17 April 2010 | chuck-526
(maybe TOO) ambitious animation
I'll begin head-on with the frequent question: "why have I never heard of this movie?" Because of extraordinarily bad luck and timing. First, it got caught in a corporate reshuffle so it had a wide opening (planned before the reshuffle) but with no marketing publicity. Because of the wide opening it wasn't thought necessary to show it on the festival circuit or at conventions or in a limited release to specialty theaters, and when there was no advertising either the wide opening bombed. The second blow was its story didn't mesh with the zeitgeist, so it never garnered enough interest to build post-release buzz. It's best classified as an "action fairy tale", but when it came out, the fashion in animations was a more psychological and unusual story line (for example Ratatouille or Wall-E), and the "action" space was fully occupied by live action flicks (for example Star Trek). Then the third blow hit with Delgo being overshadowed by Avatar (which presented so many similarities that a lawsuit ensued).
The previous movies it brought to my mind are "Gandahar", "Battle for Terra", and "MirrorMask". The fully imagined, completely separate, alternate world with plants that look like animals and vice versa, the notably pacifistic society, the use of animals rather than machines for air transportation and for war, the psychic remote control of material objects, the conflation of mystical and political power, and the contrast of different technologies are all reminiscent of Rene Laloux's quarter century old "Gandahar" (unfortunately not readily available in North America). The very detailed alternate environment (especially the sky-whales), looming environmental collapse, and flying people are reminiscent of "Battle for Terra". And the incredibly detailed, imaginative, and overblown animations are reminiscent of "MirrorMask". (Delgo doesn't though use MirrorMask's green-screen technique to combine live actors with animation.) Similar to MirrorMask, Delgo does plenty of things right and has lots of flashes of brilliance, but in the end doesn't sufficiently "come together". It will be of interest to specialty audiences, and it will be a favorite of isolated groups of people, but it will probably never have as much mass market appeal as it hoped for. A couple things are common to the animation in all of "Delgo", "Gandahar", "Battle for Terra", and "MirrorMask": most of the animation was done with publicly available tools, and budget was the primary constraint on the animation.
As is common with most animated features, there's a lot of comic relief. Although it's pretty broad (very loud belches, eating flowers, holding the wrong door shut, a dog like creature piddling on the rug, fractured vocabulary that shames Mrs. Malaprop, and so forth) it mostly fits pretty well. The comic relief centering on the character Filo though is so over the top some will find it irritating.
As one would expect from a "fairy tale", morals are fairly obvious. There are a couple skewers directed at the Bush administration ("we must go to war to prevent a war" and "it's much easier to start a war than to stop one"), but they're sufficiently subtle many viewers won't even notice them. The "can't we all just get along" moral though is more pervasive (after all it's the central motif of the whole movie).
The animation is incredibly detailed and imaginative. Techniques like scores of light sources in a scene, moving "cameras", lots and lots of pieces moving simultaneously, clouds of dust, and shimmering foggy auras that produce their own light, are used often. The animators solve particular problems in resourceful and imaginative ways (for example a spider web modeled as a piece of cloth, or a belt that seems to ripple freely yet whose far end can be controlled). This is the first time I've seen a caustic light pattern reflected from an unseen pool of water throw its moving wavy patterns over another object. Yet the overall impression of the animation is "klunky". Why? I think because all the characters are clearly recognizable humanoids, even to the extent that characters are overlaid with the facial features of the corresponding voice actor. Even though the 3D representations are very good (one running scene is so realistic the common reaction is it couldn't have possibly been done just with regular animation tools), they're not good enough to satisfy us viewers who see humanoid forms all the time and so have extremely high standards for them. This isn't an "uncanny valley" problem; the characters aren't quite that realistic. One wishes Delgo had either gone even further (motion capture?) or had backed away a bit to more animalistic and less realistic forms (more like Spig, Spog, and the dog like creature, all of which are very successful).
In summary-- the story: closely adheres to the "action fairy tale" categorization, formulaic; but every so often will entrance someone - the animation: uneven, insufficiently restrained, and sometimes seemingly primitive when it really isn't; but worthy of close scrutiny by aficionados.