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"IGOR"
(2008) (voices of John Cusack, Molly Shannon) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Animated Comedy: Upon the demise of his master, an evil scientist's assistant sets out to create a monster, but is horrified when she turns out to be sweet rather than evil as planned.
PLOT:
Malaria was once home of fertile farm lands, but is now a dreary place to live ever since permanent clouds enveloped the place. As a result, King Malbert (voice of JAY LENO) concocted a scheme to raise capital by extorting the rest of the world with the threat of unleashing something truly horrible unless everyone pay up to keep it leashed.

Every year, the land's evil scientists strive to create such monsters and such, with the annual competition just a week away. Igor (voice of JOHN CUSACK) has long dreamed of being such an evil scientist, but the hunch on his back meant he was automatically assigned to go to Igor school to learn how to become an assistant to real evil scientists.

The only problem is that he's so much better of an inventor than his master, Dr. Glickenstein (voice of JOHN CLEESE), whose every attempt has failed. That's unlike Igor's creations that might not be perfect but have survived, including the suicidal, buck-toothed rabbit Scamper (voice of STEVE BUSCEMI) who's afflicted with immortality, and Brain (voice of SEAN HAYES), a nervous bit of gray matter transported around inside a jar atop a dolly.

King Malbert hates that the reigning evil scientist champion, Dr. Schadenfreude (voice of EDDIE IZZARD), is becoming more popular than him, and thus hopes that Dr. Glickenstein can concoct something to best him. Unfortunately for him, the evil scientist has recently perished in one of his experiments, but Igor sees that as his chance to create something under the guise of his late master.

Accordingly, and with the help of Scamper and Brain, he creates a towering Frankenstein type monster, assembled from a hodgepodge of parts, including an evil bone that will make it the most feared being in the land. But Igor is shocked when the bone doesn't work and his creation is subjected to acting theory, thus turning his monster into the sweet-natured Eva (voice of MOLLY SHANNON) who dreams of being a starlet

From that point on, Igor scrambles to activate her evil bone to turn her bad, all while Dr. Schadenfreude and his shape-shifting assistant, Jaclyn (voice of JENNIFER COOLIDGE), sometimes also seen as Heidi (voice of JENNIFER COOLIDGE), try to get their hands on Eva in order to overthrow King Malbert and take over Malaria.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
It would be interesting to pinpoint exactly when one of horrordom's best creations, that surely scared readers and viewers back in the day, became a children's favorite. In 1818, Mary Shelley unleashed the Frankenstein monster (and not Frankenstein, for he was the mad scientist) on the masses, and Boris Karloff immortalized the character in the seminal 1931 film.

Other incarnations followed, but beyond a few exceptions, the fright level lessened, particularly upon Fred Gwynne donning the flat top and bolts in the silly TV sitcom "The Munsters" and with Peter Boyle doing a lumbering top hat and cane duet of "Puttin' on the Ritz" with Gene Wilder in "Young Frankenstein."

Among the many fine performances in that latter comedy masterpiece was the terrific Marty Feldman as the witty and pop-eyed hunchback Igor who, as hard as it obviously was considering everyone else brought their A-game, ended up stealing various scenes from his costars. I suppose it's appropriate then not only that we have another kid-friendly offering based on the old Frankenstein tale, but that the supporting characters end up upstaging the title one in "Igor."

A computer-animated comedy from director Tony Leondis and screenwriter Chris McKenna, the film puts several spins on Shelley's venerable tale. The most obvious, of course, is that the focus is on the titular assistant (voiced by John Cusack) who was destined to become an Igor -- and go to Igor school no less to learn that -- simply based on being born with a hunchback.

When his master (John Cleese) meets an early scientific demise, Igor steps up to bat to replace him as an evil scientist, but his creation goes awry. Of course, that shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering his previous inventions -- a suicidal but immortal bunny (Steve Buscemi) and dimwitted brain in a jar (Sean Hayes) -- didn't come out exactly as planned.

And that's where the next twist arrives in the form of a female Frankenstein type monster (Molly Shannon) who not only ends up being sweet rather than evil, but thanks to exposure to an episode of "Inside the Actor's Studio" also becomes an aspiring starlet. Faced with a quickly approaching deadline, Igor tries to turn her evil, all while contending with the champion evil scientist (Eddie Izzard) and his scheming, shape-shifting girlfriend (Jennifer Coolidge).

If that sounds fairly busy that's because it is, and the story and action zip along at a brisk pace, as do the many jokes, puns and parody bits. That said, while it's better than the previews make it out to be, and it does have its share of entertaining and amusing moments, it comes off somewhat like a cinematic version of the monster contained within it.

All sorts of material has been thrown into the mix, resulting in a somewhat lumbering experience where some parts work better than others. Some of the visuals seem borrowed/lifted/stolen directly from Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas," while other material has something of a twisted Looney Tunes vibe going to it (mainly pertaining to Buscemi's sardonic bunny and his attempts to off himself). Naturally, there's a love story of sorts thrown into the mix, along with over-the-top villains and the requisite personality makeover.

It's certainly not anywhere on the level of Gene Wilder's brilliant parody, but the younger the viewer, the more likely it will entertain, although there's enough present to keep any adults in tow amused enough that it won't be a chore to sit through. While it clearly doesn't deserve the torch and pitchfork treatment, "Igor" could and should have been put together better than it has been here. The film rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed September 13, 2009 / Posted September 19, 2009


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