There are so many common film complaints that you only hear when someone dislikes a movie. "It was so unrealistic!" is one you hear from bad action movies. "It was so predictable and formulaic!" comes after a weak romantic comedy. Another common charge is "Oh it was such a rip-off. It was such an imitation."
Yet all of these things are only problems if the movie is bad. If I'm thrilled by an action movie then I don't care if the laws of physics and probabilities are shredded. What does it matter if a comedy has some familiar set-up as long as I'm laughing? And on this last point, yes, "Igor," clearly steals a bunch from "The Nightmare Before Christmas." So what? I still had a great time.
Whereas Burton's classic was set in the macabre world of Halloweentown, "Igor" takes place in the cloud-covered kingdom of Malaria. Ever since the region was plunged into darkness by the bizarre weather it's managed to survive by blackmailing the world. Every year the dozen or so evil scientists compete to see who can come up with the best evil invention. Their creations battle it out in a televised event and the world then has to pay Malaria $100 billion or perish at the hands of the winner of the mad scientist fair. Thus in Malaria evil is a virtue, something to which one aspires.
Malaria has something of a caste system. Those born with hunches on their backs are required to become the servants to the evil scientists. One Igor (John Cusack) dreams of more - not unlike Jack Skellington who was so tired of his lot in life in "Nightmare." In his spare time as the slave for the incompetent Dr. Glickenstein (John Cleese,) he makes his own inventions. He's already created a talking brain in a jar (Sean Hayes) and a suicidal yet immortal rabbit named Scamper (Steve Buscemi.)
There are political forces afoot, though, in the form of not one but two villains. The reigning champion of Malaria is Dr. Schadenfreude (Eddie Izzard) who each year manages to best his rivals. The king of Malaria (Jay Leno) - who reminds me of the mayor in "Nightmare" - also has an agenda: to see the popular Schadenfreude fail this year.
When Glickenstein accidentally kills himself it's finally Igor's opportunity to realize his dream: triumph at the Evil Scientists' Fair. He instantly begins creating an invincible, Frankenstein-like monster he'll come to call Eva (Molly Shannon.) Is it coincidence that she happens to resemble Sally from "Nightmare"? Of course things don't go quite as planned with Eva.
"Igor" shares something with several of the recent family films I've reviewed, namely "WALL-E" and "Kung-Fu Panda": the factor propelling me into the theatre was the fact that my fiancée found the protagonist "cute." (I'm hoping to try and counteract this motivation in the case of the upcoming "Beverly Hills Chihuahua.") Igor is a sweet character with big eyes and a bigger heart who aspires to be evil in an evil culture but just can't quite make it.
It's an entertaining riff on the underdog theme that succeeds primarily on the strength of the kookiness of its premise. Aside from Igor, Eva, and a silly supporting role of an invisible man voiced by Arsenio Hall, the characters are fairly disposable. Hayes and Buscemi as Igor's homemade friends tend to fall into the animated sidekick trap of being more annoying than funny. The villains also fail to be memorable and I'm not sure how effective it is to split the bad guy ticket into having two enemies. It might have been better to just ditch the whole Schadenfreude subplot.
The animation isn't at the same level as "Wall-E" and "Kung-Fu Panda" but it's certainly much better than "Star Wars: Clone Wars." That's not necessarily something for criticism, though. According to Boxofficemojo.com the film had a $30 million budget compared to the $180 million of "WALL-E" and the $130 million of "Kung-Fu Panda." You really get what you pay for with animation. "Igor" intentionally goes for a bizarre, exaggerated animated style so its less-breathtaking visual quality isn't really a hindrance.
While "Igor" isn't on the A-list of this year's computer animated family films it's still a delight and an acceptable younger brother to "The Nightmare Before Christmas." It probably won't be very successful at the box office but give it a decade or so and it too might develop its own following.