I’ve talked before about the relationship between kids’ cartoons and horror movies; I daresay it’s a love-hate relationship, really. Some horror cartoons are successfully entertaining and do justice to the monsters and the mythology they portray, others…not so much. Once again, it’s easy to see why there are so many horror cartoons, why so many kiddie characters are monsters. Kids like talking non-human things, monsters have wilder and weirder and more eye-catching designs than humans and animals, and horror appeals to the inner darkness every child has. That said, I still find it a little strange that the characters of an adult novel like Frankenstein have become so prominent in the world of kiddie entertainment.
Like Dracula, Frankenstein is a massive cultural icon due to its Universal film adaptation (both the Universal Dracula and Frankenstein films were actually based on plays based on the books though), but the Frankenstein novel was still pretty damn different from the movie that is more well-known in the public eye. Everyone knows by now that Frankenstein was the name of the creator and not the monster (calling the monster Frankenstein is, as Kryten from Red Dwarf says, ‘a common misconception held by all truly stupid people’), but the iconic image of a mad scientist in his castle bringing the creature to life with lightning wasn’t in the book – Victor Frankenstein was a student and built the monster in his Ingolstadt university. Also in the book, the monster faces existential crises, kills those Victor loves, compares himself to Satan in Paradise Lost, and kills himself at the end.
Now that’s heartwarming family entertainment!
Yes, in every monster crossover cartoon, there is always a Frankenstein monster, and he’ll usually be a dopey, slow goofball, despite the fact that in the novel he was quite intelligent and moved with ‘superhuman speed’. Yes, whenever cartoons want to do Frankenstein, they choose the Universal movie as their source material, or rather just the general public’s impression of Frankenstein; so is the case with 2008 movie Igor, based on the hunchbacked assistant Frankenstein had in the movie and not the novel (and said assistant was actually called Fritz in the original movie. There was an antagonistic character named Ygor in another Universal Frankenstein movie.)
So a movie based on a character from a movie based on a book. A hunchbacked mad scientist’s assistant wants to become a mad scientist himself, basically. Thing is, that story’s already been done by the Steven Spielberg animated series Toonsylvania, and while that show did have the genius casting of David Warner as Victor Frankenstein, it was no great shakes. Neither is Igor, even by the low standards of CG kids’ films.
I must admit that Igor is slightly better than Hotel Transylvania though; it understands Mary Shelley a little better than Hotel understood Bram Stoker and utilises more dark humour. Black comedy is welcome in a genre dominated by fart jokes and overused pop culture references, but Igor, in its attempts to incorporate gallows humour, just ends up ripping off Tim Burton a lot. Igor is more or less to Nightmare Before Christmas what Ratatoing was to Ratatouille. It uses similar character designs to Nightmare and Corpse Bride, but doesn’t make them work as well.
We begin with a thunderstorm raging as ‘Pennies From Heaven’ plays in the background. Oh ha ha, it’s mentioning rain in a positive way and it’s raining in a negative way. Didn’t WALL-E do something kinda-sorta similar like this with ‘Put On Your Sunday Clothes’ only it was done better there? As the clouds clear, we see a giant tower shooting lasers into the sky, as some expository opening narration tells us that ‘Malaria’ (cute name) used to be a sunny farming town until some mysterious storm clouds killed the crops. Gee, I wonder if it has something to do with those lasers shooting into the clouds, golly gee? Then the ruler of Malaria, King Malbert (Jay Leno) comes up with an idea to boost Malaria’s economy – the residents will create evil inventions, and the rest of the world will pay Malaria not to unleash said inventions. Greeeat idea, the best one I’ve heard from a movie government since the decision to make crime legal for 12 hours. Also, the Burton influence in this movie is apparent from the start – the architecture of Malaria mirrors that of Halloweentown (and that was a rip-off of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) and Malbert looks just like a brighter version of The Mayor from that film. If there’s a monkey Abe Lincoln statue, I’m walking.
