Dir: Tony Leondis. US. 2008. 86 mins.
Sweet-natured but saddled with strained wisecracking humour and over-busy plotting, children's animated feature Igor never quite manages to shake off a feeling of familiarity that extends from the story's archly hip tone to the misunderstood, lovable main character of a hunchback trying to escape his circumstances.
Opening domestically September 19 - an odd time as the school term gets into full gear - Igor will have whatever family audience is around to itself for two weeks before Beverly Hills Chihuahua starts barking. Independently-produced animated efforts haven't commanded the same stratospheric box office as their competitors at Pixar, Disney and Dreamworks, but 2005's Hoodwinked and 2006's Arthur And The Invisibles both pulled in more than $110m worldwide and moderate returns are possible for Igor despite the lack of superstar voice talent and its calendar problems.
Living in the evil kingdom of Malaria, Igor (voiced by Cusack) must serve as an assistant to diabolical scientist Dr Glickenstein (Cleese) and is forbidden to work on his own inventions because he was born a hunchback. But when Glickenstein dies, Igor, with the help of his friends Scamper (Buscemi) and Brain (Hayes) tries to enter Malaria's annual Evil Science Fair, creating an indestructible monster (Shannon) who turns out to be a sensitive soul.
Directed by Tony Leondis, Igor tells the story of a monster put together with spare parts, a fitting metaphor for a comedy that feels like it was constructed by splicing the DNA of several successful animated films. The unattractive protagonist with low self-esteem recalls the green ogre of Shrek, the zany side characters are reminiscent of Pixar, and Igor's macabre sense of humour summons comparisons to The Nightmare Before Christmas.
But despite its familiarity, Igor has a certain amount of undeniable charm. It's helped in this regard by John Cusack's likeable voice work as the hunchback, Steve Buscemi's turn as the sarcastic Scamper, and Sean Hayes' witty portrayal of the endearingly dopey Brain. Screenwriter Chris McKenna's script throws in pratfalls for younger viewers and pseudo-hip jokes for parents, but the extremely hit-and-miss quality of the humour - not to mention an overly-complicated plot that involves the fate of the entire kingdom - prevents Igor from generating a steady stream of laughs, leaving much of the burden on the actors to sustain audience interest.
Igor 's saving grace is its sentimental streak. Feeling disrespected as a hunchback, Igor wants to be recognized for his scientific genius in a kingdom where evil is prized above all other qualities, but he slowly comes to terms with the fact that deep down he cares too much about others to be truly wicked. That journey of self-discovery is easily telegraphed from the film's opening moments, but Igor exudes a sweetness that helps alleviate some of the predictability.
The animation, supervised by Sparx Animation Studios, deftly incorporates moody high-contrast lighting, and the characters' movements occasionally mimic the handmade care of stop-motion. Unfortunately, Leondis has a more confident directorial sense with dialogue scenes than action sequences - a chase scene near the film's middle is especially choppy and confusing.
Exodus Film Group
The Weinstein Company
John D. Eraklis
Main voice cast