on the planet Jhamora. The winged Nohrin live in a world above the clouds. When the Nohrin world begins to die, they make an agreement with the Lockni to let them settle on their world in order to save their people. The Nohrin king sends his ambitious sister, Sedessa, to rule his people in their new land. As the Nohrin need more and more land, the Lockni decide they can not afford to give any more. Without the king’s knowledge Sedessa takes matters into her own hands and takes the land by force. The tensions between the two peoples are ignited by this and they go to war. A truce is eventually called, and the king bans Sedessa to their dead cloud world. But the Lockni and the Nohrin are now suspicious of each other and live separately. It is against this background that the Romeo and Juliet story of a Lockni orphan named Delgo and the Nohrin King’s daughter Kyla is set.

I know this film is getting a lot of negative buzz. And almost all of that is based purely on the look of the characters. I felt the same way after seeing the trailer a few weeks ago. But just because this isn’t the normal, cutesy, ready to be slapped in a Happy Meal character designs we Americans are used to, that doesn’t make the design decisions wrong. It may make it harder to market, but it isn’t wrong. Thankfully though, once I got used to their non-Hollywood-standard look, I found a pretty good movie.

I have to admit I was expecting a by the numbers, pop-culture filled, mess of a story since with very few exceptions that is what we have been given from independent animated films the past several years. But that is not at all the case here. The writers of Delgo have created a rich, detailed backstory for their characters to inhabit and (just as importantly) given them a reason for being there. Throughout the film I couldn’t help but be reminded of The Lord of the Rings, if on a much more manageable scale. I’m willing to bet a lot of critics will see the weighty plot as a bad thing. But trying to cram a Tolkien-esque story into 90 minutes can’t have been easy and the writers should be given some leeway when trying to get as much across as possible in the limited time. And what’s wrong with giving kids a little credit that they can tackle a more complicated plotline than what they see in the usual animated fare? While most of the movie is more classically epic in its storytelling, they have unfortunately fallen into a few of the traps of modern animation. The worst offense here is having an annoying sidekick character, who in this case is so over the top that he almost ruins the whole atmosphere of the film. Another is having the young leads be just a little too full of themselves. In trying to make them seem cool, they become a little hard to like at first. And of course there’s an obligatory bodily function joke. But overall Delgo’s story is impressive and on a much more grand scale than we’ve seen in an animated film in a long time.

Beautiful animation and a compelling story
make Delgo a surprising must-see.

With such an imposing story, the animation needs to hold its own or the whole thing will fall apart under its weight. And Delgo delivers. Putting aside character designs for a moment, I can not recall a CG film with such impressive visuals, from the lush backgrounds to the detailed props. Even without a story Delgo would be worth the price of admission just to look at! Every scene is like nothing you have seen before from the established animated film companies. Yes, part of that is due to the otherworldly aspects of the designs. But it seems like even the most mundane parts of the animation were given a level of attention that you just don’t see very often. Now about those character designs! As I said earlier, they can be off-putting. But with the graphic style of the worlds of Delgo, I think the character designs fit in very well. Anything more traditional would have been incongruous. There were a few animation issues that slightly distracted me. Some of the characters’ movements seemed off in certain situations. For example, when Delgo is jumping from creature to creature at the beginning of the film the physics seem wrong. Another minor problem I had that I couldn’t shake had to do with costuming. While most of the characters, depending on their station in life, wore either regal garments, or warrior gear, or more humble clothing, Princess Kyla was animated with an outfit I can only describe as a spandex exercise outfit! Throughout the film I kept wondering when she was going to her aerobics class! I joke, but with the much more appropriately styled other characters, Kyla kept sticking out from everyone else. As I said, a minor issue. Especially compared with all that was done right.

Vocally things were a little more hit and miss, as can be expected when you try to assemble an all-star cast. Freddie Prinze Jr. is adequate as Delgo. Jennifer Love Hewitt is a fine Princess Kyla. Anne Bancroft is stellar as the evil Sedessa. And Chris Kattan is atrocious as Delgo’s buddy Filo. The rest of the cast (which includes Val Kilmer, Malcolm McDowell, Louis Gossett Jr., Michael Clarke Duncan, and Eric Idle, Burt Reynolds, and Sally Kellerman) all do very nice jobs in their respective parts.

Just out this weekend, and it already appears Delgo isn’t getting any respect. And that’s unfortunate as I think a lot of it has to do with its somewhat unappealing character designs and with audiences having been burned by disastrous independent animated films in the past. Delgo is a fun, smart, and beautiful film that will require multiple viewings just to catch everything there. Hopefully animation fans will give this film a chance because a lot of us complain that too many films are geared towards the lowest common denominator. If that is to change studios need to see films like this get supported.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

Fathom Studios
December 12, 2008
90 minutes
Rated PG
directed by Marc F. Adler & Jason Maurer