So evil scientists are frequent in Malaria, and, of course, every mad scientist has an Igor. Thus we are introduced to our narrator…Igor (Jon Cusack), who looks like Peter Lorre as a beanie baby. He wants to be an evil scientist, but being born with a hump on his back means that he has to work for one Dr. Glickenstein. Okay, the movie is making sure the audience its characters are not the same ones from the Mary Shelley novel or the Universal movie, so that gives it a point over Hotel Transylvania. Hotel’s Dracula was annoying enough, but having the same name and appearance as a compelling movie monster made him worse. The characters of Igor are flat, but at least they’re not supposed to be the same characters from a well-written gothic novel.
Oh, and Dr. Glickenstein is voiced by John Cleese. Basil Fawlty is a mad scientist (when he yells at Igor, it reminds me of when Basil yelled at his guests at the end of ‘Waldorf Salad’). That gives Igor some points as well, I guess.
Igor points out that Glickenstein isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, as his last invention was an ‘evil lasagna’. Uuuh. You know when people want to be funny but can’t think of an actual joke so they just randomly insert the words ‘banana’ and ‘cheese’ into everything? They’re funnier than this movie.
I have to admit though, Glickenstein’s laboratory does look pretty good, but he and Igor’s designs, even ignoring the fact that they’re blantant Burton copies, are awkward in 3D form, and would probably look better in 2D, really. Glickenstein tries to activate an evil invention but fails, so he has Igor go off and get some doohickey while he goes out. We’re also introduced to two of Igor’s private inventions – Scamper, an immortal, talking rabbit and Brain, a talking brain in a jar. Scamper is played by the saviour of kids’ monster movies himself, Steve Buscemi, and is of course, the most entertaining character in the whole movie. Thank you for your blessing upon this movie, Mr. Pink.
Would you believe there’s some actual dark humour in this movie that works? A running gag with Scamper is that he’s trying to kill himself and fails every time. Igor is worried that if Glickenstein finds out about Scamper and Brain, he’ll go to the ‘Igor Recycling Plant’, which is emphasised by an Igor head on the wall labelled “Igor #10”. They aren’t hilarious, but worth a small mental laugh and a ‘This is a kids’ movie?’ Sadly, this is really all Igor has going for it.
Case in point, Igor looks out the window and monologues about how he wants to become the greatest evil scientist ever and wants everyone to cheer his name like Aladdin looked out the window and monologued about wanting to be rich, and Hercules had a monologue about wanting to belong. Igor does succumb to the typical kiddie movie clichés and does them clumsily, and the dark jokes makes it all the more jarring.
Now for Dr. Schadenfreude (Eddie Izzard), the villain. Or rather, a villain. From the first time you see King Malbert, you can tell there’s something up with him, and surprise, later he’s more or less the Waternoose to Schadenfreude’s Randall. Anyways, Schadenfreude and his girlfriend Jaclyn have some of the ugliest designs of the entire film. Schaden’s face looks like a warped crescent moon and Jaclyn looks like a fish atop a bundle of sticks. Schaden plans to win the upcoming “Evil Science Fair” and throws a party to prematurely celebrate his victory, as all cartoon baddies are wont to do. He even does one of the most clichéd…clichés of all horror cartoons: playing Tocatta and Fugue and following it up with a more light-hearted song.
King Malbert returns to basically just repeat what Igor told us in the intro, and Schadenfreude goes to his laboratory. Turns out he keeps winning the Science Fairs by stealing other scientists’ inventions, and this year, he wants to unleash the invention on Malbert. Well, good for you. The King is an annoying character, so unleash all you want.
Back at Glickenstein’s, his girlfriend Heidi appears, and she has another horrible design. She looks like she’s made out of plastic, even more so than most humans in CG cartoon movies. Oh, and spoiler alert, she’s Jaclyn in disguise trying to steal Glickenstein’s invention. Schaden even spoketo Jaclyn about ‘her little friend Heidi’ the preceding scene. Yeah, kids are stupid, aren’t they? Though considering what a dipshit Glickenstein seems to be, it’s a wonder Schaden’s even bothering. We also have another dark joke that works; a “Hang in There” parody with a cat hanging by a noose.
After shooing away Heidi, Glickenstein works on his invention and it blows up, killing him. No more Glickenstein means no more John Cleese and thus one less reason to keep watching this mess. Another item on the ‘Kiddie Movie Cliché’ list also gets ticked when Malbert comes in and Igor lies to him about Glickenstein being still alive and planning to create life. Oh, a story where the main character tells a lie only to have it backfire on him? Cool, I’ve seen Shark Tale too. Wish I hadn’t, but still.
