If you haven’t heard much about Delgo, the premiere feature length film from animation studio Fathom Studios, you’re not alone. I hadn’t heard much about the movie either until I found myself sitting in the theater getting ready to take in the film. From the look of the theater - empty, except for me, during prime time on the movie’s opening night - not many others have heard of Delgo either. Now, having seen the picture, I can say there really isn’t a whole lot here to buzz about.
The movie’s thinly veiled allegory takes place on an alien world. Strike that - calling the allegory “thinly veiled” would imply there is some sort of effort to hide the story’s underlying message. There isn’t. The winged race of the Nohrin find their planet in ruins. Looking for a new place to live, they find the land of the Lockni, who welcome the Nohrin with open arms. Of course, that just leads to an eventual move by the Nohrin to take more and more land, with a racial hatred rapidly building between the two. See the message the story’s going to tell?
The hostile takeover is led by the sister of the king of the Nohrin, Sedessa (notice the similarity to “sedition”). It turns out Sedessa’s gestures were unwanted by the king, who exiles the wicked would-be leader, paving the way for her return and attempt at a coup, with the aid of the king’s right-hand man, Raius. Why don’t the leaders in fantasy stories ever realize that execution would be cleaner than exile in the long run, or, at the very least, not to trust war-mongering generals when their own goals don’t include starting a war?
So who is the titular Delgo? He’s a simple Lockni who winds up falling in love with the daughter of the Nohrin king, Kyla. The two of them, along with Delgo’s buddy Filo and a former Nohrin general loyal to the king, wind up being the only ones aware of Sedessa’s plan, which means it’s up to the common farmboy to save the day from the galactic emprire… er, empress. An archetypical fantasy story in an alien setting - sounds like Star Wars to me.
The Star Wars comparison is a bit unfair, especially since Delgo is a better product than George Lucas’s more child-friendly Star Wars: The Clone Wars from earlier this year. The animation is more detailed, the story isn’t downgraded to appeal to children (if anything, Delgo’s politically driven plot may be too complicated for its target audience), and, while there may be a little potty humor here, there’s nothing as horrid as “stinky” the baby Hutt. That said, Delgo’s Filo makes Jar-Jar Binks look good by comparison. The character, voiced by Chris Kattan, serves as a good reminder why nobody wants to see Kattan in movies anymore, and moves like a ragdoll having a nonstop seizure - with a jerky, nonstop, hyper-motion animation style. Since he’s the only character that moves that way, he definitely stands out, and not in a good way.
Unfortunately, Filo is about the only thing about Delgo that stands out. Watching the movie, I was constantly put off by the animation, and I couldn’t figure out why. If I paid attention to the level of detail, it was there, with much better texture mapping than this year’s Space Chimps. If I focused on the use of light and shadow it was there, albeit in a limited degree. Then it occurred to me - what bothered me was an inconsistency. All of these visual things we look for in an animated movie are present, but they are inconsistent. The quality of lighting, shadow, and texture mapping vary from scene to scene and shot to shot, resulting in an unbalanced feeling while watching the movie. You quickly notice there is rarely any shot close-up on a Lockni, because their faces have very little detail, while other characters have more. The whole inconsistency becomes particularly troublesome during the story’s epic battles between the Nohrin and Lockni, where the poor use of lighting and shadow results in a loss of scale. It feels like you’re watching a microscopic battle that looks like the unrendered animatics of battle scenes from Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia. The idea is good, but the execution is unsound.
Even if this wasn’t an excellent year for animated films, it’s likely Delgo would pass by largely unnoticed. This just isn’t enough of a valiant effort from Fathom to be notable. The story is clichéd and underdeveloped (and overly complex for younger viewers) while the animation is on par with cut scenes in second tier video game titles, but not worth the price of admission to see the movie in the theater. If you, like many others, haven’t heard of Delgo, don’t worry. It’s just not a movie worth stopping to take notice of.