Igor is the Rodney Dangerfield of cinematic sidekicks. With rare exceptions (Marty Feldman's turn in Young Frankenstein), the deformed lab assistant gets little horror movie respect. Even the legendary Bela Lugosi balked at the suggestion that he play one alongside a then relatively unknown Boris Karloff. It's always about the monster or the mad scientist, not the hunchbacked scrub doing all the dirty work. In the imaginative new animated feature Igor, director Anthony Leondi
and writer Chris McKenna try to change our perception of the often marginalized character. While there's imagination to spare, the storyline is often bogged down by obvious animation conventions.
In the country of Malaria, young Igor (John Cusack
) longs to be a mad scientist. Every year, the grim, gloomy nation holds a competition to see who can invent the most horrific item. The winning design is then used by King Malbert (Jay Leno
) to blackmail the rest of the world into filling the kingdom's coffers. Typically, Dr. Schadenfreude (Eddie Izzard
) steals the best idea -- with the help of his girlfriend Jacyln (Jennifer Coolidge
) -- and takes all the glory. But this time, things are a little unusual. The best invention turns out to be Igor's: a gargantuan fiend named Eva (Molly Shannon
) who fancies herself an actress. With the help of his self-made companions Brain (Sean Hayes
) and Scamper (Steve Buscemi
), our hero must convince the creature that she's truly evil, or lose a chance at his dream once and for all. Article continues below
At first, Igor establishes some very clever macabre mythology. The "born into servitude" angle, along with the entire sidekick school and master/servant dynamic does a good job of establishing the odds against our hero. Cusack's voice fits the demands of the role perfectly, since we are supposed to see humor and warmth within this persecuted pawn's deformed fašade. In fact, almost all the voice work is excellent, avoiding the stunt casting confines of the genre while providing layers of instant likeability. Everything here has a Tim Burton
meets Mad Monster Party vibe, with some outlandish gallows humor thrown in for good measure (Buscemi plays an undead rabbit with a death wish, unable to kill himself -- no matter how hard he tries -- thanks to Igor's immorality potion). Add in the stylized look, and you have a weirdly idiosyncratic entertainment.
Where things go a bit wonky is in the introduction of Eva. More sideshow attraction than sinister creature, this wannabe Streep with mismatched body parts is all stereotypes and drama queen preening. Her egotistical diva-dom grows old very quickly, as does her obsession with a certain little orphan's Broadway musical. Izzard's Schadenfreude is equally irritating, the talented UK comic unable to do much with such a decidedly one note villain. Instead of being evil and intriguing, he's just pompous and rather prissy, like Lost in Space's Dr. Smith without the alliteration. His last act attempt to turn Eva evil (and thus win the contest) is so anticlimactic that you wonder what all the fuss was about. The Annie-inspired fight to the death also underperforms. It's more high concept than hilarious.
Still, by avoiding the standard anthropomorphized animals and oh-too-clever pop culture references, Igor ends up winning us over. The design elements are often breathtaking, and Leondis truly understands the narrative's goofy Goth needs. It doesn't matter that McKenna's script often feels as superficial as the TV series he's best known for (American Dad) or that not enough time is taken with the intriguing ancillary aspects of Malaria. For a format that frequently flails about aimlessly, this CG spookshow is an adventurous, amiable attraction.