IGOR is a charming bit of gothic whimsy that makes up with a sweet-tart brand of light irony what it lacks in surprises. It may not be the most original plot, but for riffing so expertly on classic horror flicks, and for plumbing the depths of horror to be found in the relentless perkiness of “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie, it deserves a medal.
The title character, voiced with savvy optimism by John Cusak, lives in the kingdom of Malaria. This was once a happy place, but dark clouds gathered, literally, and the only economic recourse became trading in mad science. The brainstorm of King Malbert (Jay Leno), who looked at the perpetual gloom and incessant rain and thought blackmail might be the key to the kingdom’s future. Blackmail as in setting the citizens of Malaria to the task of creating evil inventions and then letting the rest of the world pay Malaria not to unleash them. It’s a strategy that has worked, except for the Igors. Those with humps on their back, and there are plenty of them, doom them to serve as minions to the mad scientists in the traditional cliché. Mad scientist screams for Igor to pull the lever to activate the latest bit of mischief, and Igor, lisping his words replies with the time-honored “Yes, master.” Of course, these Igors go to school to learn the lisp and the proper obsequiousness.
This Igor, though, is not like the others. His hump is sort of cuddly. His face is sort of cute. But what set him apart is that he aspires to be a mad scientist himself in a society that can’t take the notion seriously. Still, it’s not just a pipe dream. He’s been hard at work in his own sub-basement creating Scamper (Steve Buscemi), an immortal rabbit with suicidal tendencies and a penchant for constant, nihistic complaining thanks to the gift of speech Igor gave him (and regrets). For contrast, there’s Brian (Sean Hayes), an ebullient brain in a jar on wheels with one claw and an inability to spell. Or hold a thought for more than a millisecond. Igor’s latest invention transcends mere modifications or tinkering with mechanics, though. It’s life itself, in the form of Eva (Molly Shannon), a giantess with a cupid’s-bow mouth and mismatched limbs that go with her mis-matched eyes. She’s also got an evil bone, designed to make her even more terrifying, unfortunately there’s a glitch. It needs to be kickstarted by having Eva do something evil, which, alas, she is incapable of doing, being at heart unwilling to hurt a fly (they tried). And if she won’t hurt a fly, she can’t win the Evil Science Fair, which is Igor’s ticket to recognition and life as something other than an Igor.
Clever animation and character renditions that are somewhere between Edward Gorey and a wedding cake make this a delight to watch. Igor’s mad scientist, Dr. Glickenstein (John Cleese) is a ribbon of red with stringy hair fighting unseen, unfelt G-force winds, Brian’s mouth is a leap of sparks between two contacts, and the King Malbert’s white coat is articulated in a fashion that is not entirely unlike that of a trilobite’s shell.
The writing is clever, too, sly without being precious. Glickenstein may be evil, but his inventions fall short, as in an evil lasagna that didn’t kill anyone but actually tasted good. Igor’s nemesis is the piquantly named Dr Schadenfreude (Eddie Izzard), and he has a conniving and shape-shifting girlfriend (the brassy purr of Jennifer Coolidge) who is sometimes Jacklyn and sometimes Heidi. There is nothing overwrought here and it’s precisely very low-key approach that sparks the humor. A brain wash is literally that, and the mishap that makes matters worse for Igor broadening the definition of monster when Eva becomes convinced that she is not just an aspiring actress, but an Aspiring Actress, replete with ego, obliviousness and a sense-memory journal. Yet, she still has that tender heart, and so the wild plan that involves a rendition of “Tomorrow” in full, if oversized, Little Orphan Annie drag.
IGOR features some moments that can best be described as icky. Be prepared for sudsing brains, disembodied limbs complete with bones sticking out, and other assorted bits of the stock and trade of the mad scientist. Most of all, be prepared to fall in love with Igor himself, so plucky, so determined, and so willing to put himself on the line for what he believes in.