by Mel Valentin
"Igor," the latest in the seemingly endless series of family-oriented, computer animated films by animation studios not named Pixar or DreamWorks (Paris-based Sparx Animation Studios worked on the production), is still far from the best or even the mid-level efforts of a Pixar or DreamWorks, but for all that, it’s a step in the right direction for a fledgling animation studio attempting to break into feature-length films. Strong on visuals, but weaker on story, "Igor" will easily keep family-friend audiences entertained for its 90-minute running time. Under the right circumstances (i.e., a sharper, better rounded script), Sparx could emerge as an animation studio worthy of being discussed in the same sentence with Pixar or DreamWorks.On the rainy, cloud-covered, perpetually dark island of Malaria, the island’s beetle-shaped leader, King Malbert (Jay Leno), encourages the nation’s mad scientists to create weapons of mass destruction, the better to blackmail the world’s nations for huge amounts of scratch. Each year, King Malbert sponsors the Evil Science Fair. Dr. Schadenfreude (Eddie Izzard), has won the last seventeen Evil Science Fairs through fraud and deception, thanks primarily to his shape-changing girlfriend, Jaclyn (Jennifer Coolidge), who uses her feminine wiles on unsuspecting scientists to steal their plans for the science fair. One of Dr. Schadenfreude's rivals, Dr. Glickenstein (John Cleese), isn’t much of a scientist, but his assistant, Igor (John Cusack), the latest in a long series of assistants (all of them dead as a result of Dr. Glickenstein's failed experiments), dreams of rising above his lowly station and becoming a mad scientist in his own right.
"Strong on visuals, light on story, family-friendly CG film."
As a hunchback, Igor has been slotted to fulfill the role of Igors everywhere: assistant to a mad scientist. This Igor, though, dreams of becoming a mad scientist himself and winning the Evil Science Fair. When he’s not playing servant to Dr. Glickenstein, Igor works on his own experiments, experiments he hopes to enter the Evil Science Fair one day. Two of his experiments, Scamper (Steve Buscemi), an immortal rabbit with a death wish, and the IQ-challenged Brain (Sean Hayes), a literal brain in a jar, also function as Igor’s friends and confidantes. When Dr. Glickenstein’s latest experiment goes awry, though, leaving Igor without a master for the first time, he seizes the opportunity and takes his experiments a step further: he creates Eva (Molly Shannon), a Bride of Frankenstein-influenced monster cobbled together from spare parts. Unfortunately for Igor, Eva isn’t as evil as Igor hoped she’d be.
Igor has a great set-up, a set-up inspired by Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride, Mad Monster Party, a stop-motion, animated parody produced by Rankin/Bass in the late 1960s, and James Whale’s groundbreaking adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. What Igor doesn’t have, though, is the mix of family-friendly sight gags and adult-oriented humor that have made Pixar’s better efforts resonate commercially and aesthetically with moviegoers. To be fair, some gags and jokes do work, especially early on (e.g., Scamper and Brain’s interactions, Eva’s “brainwash”), but some fall painfully flat (e.g., anything involving Eva’s obsession with Annie), the much-parodied Broadway musical). The climax too leaves something to be desired, but that’s more likely a function of budgetary limitations than a lack of creativity.At least visually, Sparx delivers what fans of computer animation have come to expect: original character designs and complex, detailed world building. Sparx shows a level of originality and attention to detail that few non-Pixar, non-DreamWorks studios have shown in lesser efforts. With the exception of Blue Sky Studios ("Horton Hears a Who?," the "Ice Age" franchise, "Robots"), other animation studios have failed to duplicate Pixar or DreamWorks’ commercial success. The set pieces that Pixar and its closest imitators have made de rigueur, however, are conspicuous by their absence. With a higher production budget and a more inventive script, Sparx Animation Studios could one day join the front ranks of animation studios. Unfortunately, that day hasn’t arrived yet.
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originally posted: 09/19/08 18:18:57