US/France (2008) Dir. Anthony Leondis
This film is something of a curiosity as it is almost a decade old yet I know or recall little about it. Many CGI animated films tend to be obscured under the rather imposing shadow of the output from Pixar, Disney and to a lesser extent Dreamworks so it is probably not that much of a surprise, but that doesn’t mean that everything not from these studios is automatically bad.
Igor is an American/French co-production, the first film from Exodus Film Group and animated by Sparx Animation in France, which shows in the gothic designs of the characters and the settings, which share some common ground with Tim Burton’s animated works. Despite not being that well known a film the voice cast boasts some top Hollywood names which suggests there was a lot of faith in this project.
Set in the grimy world of Malaria, recently devastated by a terrible storm, reigning monarch King Malbert (Jay Leno) is blackmailing the rest of the world to prevent his evil scientists from unleashing their deadly weapons. Each scientist is assisted by their own personal hunchback named Igor, but one Igor (John Cusack) is actually an intelligent and talented inventor in his own right.
Each year the Evil Science Fair has been won every year by Dr. Schadenfreude (Eddie Izzard), whose popularity is a threat to King Malbert. When Igor’s master Dr. Glickenstein (John Clesse) dies while trying to create something to defeat Dr. Schadenfreude, Igor steps up and with the aid of suicidal rabbit Scamper (Steve Buscemi) and dimwitted brain in a jar Brain (Sean Hayes), they create a giant female monster named Eva (Molly Shannon). Unfortunately a mix up when trying to programme her to be a killing machine turns Eva into a wannabe actress instead.
Chris McKenna’s script is quite satirical in taking the clichéd character of the hunchback assistant and turning it on its head, with Igor now being a recognised group in society. Unfortunately they are all clueless, slurring dimwits who resign themselves to a life of servitude and abuse except for our hero whose only connection with the other Igors is the hump on his back. And he is quite a gentle and morally solid soul to boot, which explains why Eva is unable to be evil.
And therein lies another twist – the gigantic disproportionate form of Eva also possesses a gentle soul which is not what Igor needs to win the science fair. Ironically she does adopt a slight diva-ish personality after being incorrectly brainwashed (lampooning the famous scene from A Clockwork Orange) by a programme about acting but she is less a threat to the world just to the stage and screen.
Igor may have a PG rating but there are some darker moments and a few jokes and references which the kiddies won’t understand – the above-mentioned brainwashing scene is a great example, along with the main antagonist being named “Schadenfreude”. While played largely for great comic effect the character of Scamper might also be a bit edgy for younger viewers. He may have suicidal tendencies but he cannot die, resulting in slapstick gags which flit from Tom & Jerry-esque bouts of death defying silliness to something which wouldn’t be out of place on Family Guy.
In fact the original opening of this film shows Scamper hanging by the neck which was excised for a something less explicit but it gives the idea that maybe this film was initially meant for an older audience. To that end, it may revel in its naturally creepiness of spooky castles, thunderstorms and everyone looking like hideous monsters but it is done in a playful manner more likely to elicit laughs than horror.
Elsewhere the general horror influence reveals in other areas, like character names. Dr. Schadenfreude’s appearance changing female Jaclyn (Jennifer Coolidge) takes a pill to transform into her alter ego Heidi to seduce Dr. Glickenstein and later Igor. Get it – Jaclyn and Heidi? Anyway she is a pawn in helping Schadenfreude steal Eva and run her into an evil beast to secure his latest success at the fair but to get her there, he convinces the lumbering giant that it is an audition for the play Annie.
Unlike other films in the “family” animated genre there is no moral message here to beat the kids over the head with – then again with mad scientists, death and suicidal rabbits as central facets what is there relay to preach? Perhaps, the idea of following your dreams and being good is better than being evil is being imparted but ultimately this is a sit back and enjoy the ride type of film.
Where the most critical eye will be focused on when watching this film is the animation and as suggested earlier, the standards set by the likes of Pixar will forever loom over lesser films as the spectre of high expectations. The animation here is perfectly fine and has intention of trying to be too verisimilitudinous, keeping instead in touch with the traditional of old school animation while taking advantage of modern technological methods.
This is an instance where the characters and story are enough to engage you and the visuals are a bonus, in contrast to films where the focus is to blow our eyeballs to disguise the weakness of the writing. At 83 minutes it doesn’t overstretch itself nor outstay its welcome, unravelling at a brisk pace, accompanied by an unusual choice of soundtrack of songs from jazz legend, the “King of Swing” Louis Prima – including the cannily implemented song The Bigger The Figure during a montage dedicated to Eva.
It’s nice when a film appears from nowhere and proves to be entertaining and Igor is one of those films. A simple loving homage to the classic Universal horror film with a witty if occasional dark script, there is no reason why this film shouldn’t be enjoyed by more people.