What's the Use Between Death and Glory?
Igor / Agent Bedhead
Film Reviews | September 22, 2008 | Comments ()
Hollywood’s A-list periodically indulges in the realm of voicing children’s animation, which is easy work and tends to reward its dwellers with royalties out the ass. It’s been over a decade since 1997’s Anastasia, and John Cusack has duly returned and been rewarded with top billing for Igor. Never for a moment does Cusack’s voice not remind us that he is, indeed, John Cusack, but, depending on your perspective, this can be viewed either as a positive or negative. As a whole, this is a twisted little film that has been strangely marketed and released in mid-September, which seems unfortunate when mid-October would have guaranteed a better box-office return from a Halloween-minded audience. Outside of its proper element, Igor is, to be perfectly honest, demented as all hell and not quite suitable for younger children, but if parents are willing to discuss sorta heavy themes afterwards, this is acceptable viewing for mature 8-year olds and above. I pretty much dug Igor, which might be a cautionary warning in itself. Certainly, some parents won’t want their kids witnessing this film’s somewhat brazen sexual innuendo or abundant use of violence, including a character who routinely, albeit comically, attempts to commit suicide by way of dynamite, electrocution, and repeatedly blowing a hole through his own head. Exactly.
With that said, Igor is a darkly comic attempt to evoke Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with some slightly gothy touches and a bit of steampunk madness. This relative monstrosity doesn’t nearly approach the realm of Monsters, Inc., but, compared to Shrek, Igor is far more entertaining and doesn’t shove its own cleverness repeatedly up its own ass. Instead, Igor is much like a Tim Burton animated film that’s been intravenously fed a moderate dosage of antidepressants; as a result, a nice little Prozac sheen floats over the top of what would otherwise be described as an utterly unhinged adventure. As far as I can tell, Igor restricts itself to just one quick and indirect reference to toilet humor, which is, whether we’re talking about a family or an adult film, is quite rare these days. In addition, as a children’s film, Igor possesses a certain twisted charm despite its darker leanings.
The story takes place in the land of Malaria, in which every moment is shrouded in perpetual darkness. Genetic predestination is the name of Malaria’s game, and, while women are treated as possessions or objects of temptation, men are born exclusively as evil scientists or hunchback assistants (referred to collectively as Igors) and never consider questioning the process. Except for one particular Igor (Cusack), that is, who dreams of succeeding his master, Dr. Glickenstein (John Cleese, surprisingly lackluster here), who is ripped straight from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Cusack’s Igor is a wee hunchback; he has been relegated to the standard inferior life of servitude despite his obvious talents and superiority in comparison to all other Igors. Even his ambitions overshadow poor Igor, who doesn’t even want to be an evil scientist; he only wants to be recognized for his scientific abilities and be allowed to prove his mettle. His previous attempts to create life have resulted in two sidekicks, who, to be certain, make this film the amusing spectacle that it is. One of these wingmen, Scamper (Steve Buscemi), is an immortal rabbit with suicidal tendencies and a serious habit of launching into self-depreciating, existential mutterings about the suffering of life. Buscemi pretty much steals the film with his dry, mocking, and pitch-perfect embodiment of this unfortunate rabbit who saves the day. The other heavy comedic lifting is performed by Brain (Sean Hayes), who endures much humiliation as a result of his preemptive use of permanent marker to label himself. Brain’s disembodied voice appears from the sparks between two errant contacts, which is illustrative of Igor’s clever touches that do their best to compensate for animation that can’t otherwise hope to compete with Pixar or Dreamworks creations.
Igor’s secondary characters give the story some extra dimension. Igor’s newest creation, Eva (Molly Shannon), is an atypical and mismatched Bride of Frankenstein, whose “evil bone” fails to do its thing. Eva considers herself an aspiring actress and often launches into selections from the Annie soundtrack, which is rather annoying. Dr. Schadenfreude (Eddie Izzard, deliciously malicious) is a vampy metrosexual that steals his way to scientific glory and conducts business meetings in his castle’s sauna. Schadenfreude’s wench, Jaclyn-Heidi (Jennifer Coolidge), swallows various pills to morph from saucy vamp to Swedish milkmaid in order to fool the masses and assist her boyfriend. Christian Slater also makes a thankless entrance as Dr. Schadenfreude’s Igor, who endures many beatings throughout the film’s breezy 86 minute run.
In the end, several lessons are offered up by Igor, but parents should be prepared for those inevitable in-depth conversations with any children they choose to expose to this story. Of particular note is the notion that everyone has an evil bone, but some just choose not to use it. In Igor, such allegories draw real-world parallels for those who commit evil acts for the good of the community at large. Malaria is presided over by King Malbert (Jay Leno, wtf?), who instructs his subjects that they must continuously, and for just such a greater purpose, innovate in the name of evil. Meanwhile, the King has been blackmailing the rest of humanity and getting some tidy kickbacks from other lands who would prefer this evil not be released into the world at large. If this doesn’t sound awfully relevant to our current times, then I’m not quite sure where the fuck you’re reading this film review from, but I’d sure as hell like to be there.
Agent Bedhead (a.k.a. “Kimberly”) lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She can be found at agentbedhead.com.