December 18, 2008

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Delgo (PG)
Two races of lizard people fight over the bountiful land of Jhamora in the dark and weird (but not in an interesting way) animated movie Delgo.

Delgo is dark and scary — it vaguely reminds me of The Dark Crystal, a much better movie from Jim Henson that also features genocide and dead parents. I haven’t seen that movie, which came out in 1982, in years and I remember it scaring the heck out of me at the time but in a way that was also fascinating. I didn’t want to see the scary parts, but at the same time, I wanted to watch it all again.

I’m not sure what that young me would think of Delgo. I think I might have been scared but also bored. Instead of Muppets, this movie has animated creatures that, even on the big screen, seem diminished. The panoramic view of a new world that modern animation usually gives you here feels more like the kind of limited animation you get on TV. It reminded me of some cheap late 1980s cartoon you’d see filling some undesirable spot between Jem and Transformers.

Delgo (voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.) is a Lockni, one of the lizard-people races that uneasily share Jhamora. He has the requisite dead parents and a mission — to learn the ways of the sacred rock floaters (or whatever they’re called; basically, some ruling body that seems like a cross between kung fu masters and the tertiary characters from the Jedi Council). He meets Kyla (Jennifer Love Hewitt), princess of the Nohrin, a winged race of lizard-people who are kind of snobby. They moved into the Lockni-held lands of Jhamora after their home (which looks like a mash-up of Cloud City and the Dust Bowl) became uninhabitable. But the Nohrin acted like they were the ones doing the Lockni a favor with their presence and the Nohrin’s grabbiness with the land plus the occasional acts of ethnic cleansing started a war between the Lockni and the Nohrin. Now, their relationship is one of cold war.

While Delgo and Kyla get all Romeo & Juliet over each other, banished Nohrin troublemaker Sedessa (Anne Bancroft) is scheming to break the uneasy peace between Lockni and Nohrin and get them fighting again — all the easier for her to slip in with her army of, I don’t know, Orcs or something and steal the throne from Kyla’s dad, who is Sedessa’s brother.

Dead parents, an evil aunt, lots of Delgo and Kyla getting thrown in dungeons — I suppose there was a way to make this definitely-not-suitable-for-little-kids movie interesting for older kids. It seems to want to be an allegory about how people can be tricked into war by leaders with devious motives. But it doesn’t tell that story cleverly enough (it does feature a lot of scenes of ambassadors and advisers talking about why they should or should not go to war — perfect for that nine-year-old who can’t tear himself away from C-SPAN broadcasts of Senate hearings). Nor does it provide enough action or adventure to cover for the weaker points of the plot. And the attempts at comic relief— almost entirely personified by Delgo’s goofy friend Filo (Christ Kattan) — are absolutely nerve-shredding. Filo’s capering and wackiness make you long for the subtlety and wit of Jar Jar Binks.

When it isn’t making you wish physical suffering on its characters, Delgo is boring you with its plot and baffling you with its story choices. D

Rated PG for sequences of fantasy action violence. Directed by Marc F. Adler and Jason Maurer and written by Adler, Maurer, Scott Biear, Patrick J. Cowan, Carl Dream and Jennifer A. Jones, Delgo is an hour and 30 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Key Creatives and Freestyle Releasing.