Former straight-to-video helmer Anthony Leondis gets a shot at the big screen with Igor, an animated horror/comedy with the worst case of Tim Burton envy imaginable. From the moment we find ourselves in Halloweentown, excuse me, the kingdom of Malaria, the diagnosis is clear. If you’re in need of a second opinion, just wait till King Malbert (voiced by Jay Leno) shows up. You’ll find he’s only about an inch and a lawsuit away from the Mayor in Tim Burton’s the Nightmare Before Christmas. Granted, the disease is not a fatal one, but it’s apt to make this movie look worse than it might by comparison, and it does keep Igor from having much of an identity of its own.
As a kids’ movie, Igor is fine. As adult entertainment, it’s never more than fair. Any film where the best gag is the existence of a mad scientist named Dr. Schadenfreude is a little wanting. In all fairness, there are some briefly amusing gags involving Scamper (voiced by Steve Buscemi), an existentially minded rabbit (at least, I think Scamper is a rabbit) with a death wish, whose desire is constantly thwarted by having been granted immortality. (Suggesting that this may be a parody of Lon Chaney’s Wolf Man probably gives Igor too much credit.) Mostly, this is tepid stuff, with a plot so transparently predictable that even 5-year-olds who haven’t been to the movies much will be saying, “I’ve seen it.”
John Cusack gives voice (but not all that much life) to Igor, hunchbacked assistant to inept mad scientist Dr. Glickenstein (voiced by John Cleese). In the land of Malaria—where there’s a perpetual thunderstorm and the entire economy is geared toward blackmailing the rest of the world into coughing up big bucks to prevent monsters from being unleashed—there seem to be only two classes of people: mad scientists and hunchbacked assistants. As a result, our Igor is just one of many generic Igors. The difference is ours is an Igor with a dream. He wants to become a great mad scientist in his own right and take first prize at the annual Evil Science Fair.
Opportunity arrives when Glickenstein incinerates himself during an explosion, leaving Igor free to create life of his own in the form of a large, ungainly, magnificently ill-proportioned creature that names itself Eva (voiced by Molly Shannon) by virtue of misunderstanding the word evil. Problem is Eva (who looks like a refugee from some best-forgotten anime) isn’t evil at all. And a brainwashing attempt to make her so (a kind of Clockwork Orange Ludovico treatment using public-domain horror-movie clips) only turns her into an aspiring actress when the imagery mistakenly gets changed to an episode of Inside the Actors Studio. OK, so that’s actually kind of clever, but the follow-through and the bulk of the plotting aren’t.
Ultimately, Igor is just dismissible kiddie fodder that has been mildly tarted up with recognizable—if not exactly luminary—names in the voice department (Arsenio Hall?), as has become the all-too-common practice with animated films. There are some fleeting moments of amusement, and the choice of festooning the film (often inappropriately) with Louis Prima recordings is at the very least quirky. However, none of it is enough to keep the film from being almost immediately forgettable. Rated PG for some thematic elements, scary images, action and mild language.