A CGI kids movie (bearing the PG-13 tag) that actually plays well to adults, Igor may be predictable in how things will all turn out and familiar in its broad strokes, but there are a number of clever ideas, and an abundance of boisterous old-school humour (even edgy for small-fry entertainments) to make the package worthwhile.
The films is set in the ‘evil’ kingdom of Malaria, a place that was once a lush pastoral farming community until endless storm clouds blocked out the sun. In a bit of ingenious re-invention (so to speak), the mayor-king (looking a lot like the two-faced mayor from Tim Burton’s Nightmare before Christmas, a film that Igor owes as much in the visual department as it does to the classic monsters Universal era and the Mel Brooks parody, Young Frankenstein) has turned the region into a mecca for mad-scientists. Every year the evil geniuses, regarded as rock-star celebrities, bring their doomsday inventions to a large science fair (looking more like a cross between the Superbowl, The Oscars, and a Monster Truck rally) and have it out until a winner is declared. The winning invention is used to bribe the rest of the world for the billion dollars (pinky finger to lips) to keep the kingdom running.
The film focuses not on the the Falco-Einsteins (although one is of course the primary villain), but rather on the subservient worker class known as the Igors. Hunchbacked, bulgy eyes (thank-you Mr. Marty Feldman) and more or less dimwitted, they gather the gears, body parts and ultimately “pull the switch” which is the films basic short hand for ‘inventing.’ Except of course the lead, voiced in a very recognizable mannery by John Cusack. He stands out from the rest of his worker-class by being smarter than his own master (a bumbling and pompous John Cleese), and has a strong desire (and a “Yes, Masters” degree from the local university) to become the first Igor “Evil Scientist.”
In its own weird way, Igor is the first good Cusack-ish film since High Fidelity. And like Stephen Frears movie, the supporting sidekicks almost steal the show. Like an inversion of the neo-classic Animaniacs the sarcastic and suicidal bunny Scamper spends a lot of time plotting while also mocking Brian – a brain in a jar who unfortunately misspells his own name. The side kicks, created by Cusack-Igor, are the trial runs for his master and hopefully evil-science-fair winning invention: Eva. Taking the not-so-best parts of Nightmare Before Christmas’ Sally and combining them with Peter Boyle’s ‘putting on the ritz’ monster, Eva (Molly Shannon) is part naivete, part showbiz-diva, part Terminator. For a movie constructed of spare parts from other films (I’d be lax if I didn’t mention the motor-mouthed sauciness of the Shrek series, or the cute-ifying of monsters (and plot conceit) from Monsters Inc. playbook), there are a lot of great gags, and vigorous production design contained within. Homages to Classic Hollywood B-Features, (particularly Vincent Price) are warm and rewarding to a knowledgeable audience, a Louis Prima soundtrack is peppy and makes the montages go down a helluvalot easier than flash-in-the-pan pop music, and the wildcard combo that is Eddie Izzard and Jennifer Coolidge. Two comedians that know their stuff and have a chameleon way of doing great character work, both get no shortage of screen time, and both make the most of it. Izzard gets a screen chomping villain role, a broad showbiz faker with an acid tongue and a flair for slapping his underlings around. Coolige is the shape-shifting Jacqueline Heidi who can go from sassy vixen to cheerfully busty Scandinavian stereotype (as amusingly politically incorrect as Mountain Girl in The Coen’s Ladykillers).
The predictable and rammed down-your-throat children-friendly conclusion is more than offset with the strange pleasure of a chorus line of blind orphans singing (un-ironically) “I can see clearly now the rain is gone.” That, folks, is entertainment. Chuck Jones, Tex Avery and Friz Freleng would likely salute Igor. Call it a hunch.