MGM // 2008 // 86 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // February 23rd, 2009
All men aren't created Evil.
Many people call cola "Coke," and tissues "Kleenex," and I'm surprised that lately we haven't started referring to animated films as "Pixars." As a film geek I know that animated film has a history much longer than Pixar, but given their market dominance in recent years, it's hard not to see other films in terms of the animation giant. This is especially true when you encounter an animated flick like Igor, a solidly written, well-cast animated feature that leaves the nagging feeling that with greater resources the film's creators could have given the world a classic animated film. Instead, we're left with an ambitious, well-acted, but ultimately somewhat lackluster feature that shows the seed of greatness, even if it doesn't know how to nurture those seeds.
In the quiet hamlet of Malaria, everything is bright and gay, until one day the clouds roll in, destroying the crops and plunging the populace into poverty. The king decides to push his citizens to become evil scientists so they may scare the world into giving Malaria money for not unleashing each new year's crop of inventions on the rest of the planet. During this new regime, citizens are often segregated into two groups: evil scientists and Igors. One particular Igor (John Cusack, High Fidelity) has other aspirations. He wants to be the first Igor to become an evil scientist. His creations, Scamper the immortal rabbit and Brain the brain in a jar, show that he could do it, but it's only after his evil scientist Dr. Glickenstein (John Cleese, A Fish Called Wanda) dies that Igor has a chance to implement his plan. He creates life, in the form of a cobbled-together young girl, Eva. However, she's not evil like Igor had hoped, and she's accidentally brainwashed to think she's an actor. Because Eva's not evil, Igor is afraid that he won't be able to win the yearly evil scientist competition and get the recognition he deserves. As if that weren't bad enough, Igor also has the evil Dr. Schadenfreude (Eddie Izzard, Ocean's Thirteen) trying to steal his invention so he can become king of Malaria.
I don't usually like baseball analogies, but Igor is the kind of heartbreaking film that loads the bases and then strikes out instead of hitting a home run. All the elements are there: a darkly comic script, some terrific voice acting, and a strong visual sense (even if it's hampered by a tragically low budget). In the end, though, the film is less than the sum of its parts, and all the talent adds up to an amusing movie, but one that probably won't earn more than a cult following.
The idea of a mad scientist-run world is brilliant, and separating people into either scientists or Igors is a brilliant way to create an underdog protagonist (the bread and butter of the animated film). Even the usual competition-oriented story doesn't seem quite so trite because of the deadly combat that will occur at the film's end (in the hilariously titled Killosium) and the fact that the town of Malaria is blackmailing the world. It sounds like the kind of scheme that Superman would foil in an old DC comic, but the blackly comic take on the material keeps it fresh. Also, it's not just the plot that likes a little black in its comedy. The individual characters are often quite dark and funny. The standout is Scamper, an immortal rabbit with a death wish. He's like an articulate version of Kenny from South Park. A close second is Dr. Schadenfreude, the evil genius whose only talent is to steal from other people. He could have been a sad-sack character and a boring villain, but in Igor he's delightfully full of himself and very evil.
These characters would, however, be nothing without competent actors behind the microphone. Luckily, the entire cast is top-notch. Steve Buscemi deadpans his way through as Scamper, while Eddie Izzard hits his most histrionic (in a good way) as Dr. Schadenfreude. In the middle are excellent actors like John Cusack (as Igor), John Cleese (as the ill-fated Dr. Glickenstein), and Molly Shannon (as Eva), who bring a surprising depth to their characters. Although I don't think that Igor is the greatest animated comedy of all time, I'm having trouble thinking of a more excellent collection of voice actors for this type of feature.
Finally, there's the film's visual sense. The entire structure of Malaria is brilliantly executed, with an odd mix of bold colors and lots of blacks. There's a fun chase scene about halfway through the film that shows the film's visual aspirations. The character designs are especially impressive, from Scamper's cute little buck teeth to the veritable menagerie of killing machines at the film's finale. The film doesn't have the budget of competitors like Pixar and Dreamworks, and that hurts the film in the end. What's here is ambitious and well-executed, but it doesn't always have the polished feeling that many modern animated films convey. Of course that's not all bad, because Igor is ultimately a story about an underdog, and the rough edges help somewhat.
Despite my praise of much of the film, I wish I could say more. Igor is the kind of the film that is enjoyable to watch, but isn't likely to stick around much afterward. Although the film has a lot going for it, it fails to break into that upper echelon of classic animated pantheon, though it's not for lack of trying. It's a film that's certainly worth watching, but low expectations are sure to make it easier to enjoy.
This Blu-ray disc from MGM does a decent job with the film. Its budget occasionally shows in some of the animation. There are some rough spots here and there in the film, but overall this is a decent transfer of a lower-budget animated film. Detail is relatively high, though not spectacular, and colors are appropriately bold. The audio fares slightly better, with a nice clarity to the soundscape.
The extras aren't abundant, but serve the film well. The main attraction is the commentary with the director, the writer, and the producer. They discuss the film's genesis and budget woes in a lively manner. It's a good way to get the story of Igor. We are also treated to an alternate opening to the film; it's nothing special, but a nice inclusion. Finally, we get a Conceptual Art montage, with loads of stills of the film's characters. It isn't exactly a loaded special edition, but these extras allow a pretty decent peek into the workings of Igor.
This film is pretty dark. Although it's played for laughs, Scamper is continually trying to kill himself, and the film's overall tone is a bit darker than many animated films. The inevitable comparisons must be made to The Nightmare Before Christmas, and this film is certainly not recommended for the very young.
Igor has a lot of heart, which wins it some points, but not enough to make it an easy recommendation. Certainly the film is entertaining while it's on, but I can only suggest a rental for those looking for animated fun. This Blu-ray disc from MGM is unlikely to win any awards, but the few extras are entertaining, and the audiovisual presentation is solid.
Igor is not guilty, because while it's playing the film is quite enjoyable, even if it doesn't inspire lasting devotion.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Alternate Opening
* Concept Art