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Box Office Most Wanted Ep. 1: #2 – Delgo

 Box Office Most Wanted is a series dedicated to discussing some of the lowest grossing films of all time. The list of films can be found, and are ranked according to, the Box Office Mojo list of the “Worst Openings – Very Wide,” which is to say the lowest grossing opening weekends from films released in 2,000+ theaters domestically (U.S. and Canada).

Delgo

  • Release Date – Dec. 12, 2008
  • Production Budget – $40 million
  • Size of Release – 2,160 theaters
  • Opening Weekend Box Office – $511,920
  • Total Box Office – $694,782
  • 2nd lowest box office opening in a wide release ever

 

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In a peaceful village, a frog…lizard…man…creature plays catch with a child named Delgo. They enjoy their day with laughter and joy. Until the ball falls into a barrel and a voiceover narration courtesy of Sally Kellerman sends the jungle haven into a genocidal hellscape. Vicious, militaristic Nohrin (this is to say, flying…locust…monkey-looking…people…creatures) invade the village and rapidly lay waste to it: torching huts and hunting down the lizard-like Lockni as a field general orders that the Nohrin “Leave no survivors.”

By the way, this is a PG-rated animated family film. Predicated on brutal war and genocide.

The first note I wrote down for this film reads “Lochni and Nohrin = Hutus and Tutsis?” The film never posited anything to stray me away from this comparison.

The scariest thing about this premise is that it can be viewed as a thinly veiled reference to the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda. The winged Nohrin are allowed access to the Lockni world of Jhamora as refugees due to the infertility of their home world. The Nohrin, perceiving themselves to be culturally superior and of a higher class, then systematically destroy the Lockni people by attacking civilians, an act which leads to a bloody civil war on Jhamora.

Again. A PG-rated animated family film. And this is the opening scene of the movie.

The film follows the eponymous Lockni, Delgo (a very Freddie Prinze Jr. Freddie Prinze Jr.), through the trials of institutional racism and cold war political corruption.

(ahem. kid’s movie.)

After a race with his bumbling and inarticulate friend Filo (a screeching Chris Kattan), Delgo falls off a cliff. Hanging helplessly, he is saved by a Nohrin princess (a flat Jennifer Love Hewitt). Immediately upon setting foot back on solid ground, Delgo is assaulted and threatened by Hutu, I mean Nohrin, soldiers.

Next, we learn that the Lockni are magic. At least, some of them are. No discernible distinction is made as to what constitutes a magic Lockni and a Lockni like Filo who can barely stand upright let alone use telepathy.

Upon being released by the Hutu, I mean Nohrin, Delgo is trained to telepathically manipulate flaming stones. Note here the suggestive way in which Delgo assures his master, Elder Marley (a criminally under-utilized Michael Clarke Duncan), that he knows how to “control the stones,” as if it is a sexual euphemism. If it is one, I don’t understand it. Do female Lockni have genitalia like fiery stones? Are these fiery stones sex toys of some sort? Do the Lockni have telekinetic coitus? So many unanswered questions…

Another character, General Bogardus (a surprisingly game Val Kilmer) is a Nohrin used as a political pawn through the vice of a gambling addiction, a problem that is impossible to truly gauge, because the terms used for currency in the film are meaningless and go unexplained.

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Remember that scene of mass slaughter that opens the film? Well, we get to see it again from the perspective of Delgo as a child, and it is the single scariest thing a child could watch in a family film. Yes, even scarier than “There’s no earthly way of knowing which direction we are going” and the Child Catcher. Delgo and his father are playing an innocent game of hide and seek when all of the sudden soldiers burst in, murder his parents in cold blood, and leave Delgo for dead. In this moment, Delgo is devastated by both his new orphan identity and the realization that he is terrible at hide and seek.

Again, and I cannot stress this enough, kid’s movie.

But seriously, would any kid want to play hide and seek ever again after viewing a scene like that? It is teaching children not to hide from their parents, because they could die and you would never get a chance to say goodbye. You could have been cherishing every moment by your father’s side while he was looking for your under that ball! Don’t let him look by the bookshelf, he’ll never find you in time!

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Back in the present, Delgo, his annoying friend, and the gambler get imprisoned by the Nohrin defectors who plan to overthrow the government and usurp the king by rekindling the war between the Hutus and the Tutsis, I mean the Nohrin and the Lockni. They break out, and the rest of the film is essentially a vaudeville scene in which Delgo and friends rescue the captured princess and quell the rebellion before it’s too late (only, not before it’s too late, because a widespread battle occurs while they deal with the princess, causing countless deaths…kid’s movie).

In the end, the day is saved by Delgo and company, and the film ends with the awkward animation of a romantic kiss between Delgo and the princess. The death toll unknowable. The uneasy peace between the two intensely segregated tribes reinstated for the time being. All is well and good and ready for a sequel.

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Except, the film opened in 2,000+ theaters and averaged $237 dollars per theater in its opening weekend.

How does this happen?

The unfortunate answer is that the film was an independent production headed by a small group of people who had never made a feature film before (or since). In an animated film environment dominated by Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Illumination, and a handful of foreign imports, it is surprising that this film ever made it to a wide release in the first place. And it would make for an endearing success story. That is, if the film hadn’t been a colossal failure critically and financially.

The film took years to make, production beginning in 2001, and it cost $40 million to produce. This said, it’s sad to see it fail, but the combination of shoddy narrative and even shoddier animation made this film a non-starter on arrival, even with its wide range of low-level stars providing voice work.

 

The Verdict

Is Delgo the worst movie ever made? No. Is it watchable? Barely. Mainly, it is a financial anomaly that remains baffling to this day (my guess is that it had next to nothing in terms of a marketing campaign, but how it got a 2,000+ theater release is unimaginable!). Yes, the mythology of this fantasy world is ridiculous and wholly unexplained. And yes, the computer animated battle sequences are so jarring on the eyes as to cause whiplash (I understand this simile makes no sense, but if you watch this movie you will completely understand what I’m talking about). But the film isn’t less than $1 million box office bad. The cast alone should have piqued some interest. Chalk this one up to abundant mediocrity and the lack of power for independents in the film industry, I guess.

 

As always, thanks for reading!

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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)

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