The most clever artifice in Igor is the name of the country the title character lives and works in — Malaria. That is as clever as it gets in Anthony Leondis's animated movie about a mad scientist's assistant who wants more out of life; to create it, mostly, like any self-respecting mad scientist craves to do.
Missing from this fairy tale of endlessly dark and stormy days, laboratories in high towers crackling with electricity and maniacal laughter, and evil scientists churning out evil devices, is the defining touches that Dwight Frye brought to the role of Fritz — not Igor — the hunched back assistant in Frankenstein. Absent, too, are the refining touches that Béla Lugosi brought to Ygor — pronounced E-gor — the hunched-back, broken-neck lunatic and part-time assistant in Son of Frankenstein. Not even a hint of Marty Feldman's hilarious Igor — pronounced Eye-gore -- another energetic, rather persnickety, laboratory assistant, in Young Frankenstein, sparks life into this surprisingly lifeless nuts and bolts story by Chris McKenna.
Surprising because given the rich cinematic history of monsters and madmen this film should have drawn upon, we are instead given yet another reworking of what has become a clichéd theme in animated movies geared toward the younger set: disillusioned male yearns to break the mold and become something he is told he cannot be. Toss in misfit — but funny — sidekicks, add a dramatic failure or two, then end with boy making everyone see the life-altering truth he has triumphantly uncovered as he achieves his dream. Along the way, make sure to depict female characters in conniving, devious, helpless, clueless, romantic, or otherwise secondary roles. Unless, of course, this is a Walt Disney movie; then just switch male and female roles: everything else still holds, though (at least before Pixar, anyway).
The Nightmare Before Christmas fans looking to recapture the ghoulish magic of Tim Burton's classic will be sorely disappointed. Not even Malaria's King Malbert, who is conspicuously drawn as if he is the twin brother of Halloweentown's Mayor, can liven up the proceedings. While the animation is suitably Gothic and steampunkish in tone and line, missing is the ghost in the machine, the black-and-white eeriness of morose landscapes lost in time between medieval and baroque architectures on a budget, and fearsome creatures with inhuman features but human hearts. In short, Igor is drawn too damn cute, and his world is weird but not freakishly so; not Addams Family freaky or Universal Studios Horror limbo freaky at all. And the music is to die for, with emphasis on die. Where does Louis Prima fit into the lexicon of horror? Certainly nowhere near the mood that would have benefited Igor's dream of becoming the greatest mad scientist in Malaria.