MGM // PG // $39.99 // January 20, 2009
Review by Adam Tyner | posted February 21, 2009
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"Gosh, I feel like I'm sending my kid off to school for the first time...to learn how to murder."

Zipping forward
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a bit, the climax of Igor is anchored around a misshapen, oversized rag doll who's been brainwashed by James Lipton into thinking she's a prima donna actress. Gussied up as Little Orphan Annie, she puts a beatdown on swarms of cacklingly evil automatons at a science fair while belting out a heartfelt rendition of "Tomorrow". I mean, this is a family flick that sets its macabre little story to the tune of Louis Prima, pokes fun at blind orphans, and co-stars Steve Buscemi as an immortal rabbit with a death wish who gets multiple limbs snipped and gnawed off. On paper, at least, it sounds ingenious, but how can a movie with that sort of spastic, offbeat sense of humor be this bland?

After a gaggle of stormclouds blotted out the sun in the faraway kingdom of Malaria, the locals had to step away from farming and shift to a different sort of economic system, and...oh, global blackmail sounds like a pretty profitable niche. Yup, the skyline in Malaria is pockmarked with ominous castles teeming with mad scientists, and they're all gunning to take home the big prize in the annual Evil Science Fair. Whoever's creation melts and mashes the competition gets to shake down the rest of the world for billions, but...hey! Mad scientists have a lot on their jumbo-sized noggins, and they all need someone to pick up their dry cleaning and throw the switches. There's a whole army of hunchbacked Igors skulking around Malaria, grabbing interocetors and diseased brains for their masters. It's not all that fulfilling a life, but someone's gotta do the grunt work.

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Igor (John Cusack) is different, though. Even though Igors are strictly verboten from trying to invent anything themselves, our plucky hero type has been secretly conducting experiments on his own. He's managed to churn out a double-digit-IQ brain-in-a-jar and an immortal bunny, but Igor's next experiment -- creating life, Frahnkenstein-style -- might even be good enough to score the blue ribbon at the Evil Science Fair. When his master (John Cleese) goes boom, Igor thinks he can sneak his creation in under the radar. 'Course, word leaks out, and Doc Schadenfreude (Eddie Izzard) and his seductive, shapeshifting galpal (Jennifer Coolidge) are eyeing their next meal ticket to snatch. Igor thinks he's pieced together a colossal, nefariously evil beast, but after going through the whole "it's alive! It's alive!" routine, it turns out she (literally!) wouldn't even hurt a fly. Igor gets the bright idea to brainwash her into being a hideously deformed weapon of mass destruction, but a mishap with a remote control subjects her to the wrong hour of Inside the Actor's Studio, and the creature that steps out calls herself Eva (Molly Shannon) and prances around like a pampered, overentitled actress type. With the clock ticking down till it's showtime at the science fair, Igor decides Eva doesn't actually have to be evil; it's just a part for her to play, and how tough can it be for Igor to pretend he's a director to help coach her...?

Skimming through that much-too-long recap of the plot, Igor sounds like it's keyed in eerily close to my sense of humor, but the movie takes a really clever premise and a steady stream of ingenious ideas and just...never bothers to do much of anything with them. Igor really plays like a watered down version of A Nightmare Before Christmas, a movie whose skewed designs and animation style it rips off wholesale. As a character, Igor's aggressively bland, and the not-so-sly "hey, there are gags for adults scattered around in here too!" references wind up feeling shoehorned in. Certain story points are telegraphed almost obnoxiously far in advance, the voice acting is passable but not especially engaging, its overeager sense of humor sputters and stutters, and the CG animation suffers from what looks to be a spectacularly low budget. It's as if the lightning bolt crashed down but that lump of flesh on the table didn't lurch to life. Igor isn't a bad movie, but there's not much of a spark to it. Even a carcarriage chase and the Robot Wars climax feel limp and lifeless. There's a really clever movie flailing around in here trying to escape, but Igor settles for something lukewarm and routine instead. Oh well. If you still feel compelled to give Igor a spin anyway, I'd say Rent It.

Lightly letterboxed to an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and encoded with AVC, Igor sports a low-rent visual style that doesn't exactly dazzle in high-def. Really, Igor frequently looks less like a movie and more like a feature-length cutscene in a PS3 game. Some light aliasing manages to creep into the CG rendering, and one of the final shots in the movie is marred by some noticeable macroblocking. It's in a falling curtain for just a fraction of a second, but I've never seen anything like this in a day-and-date release from a major studio. There's a decent sense of texture, and it's more colorful than I'd expect for a flick set in a village where the sun has been blotted out, but the image isn't as sharp or startlingly detailed as most of the computer animated flicks that have clawed their way to Blu-ray. Igor looks okay in high definition, but its meager budget kind of drags it down.

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The look of the movie may be kinda chintzy, but Igor does sport a pretty spry sound design, belted out here in a 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio track. The low-end's hefty, from Eva stomping around to room-rattling claps of thunder to one botched experiment after another. The surround channels get a decent workout too, thanks to all the whirring whatchamagadgets and chattering monkeys and all. Although the movie as a whole is a little quieter than expected -- I had to crank up my receiver a few ticks higher than usual -- all of it sounds clean, clear, and nicely balanced to me.

A Spanish dub has also been tacked on in Dolby Digital 5.1, and subtitles are served up in English (SDH) and Spanish.

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  • Audio Commentary: Director Tony Leondis, writer Chris McKenna, and producer Max Howard pile into the recording booth for this cheery commentary track. The chatter mostly swirls around the look of Igor and how an ambitiously sprawling stack of ideas was pared down to fit its price tag. Some of the highlights include the French animators thinking Magnum P.I. is très magnifique, Eva originally being designed as a male character (but, um, you can't really slink by with a PG rating if you toss in a combustible doodle), palling around with set designers who had no clue who Liberace is, and sticking with just a single major light source per sequence. The story of how the project really came together is tackled in the end credits, so don't mash the "Stop" button too early. It's just a good-natured, upbeat commentary track, and I almost feel guilty for not thinking much of the movie after giving this a whirl.

  • Alternate Opening (3 min.; HD): The commentary track kicks off by noting just how many different intros they plowed through, and one of those alternate takes has been tossed on here. It sticks kind of closely to what eventually made it into the final cut, though, with a battered newsreel that's kneedeep in exposition before introducing Igor and company.

  • Conceptual Art (6 min.; HD): A few high-res montages show off the designs for Igor's characters, poster art, a few storyboards, and a peek at the set and production design.
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The Final Word
Try to picture how A Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride might've turned out if Dreamworks had hammered them out, then slash the sticker price by 70%: whatever's bubbling around in your head is probably pretty close to Igor. It never really settles into a comfortable rhythm, not managing to be as cackling macabre as anything with that Tim Burton or Henry Selick stamp on it, and it's a comedy that...never really manages to score much of a laugh either. Igor is teeming with some really clever ideas, but it doesn't seem all that sure what to do with them, and you're better off sticking with the flicks it's trying to ape instead. Rent It.

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