Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Lynching DELGO, or "The Internet is for Scorn"

Well here I am posting after just begging off for a month, but what the heck. I am home sick for the third straight day in a row and a current topic nags my sensibilities even as I hover over my humidifier and cough my brains out.

DELGO, an independent CGI feature has opened to returns and reviews so abysmal that it seems destined to break all records for previous flops in all categories. Since I have not seen the film (nor am I likely to) I won't exactly go out on a limb to defend it, but not seeing the film hasn't prevented a chorus of gleeful schadenfreude from erupting on CARTOON BREW, where fans and artists alike are almost unanimous in their delight over the film's ugly demise.

Filmmaking is not for the faint of heart and audiences and critics (armchair and otherwise) are certainly entitled to embrace or reject a film as they see fit. No one gets or deserves a free pass just for making a movie. And there are enough reliable reports to be fairly sure that this one is indeed pretty poor. I won't take general filmgoers to task for hating such a movie, but people who actually work at this might be expected to at least refrain from openly celebrating it's unhappy fate. Instead, what this illustrates to me is that many in animation too often seem to be salivating for the failure of their peers more than they even wish success upon themselves. If its true, its a sad comment on us as a group. It doesn't even make sense to me. I cannot imagine what the "downside" would have been had DELGO performed modestly well enough to offer it's investors a small profit (it can't have cost much from the looks of it), even as awful as everyone says it is. Yes, we all fear that the success of a bad film will spawn imitation, but it is doubtful that a decent return would have incurred a glut of movies about lizard people in trumped up fantasy sagas. What would have been perhaps more likely is that it might have been that much more infinitessimally possible that some well-heeled investor might have bankrolled another film from another source (and another and another), and that maybe one of these was destined to be a classic. In any case, they'd have been gladder they put their money in animation than handed it over to Wall Street crooks like Bernie Madoff. Instead, now the opposite is true. Now anyone with two bucks to rub together will be that much more inclined to run the other way from any animator lurking on their radar. I would agree that it's fair to blame DELGO for not being a more deserving project, but that makes it all the more difficult for me to relish it's failure. The fact that it got done at all is something at least. How many people have dreamed, boasted or bet on launching such an enterprise only to run out of gas before they hit the runway? Given how monumentally difficult production can be in some of the most successful studios, I can only guess at the kind of determination it took to bring this indie film to the marketplace, only to be pronounced DOA. If that's what it deserves, so be it; why sharpen our teeth on its misery?

Given that most of us have our scars and horror stories, I don't know why it doesn't make us at least a bit more sympathetic. Hearing of DELGO, I can't help but recall the dismal opening of THE SECRET OF NIMH in 1982, a crushing blow to all who worked on it after years of dreaming big and sweating hard during the film's production. Independent animation back then was at least as rare and difficult as it is now and we all hoped NIMH would crack the marketplace open a bit wider. Although it has since become something of a cult classic, that status would have been cold comfort at the time, even if we could have been assured of it. The fact that back then there were also many fellow colleagues salivating for it's failure was additional humiliation: the haters got the last laugh and they laughed long, hard and loud. Fortunately, the film was at least critically well received enough to merit follow ups a few years later, starting with AN AMERICAN TALE . That isn't likely to be the case for DELGO, which makes the caustic laughter seem even that much more cruel. Oh well, at least some who commented were kind enough to wish the crew got paid. Let's hope so anyway.


oppo said...

I find myself snickering at how ugly the designs are, but I do hope that the people who worked on it are well off.

Liz said...

I think the affliction you write of is specific to cartoon fans. I've done cartoons for TV, movies, and comic books. Some succeeded more than others, but the weird thing about the negative reviews is this: It's not enough for the person to say they dislike the cartoon, the reviewer insists that the cartoon and its creators must be STOPPED! As if our work on Bugs Bunny has caused all of the Friz Freling and Tex Avery Bugs cartoons to disappear! Or our Batman story has completely ruined all Batman comics forever!

You know how many arguments I get into with toon fans about Dora The Explorer? People telling me it's terrible and needs to be stopped! I agree that the stories are juvenile, and the animation is stiff, but it's not made for me! It's for three-year old girls! And those girls LOVE it! Of COURSE it's juvenile!

The advice frequently offered creative people is "Work for yourself". I think that's lousy advice for cartoonists over a certain age. Do you we really need a cartoon for forty-plus year old men like me? I try to work for my audience. If I'm writing a Disney show for little kids, I try to remember what I liked when I was little. My peers are usually trying to sneak in dirty jokes. Why? for the grown up losers watching the Disney Channel?

On many of the Hollywood cartoons I've worked on, the crew spend all their time grumbling about how much they hate the product they're working on. Isn't that the time to try to make it good? Too many cartoonists spend all their time getting caught up in office politics and trying to sabotage each other's work instead of trying to do good cartoons.

Last point: You ever wonder how come a cartoonist or director you think is untalented keeps getting work? It's usually because he has a good attitude and can work with people! He makes his deadlines, does what his boss asks, and genuinely thinks the project is worthwhile! I'd rather work with a guy like that than a super-talented jerk any day.

