Igor (2008)

Like Rodney Dangerfield, evil scientists’ minions get no respect, and IGOR, the MGM-released animated film from Sparx Animation Studios (staffed mainly by Vietnamese artists), addresses the concept while suffering from it at the same time. Lacking a strong family hook to entice an audience to a non-Disney cartoon, IGOR has been unceremoniously dumped onto the theatrical market with minimal promotion.
That is unfortunate as IGOR does have some fine qualities, including a top rank vocal cast and, in Chris McKenna (AMERICAN DAD), a scriptwriter who clearly loves Frankenstein films and the kind of stereotyped characters who appear in them. Additionally, IGOR plays with the concept of a terror-based society, that of the country of Malaria whose economy dried up with the appearance of a permanent thunderstorm, leading King Malbert (voiced by Jay Leno) to conceive the notion of extorting funds from neighboring countries by threatening to unleash the most evil creations of Malaria’s top evil scientists if they don’t pay up.
However, for the most part IGOR is a standard “underdog makes good” story geared for the “monster kid” crowd who have fond cinematic memories of mad scientists and their minions. Much like the real world, in Malaria people are judged on their appearances, including the titular hero (John Cusack), who because of his hunched back, was sent to “Igor” school to learn how to be a minion (which seems primarily based on learning to take blows, pull switches, and say, “Yeth, mathter” like Boris Karloff’s hunchback lisping executioner in THE TOWER OF LONDON).
However, Igor has already been more successful than his master Dr. Glickenstein (John Cleese in an all too brief role): on his own, Igor has created his two best friends, Scamper (Steve Buscemi), a suicidal, existential rabbit plagued by indestructibility; and Brain (Sean Hayes), a disembodied (and discombobulated) brain in a jar with a mechanical arm attached. To achieve his dreams, Igor hopes to enter Malaria’s annual Evil Science Fair, which is won almost every year by the cheating and conniving Dr. Schadenfreud (Eddie Izzard), who steals competitors’ evil inventions in a bid to eventually supplant King Mallbert.
The inventive but asymmetric Igor creates the even more asymmetrical Eva (Molly Shannon), succeeding where the other evil scientists have failed: creating life. When Igor and friends take her to a brainwash to give Eva an orientation in being a creature of destruction, she is inadvertently exposed to James Brady’s INSIDE THE ACTOR’S STUDIO and resolves instead to become a great actress.
The art direction by Olivier Besson reminds one of the stop-motion look of ’s A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, with many main characters having angular, insectoid designs, only not as ornately lush or as ideally realized. The direction by Tony Leondis (LILO & STITCH 2; EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE 2: KRONK’S NEW GROOVE) is professional without being inventively inspired.
Cusack and the animators create a likable Igor, who must decide what his true intentions are, and Jennifer Coolidge delights as Schadenfreude’s conniving accomplice, but the picture is really stolen by Buscemi’s buck-toothed bunny with the permanent tire mark across his tummy. Buscemi’s droll delivery really sells Scamper’s deliciously dour and resigned outlook on life and its numerous frustrations.
While animated, IGOR is not a film intended for small children, who are more likely to be puzzled rather than frightened by its formulaic content. On the downside, the pace is uneven, progressing in fits and starts, though it does have some demented highlights as when Eva mistakes the Evil Science Fair for an audition for Annie (the horror, the horror). For monster lovers, the film does offer some delights, but mainstream audiences are unlikely to embrace this misshapen movie and its “making the right choices” message.
IGOR (2008). Director: Tony Leondis. Screenwriter: Chris McKenna. Producers: John D. Eraklis, Max Howard. Executive Producer: Jean-Luc De Fanti. Art Director: Olivier Besson. Music: Patrick Doyle. Editor: Herve Schneid. 85 minutes. Rated PG. Voices: John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, Eddie Izzard, Sean Hayes, Molly Shannon, John Cleese, Jay Leno, Jennifer Coolidge, Christian Slater.

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