I admit I did not know much about Igor going into the movie. I seem to remember seeing a trailer, but I do not recall many of the details. I did know that it was about a character named Igor that dreams of being a mad scientist. With that little bit of knowledge, I entered the theater, bottle of water in hand (only so much popcorn a guy can take, you know?), settled down into the nearly empty theater and awaited the start of the film. I figured I was going to like the movie, the concept was certainly an intriguing one. Unfortunately, the time that would fill the space between the dimming of the lights and the rolling of the final credits was only fitfully entertaining, with much of the rest of that time filled with boredom and missed opportunities.
The story centers on Igor, voiced by John Cusack, an Igor (yes, it’s a name and a job) in the town of Malaria, a place that used to be a sunny and cheerful farming community, until dark clouds rolled in, killing the crops and plunging them into poverty (political allegory perhaps?). The leader of the town declares himself king and turns their economy into one centered on evil, where evil, destructive creations are their stock in trade. The townsfolk make them and everyone else pays to keep them from being used.
The two main job classes are those of Igor, the assistant’s that require a Yes Master’s degree (get it?), and evil scientist. If you have a hump on your back, you have no choice but to be an Igor. The problem is that this Igor has big dreams and aspirations of becoming a scientist. Ever since he was but a youth, he was creating and inventing things, but since he was an Igor, he could not do anything with them. Among those creations are his friends Scamper (Steve Buscemi), a dead rabbit brought back to life who cannot die despite his strong suicidal tendencies, and Brain (Sean Hayes), literally a brain in a jar that has been placed on wheels with a single robotic arm.
Each year, the town has a competition to crown the top scientist with the most evil invention, an award perennially won by Dr. Schadenfreude (Eddie Izzard), who bears a more than passing resemblance to Elton John. Igor dreams of entering the contest himself, but he is trapped assisting his none-too-bright scientist, Dr. Glickenstein (John Cleese). Then, following a tragic accident during which Glickenstein does not survive, Igor has his chance.
Now, if we pause here for a moment and examine what we have. There is this interesting perpetually dark town with this caste system straight out of a classic Universal monster movie, a character who is a perpetual underdog fighting to make it above his lot in life, and an odd supporting cast. Sounds good so far. Plenty of potential for a family film of a decidedly different pedigree, one that incorporates some darker elements in an all around safe environment. Where did they go wrong?
They went wrong by trying to overcome the darker elements, leaning too far into the kids arena. I am reminded of a conversation in Tropic Thunder, with Robert Downey Jr. talking to Ben Stiller about the failure of the film within a film, Simple Jack. They just went too far in the presumed attempt to appeal to kids. Now, do not get me wrong, there are probably a lot of kids that are going to love this.
As the story moves in further, we get these subplots involving Schadenfreude and his win streak, a friendly monster, and other such nonsense that just distracts from the underdog story of Igor, and takes away from this fascinating dark little town. It doesn’t help that a good portion of the middle of the film threatened to put me to sleep.
Still, it was not all bad. The designs were clearly inspired by Tim Burton’s cult classic The Nightmare Before Christmas. You need go no further than comparing the mayor from the Burton film and the king in this film, they share nearly the same character design, not to mention Glickenstein and Nightmare‘s Dr. Finkelstein.
I also really enjoyed the early portion of the film, where they set the stage and introduced Igor. Add in the suicidal, undead rabbit and I was very nearly sold. Better luck next time, I guess.
Bottomline. A film filled with failed potential. The voices are fine, the setup is fine, and the supporting cast is fine. The problem lies in the writing. The story does not seem to know what it wants to do. Yes, it holds together, but it goes off in a direction that does not pay off how it begins. Still, I am sure the kids will like it.