David Nethery said...

Well said, Mr. Finn.

I don't understand people in our industry (or those who hang around the fringes of it ) who seem to actually take delight in a film failing.

From what I've seen of it in the trailers Delgo looks like a poorly conceived , clumsily made film. Not my cup of tea at all. But , yeah ... the reaction of cynical glee at the film's failure is disheartening.

And you're right : every time an animated film goes down in flames like this it becomes that much more difficult for other independent studios (who may have some good ideas for films) to find investors . It hurts our whole industry.

ted said...

Nice to see a measured and thoughtful perspective on Delgo. I certainly don't think I'll ever see it, but I wouldn't want to use the public forums to rip it to shreds. I almost felt like needed a shower after reading the comments on Cartoon Brew!

Michael Sporn said...

You're right, of course, in defending those who made DELGO. I don't know much about the film and have no real interest in seeing another it. But I do know how hard it is to make a movie - even a short film nevermind a feature. I have to give credit to all involved - even the people who put up the money. None of it is easy to do. Even if we don't want to see it, is it necessary to kick it and laugh after it's already down?

PCUnfunny said...

Hi Will,

I admit I do take pleasure in this film failing. Why ? Because I think deserved to since it looked so ugly. I wish KUNG FU PANDA failed too. Maybe a failure of a major CGI film would force these producers to think of something new.However, I don't think I have to state the people who worked on this film hope that they got paid. I think that would be cruel if I hope that they didn't.

"As if our work on Bugs Bunny has caused all of the Friz Freling and Tex Avery Bugs cartoons to disappear!"

I blame the network for not having them on TV anymore, nothing you've done. ;)

"You know how many arguments I get into with toon fans about Dora The Explorer? People telling me it's terrible and needs to be stopped! I agree that the stories are juvenile, and the animation is stiff, but it's not made for me! It's for three-year old girls! And those girls LOVE it! Of COURSE it's juvenile!"

I am not going to critize the subject matter because I don't watch the show but I think giving the character designs and animation could do with some improvement. Now that is criticism that can't be applied to any animated show.

"I'd rather work with a guy like that than a super-talented jerk any day."

I agree.

Will Finn said...

oppo-- i sure agree they are ugly but they aren't even the ugliest things i've seen this year. every time i flip through an animation trade 'zine or licensing publication my senses reel with amazement at the ugly stuff out there.

in addition, i grew up in the 1970's. the dark ages of ugly if ever there was one.

BARNEY THE DINOSAUR (though not technically animated) is still is hands down the ugliest character design I have ever seen. it gives Mc Donald's old 'Grimmace' character something to look down on.

Thad said...

So does this mean we won't see the sequel about his twin brother Dildo?

LampshadeMan said...

The design of it is pretty bad, but I think the biggest problem is that I heard no advertisements for it. The irony is that it got the most coverage for it being the lowest grossing film of all time. I mean the film is not great but it is definately not the worst animated film all time and yet people see a mediocre film and see it gross almost no money and make the conclusion that it is the worst of all time. I would have to say it was largly because of marketing which I guess would be a lot of money for a independent film. Am I alone in this, did anyone hear about the movie before the bad publicity?

And for all those people that dislike animation because it's not "Pixar" quality, this film is at least an accomplishment of being independenly made and distributed out of Hollywood, no easy feat. I am reminded of a quote which I can't remember who said, and which I think goes "The forest would be very quiet if only the best birds sang."

LampshadeMan said...

And cool blog you have hear I really enjoy visiting!!!

Jeremy said...

I agree, the attitudes about Delgo are unfortunate. While I think honest and direct criticism is welcomed to make the best film possible, what we have now is animation snobbery. Delgo might not be my taste either but I respect the process and effort of the crew. Though rather than independent features, I'd rather see more indy shorts that showcase a variety of styles. It might not be as commercial viable as a feature but with the app downloads for the iphone(and clones), it may be possible for a talented group to make financial viable work. Here's hoping...

Jeremy Rowland said...

I haven't seen the film. I visited the studio in 2004 with a group of fellow animation students, when the producers were claiming an intended spring 2005 release, to be the first CG film by an independent studio-- they obviously missed on both marks. At any rate, all of us left, grateful for the experience of seeing a working studio, but sort of shaking our heads at how absolutely lousy the film looked like it was going to be.

One of my professors was the first director of Delgo and eventually left to teach. He didn't talk much about why he left but he did seem to indicate that the executive producer was simply too nit-picky, the single biggest reason the film was released over three years late.

The film was written by a committee of 3 or 4 people, the lead of whom was promoted from their parent company's PR department and none of whom (to my knowledge) had any filmmaking background. While there have certainly been some fantastic films from completely unexpected sources, I don't think it boded well for Delgo from the start.

Jeremy Rowland said...

PS. as a side note, I understand that most of the people who worked on the film enjoyed the experience and did well financially for themselves.