Though critics like to complain about it, there's a reason that Pixar is the gold standard of CG animation - and it's readily available for viewing at your local video store in the "Family Film" section. Looking over the crap they call 3D cartooning - Fly Me to the Moon, Space Chimps, Delgo - it's not hard to see why the minds behind Wall-E, The Incredibles, and Finding Nemo are considered consistent gods. That doesn't mean there aren't worthwhile computer-based efforts out there - partner Disney has Bolt, and for those who prefer their humor on the hackneyed side, there's always the (im)potent Ice Age/Shrek combo. Perhaps the lack of legitimate contenders to the virtual pen and ink throne is why it's so hard to make a dent in the House of Mouse/Toy Story behemoth. For every effort like Ratatouille, there's a Happily N'ever After or Shark Tale. No wonder something like Igor never stood a chance. Automatically viewed as a lesser animated product, this cute little horror homage got lost in last year's cinematic shuffle. It definitely deserved better.
Igor is...well, an Igor, a preordained sidekick to one of Malaria's 13 mad scientists. Born into servitude and trained in the ways of assistance, all this little hunchback wants is a chance to channel his own inner inventor. Unfortunately, the way things are set up in his drab little homeland, he'll never get the chance. Igors are not allowed to create, and King Malbert wants to maintain his grip on control. Of course, there's another interested in taking over the throne. Every year, Dr. Schadenfreude and his gal pal Jaclyn spy on the competition. They then steal the very best idea, enter it in the Mad Science Fair competition, and take home first prize. But this time around, the pickings are slim - that is, until Igor invents LIFE...in the form of Eva, a monster who gets brainwashed into thinking she's an actress. With the help of his friends Scamper and Brian, our hero will have to struggle to get his work acknowledged, and to keep it safe from Schadenfreude's sticky mitts.
Poor Igor. This little gem of a genre cartoon, reminiscent of such '60s spookstick farces as Mad Monster Party? and The Groovie Ghoulies just couldn't catch a break this past Fall. Not because it was bad. In actuality, it's one of the better independent CG efforts to come along since Hoodwinked. No, as with most productions plaguing the artform, it suffers from 'NP Syndrome', as in "Not Pixar". While some audiences are willing to take a chance with animated fare (and with the middling rewards they reap, their reluctance is more than understandable), many look for Uncle Walt's logo or a familiar anthropomorphic lamp and let the rest lie. And again, that's a shame, since Igor offers up that rare combination of kid friendly material matched with a more mature sense of humor. It's not wholly reliant on pop culture references or outdated riffs. Instead, director Anthony Leondis and Chris McKenna maintain a careful balance between the goofy and the Gothic, keeping the tone tweaked over to the dark side while still managing to make things viable for the wee ones.
As a character, Igor is a classic. He has a clever backstory, an intriguing present predicament, and enough depth to grow and develop over the course of the film. Voiced by John Cusack with a wonderful mix of tongue in cheekiness and horror-tinged humanity, this little hunchback is easy to root for and a joy to behold. So are his cynical sidekicks, with one being far more fun than the other. For those of us who don't mind a little gallows humor, Steve Buscemi's turn as the immortal rabbit Scamper is one glorious semi-sick joke after another. While this furry little ball of hate with a death wish does push the boundaries of taste, his genial gross out nature will easily enthrall the grade school set. Sean Hayes also goes unhinged as a brain in a jar named Brian, stupid without being irritating, though a little of his fey Jerry Lewis shtick can go a long way. Elsewhere, Molly Shannon makes a good monster, especially when channeling every actor/diva cliché in the book, and Eddie Izzard gives great Eurotrash as main villain Dr. Schadenfreude. With turns by John Cleese, Jennifer Coolidge, and Jay Leno, the voice work is wonderful without being too "stunt casting" obvious.
Even the animation is impressive. Those looking for the photorealistic work of John Lasseter and the gang probably should dial down their expectations. While there is a nice level of detail and dimension, the French illustrators responsible for the technical end of the film obviously don't have Pixar's computing power. The country of Malaria is rather nonspecific, and several of the evil inventions featured at the end look like rejects from an episode of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. But we also get some nice Burton by way of Gorey elements as well. There is a rushed feeling toward the end, as if all the time taken up with character development and tangential subplots stripped the budget of its last act spectacle, and the mad scientist/Igor relationship is so interesting that we want more of that interpersonal paradigm. Still, as something other than your typical non-Oscar winning CG slop, Igor is quite wonderful. While one laments the fact that few got to experience this minor gem on the big screen, DVD is the perfect place for a well-earned rediscovery. Give it a chance, and your latent macabre sentiments will be rewarded handsomely - and hilariously.
Presented by Fox in that regrettable, unconscionable "Screening Only" review copy format (complete with random logo placement), it's hard to fully grade the image here. The transfer offered is impressive, but then again, it's not final product. One hopes the actual 1.85:1 widescreen anamorphic image mimics the presentation here. While a little depth is lost in the translation from big to small screen, the picture is vibrant, colorful, and loaded with detail.
Though information indicates that this screener provides all the necessary sonic situations of the final Fox packaging, this critic will again reserve judgment. The Dolby Digital 5.1 offered was quite good. The back channels come alive often, especially whenever the mad scientist action starts up, and there are some nice moments of macabre mood shifting. The musical score, laced with Louis Prima greats, is just amazing, and the dialogue is easily discernible.
Offering up two minimal bonus features and an audio commentary, the Screener disc of Igor may or may not contain the final DVD packaging product. This is especially true of the two individual puff pieces. One offers an interesting if unexceptional design gallery, illustrating the changes that each character, set, and storyboard went through prior to production. The other is an 11 minute alternative opening which uses a News Reel format to explain the setup of Malaria, the Mayor, and the whole mad scientist/Igor idea. It's intriguing, but feels incomplete. The discussion between director Leondis, writer McKenna, and Producer Max Howard is warm, irreverant, and loaded with information on the approach taken with the title. They all acknowledge the difficulty in keeping the subject matter "light" and explain the times when they think they pushed things to far. They also explain some of the hidden messages about courage and tolerance peppered throughout the film. The commentary is clearly the best added content on the entire disc. Everything pales in comparison.
Does Igor occasionally underperform? Sure. Could you easily see Pixar taking this idea and running all the way to the Academy Awards podium with it? Absolutely. Do either of these concepts diminish the pleasure and fun one can have with this independent wonder? Heck no. Easily earning a Recommended rating, the little horror icon who could should end up, in time, being embraced by a jaded audience who didn't give him, or his movie, a chance in the first place. This is especially true of anyone who remembers sitting in their '60s living room snacking on space food sticks and waiting for the latest episode of Scooby Doo or the most recent hallucinogenic happening from Sid and Marty Krofft (or the equally mad Rankin/Bass) to hit the 13" screen. But there is more than retro gold to be mined here. Igor is proof that some NP titles are actually capable of being just as relevant - and entertaining.
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