Movie Review – Igor
Stylish, fitfully amusing animated feature films don’t come more “oh, so close” than Igor. The animation is excellent, even if the designs of the world and the characters inhabiting it make your eyes bleed, and the voice cast is uniformly solid (even Jay freakin’ Leno!), but the whole thing just doesn’t gel as well as it should.
– Summary –
Director : Tony Leondis
Year Of Release : 2008
Principal Cast : Voices of John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, Eddie Izzard, Sean Hayes, John Cleese, Jennifer Coolidge, Jay Leno, Christian Slater, Arsenio Hall.
Approx Running Time : 90 Minutes
Synopsis: In the land of Malaria, where Evil Scientists compete to have their evil inventions declared the best ever, and their plans are assisted by people trained to be hunchbacked Igors, one scientist is killed in a freak accident – leaving his Igor to invent something which will change the face of bing evil forever: life. However, the dastardly plans of the most famous Evil Scientist involve stealing Igor’s new invention, and it’s up to Igor to prove his worth as a scientist.
What we think : Stylish, fitfully amusing animated feature films don’t come more “oh, so close” than Igor. The animation is excellent, even if the designs of the world and the characters inhabiting it make your eyes bleed, and the voice cast is uniformly solid (even Jay freakin’ Leno!), but the whole thing just doesn’t gel as well as it should. If design and Steve Buscemi’s voice-work could score points on their own, this film would rock, but alas, the disparate feeling Igor displays and the somewhat dreary tone overall keep it from becoming a true classic. Average at best.
Sometimes, I’m sure filmmakers must realize they’re not going well and wish they’d packed it all in right from the start. At what point, however, do you do just that? After all, you’ve just spent years of work, millions of dollars (usually somebody else’s money) and countless arguments and decisions in order to make your film, but at some point you must step back and wonder if it’s good enough, and if it’s not, what then? Tony Leondis, director of Igor, must surely have wondered what he’d done wrong. Igor wasn’t a massive success – as far as I’m able to ascertain, it opened to mediocre reviews and lackluster box-office receipts – but the cause is a little harder to fathom than it just being a dreadful film. Igor has some wonderful animation, some great voice actors providing the characterization of the cast, and from a production standpoint looks the goods; yet, Igor doesn’t deliver. Not entirely.
In the land of Malaria, the chief product of the economy is Evil Inventions, created by equally evil Evil Scientists. Each Evil Scientist is accompanied through his quest to be the most evil by the eponymous hunchback Igors, whose primary functions in each Evil Laboratory is to “pull the switch”. Igors are Malarians born with a hunch on their backs, and are trained to serve their masters much like worker bees do their queen. The King of Malaria (Jay Leno) encourages an annual competition between the scientists to develop the most evil invention, and until now, the champion of this competition is Dr Schadenfreude (Eddie Izzard), who, along with his girlfriend Jaclyn (Jennifer Coolidge) have plans to unseat the King and rule Malaria themselves. Meanwhile, competitor Dr Glickenstein (John Cleese) is unwittingly killed by one of his own inventions, leaving his Igor (John Cusack) to pick up the slack in the lead-up to the Evil Science Fair by inventing something of his own. Together with his fellow lab-rats Brain (Sean Hayes) and Scamper (Steve Buscemi), Igor builds his dream invention – a bizarre Frankenstein’s Monster homage named Eva (Molly Shannon) – to win the fair himself, even though Igors are prohibited from inventing on their own. Dr Schadenfreude, who will stop at nothing to win the Fair, decides to steal Igor’s invention, leading to a showdown in the grand arena that will change Malaria forever.
Anyone wanting a nutshell explanation of this film will find an approximation in Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas mixed with the comedic styling of Despicable Me: Igor tries to find the fun in Evil, as it were, and whereas Burton’s stop-motion classic succeeds in every respect to do just that, Igor stumbles along witlessly and can’t muster the spark to be both fun and watchable. As I mentioned, Igor doesn’t set out to disappoint, and yet for all the positives I could mention, they’re undone by a lack of enthusiasm viewers have for the story. While Igor can’t escape the enormous shadows of Burton’s classic and the more recent Steve Carrell animated vehicle, the film does have enough going for it not to be a total wash – unless you’re over the age of six and get bored easily. Adults will find themselves guessing the more obvious story beats, and undiscerning children will probably lap up the visual dynamism the movie offers, yet anybody watching this movie with even the slightest critical eye will note the decided lack of impact the story has. The story, such as it is, seems half-worn, almost rote-scripted, as if the screenwriters (named as John Eraklis, Max Howard and director Leondis) had a join-the-dots book out while they were writing. The characters, aside from being visually impactful, manage to lack any kind of emotional hook for the viewer, with even the titular Igor, voiced by John Cusack, feeling more like a non-event than the hero of the film. If I was to be harsh, I’d go as far as to say that the characters here only serve to justify the jokes, rather than the story, and for this film, that’s a fatal flaw. The comedic duo of the film (why is it that every animated film has to have a pair of comedy characters?) is Brain and Scamper, and while ostensibly they’re quite amusing, they never evolve beyond being the butt of the jokes. Boiled down, the story is plenty generic: the underdog falls for the girl he shouldn’t, threatens to upset the status quo and saves the day at the same time as he changes the status quo… Yeah, it’s hard not to be too obvious with this, but Igor is a by-the-numbers story at the very least.
Another thing working against this film is the sheer “busy-ness” of the work – the design of the film is sharp and angular, filled with shadows and darkness, and hyperkinetic characters who move through the frame with lightning speed – the look of the film isn’t what I’d term as visually ergonomic, and I truly found this film wearing to watch. It’s hard on the eyes, it is. The character design, especially for the humanoid characters like Schadenfreude and his girlfriend Jaclyn, defy the laws of physics, and they just aren’t easy to watch. Indeed, I found the film felt cluttered with design: every frame had to feel like it was filled with something happening, and a lot of the time I just wanted to pull away and look at the wall to give my eyes a break. It’s not easy to explain why this is so, because normally I love a film filled with things going on, but the frenetic nature of the films story coupled with the hard-to-watch character design made it almost impossible to sit back and enjoy this movie.
As far as the cast go, each of the vocal performances is up to par; even the addition of Jay Leno in a more-than-a-cameo role as the King of Malaria. Cusack delivers his All-American style once more, as Igor, although he’s less befuddled here than he usually is in his live action work. Molly Shannon brings the emotion of the film as Eva, Igor’s eventual love interest, while Buscemi and Hayes do have some truly funny moments as the hapless Brian and Scamper. Eddie Izzard certainly sounds slimy as Schadenfreude, even if his script isn’t as developed as it could have been. Jennifer Coolidge does well in the dual roles of Jacelyn and Heidi (say those two names in quick succession to get one of the film’s better jokes!) and John Cleese is woefully underused as Igor’s short-lived master.
Igor tried to tread well-trod ground with some sense of freshness, and ultimately fails thanks to a thankless animation style and some ill-defined characters and plot arc. It’s the Shark Tale of the Evil Animations (and by that I mean films where the Bad Guys take center stage) – Igor lacks cohesion and a genuinely emotional through-line, or at least, a through-line which affected me in any positive way. The jokes are scattershot, arriving quickly and vanishing almost as fast, and aren’t in quantity enough to keep an adult watching past the ten minute mark. Younger kids will probably lap it up, but more discerning folk might just find this film as mediocre as I did.