Then montage. The monster gets built, with Igor adding an ‘evil bone’ (what) for the final touch. Then the old ‘table gets zapped and the monster comes to life’ scene. Oh, ta, haven’t seen that a zillion times. The monster is a female, and as is the custom for females in this movie, she looks horrendous. Not in a good way, but in an eye-stinging way. She has a neck like a barrel, a normal arm and a muscular arm, a normal leg and a muscular leg. Igor intended this monster to destroy, so why not make both legs and arms muscular, considering he apparently has some magic potion that makes things bigger. Also, the movie’s Burton boner is showing again, as the monster is obviously a “tribute” to Nightmare’s Sally.
The monster escapes and finds its way to a home for blind orphans, another dark joke that kinda works, especially since a blind man and children figured into the monster’s story in the original novel. Igor thinks the monster is killing the orphans but SUBVERSION ALERT she’s actually playing with them. Oh hey, they’re actually being kinda true to the novel and the 1931 movie. The monster is actually not evil and wants companionship. Though I wonder if the creators of the movie really know what the original monster was like or they think they’re being “subversive” by portraying the monster as a sweetheart.
The evil Schadenfreude then evilly invades Glickenstein’s castle and evilly finds out that Igor created life and acts evil because he’s evil. Then he leaves so Igor can bring the monster back to the castle and try to make it evil, and thus she gets christened ‘Eva’. Ha ha.
Speaking of ‘ha ha’, we later get another joke that kinda sorta works with a brain washing facility ran like a car wash. Eva is tied up Clockwork Orange style before a TV showing House on Haunted Hill. Yeah, thanks for reminding me there are other movies I could be watching right now, thank you. Also, Brain…forgot about him? I didn’t mention him much because the only thing he really does is make “wacky” remarks. Earlier on, he said he had an idea, then followed that up with ‘Is French Fries an idea?’ Food is funny! Pork chops! Butter! WEETABIX! Laugh, please!
Anyway, Brain asks them to actually wash his brain, and he watches TV while getting washed. He drops his remote so he nicks Eva’s, meaning that instead of Vincent Price, she’s watching some crap about being an actress. Thus, when she gets out of the brainwashing doohickey, she’s speaking fluent English, and acting like an actress, despite the fact that her being curious about the world and childlike would have been more interesting. Even TVTropes doesn’t like this plot turn, and they hate negative criticism of almost all kinds!
They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: So Eva is an innocent who’s supposed to be evil? This is going to be a gripping story of Igor trying to shape her to villainy and running up against her childlike instinct- oh, wait, nevermind. She’s brainwashed into a stereotypical actress, and we’re getting a slew of tired Broadway jokes.
Well said. Never thought I’d say that about TVTropes, but still.
So Eva would have been more interesting if she learned about the world gradually like her literary counterpart, but instead, we have her talk about wanting a bigger trailer and adopting kids that is more irritating then funny. Igor takes her back to the castle by carriage and Schadenfreude returns with a shrink ray for an “exciting” chase scene. Such a thing like this would be done better in Despicable Me…in fact, Despicable Me was no earth-shattering masterpiece but it did everything Igor did better.
The chase scene ends with Schadenfreude and Jaclyn shrinking themselves. They get sniffed at by a rather awkward-looking rat, proving once again that the style chosen for Igor is not right for 3D animation.
How is Igor going to make Eva evil? He basically tells her that she’s going to appear in a production of Annie where Annie goes mad and destroys evil inventions. Great, another lie that’s going to be exposed at the end of the movie. That’s some variety you got going there.
After an unfunny rehearsal scene, we have another cliché that’s older than Malaria’s architecture as Igor looks out over a balcony and has a nice, sweet talk with Eva. Yes, the movie actually has a fucking love story between Igor and Eva. Considering how she looks, what she is and the fact that she’s more or less Igor’s daughter, it’s uncomfortable to watch. Then again, the original Frankenstein novel had an uncomfortable love story between Victor and his adopted sister, so there you go.
King Malbert is being interviewed on telly by an invisible man, who, get this, isn’t wearing any trousers! He’s walking about with his dick out. I guess…that’s evil. Then a scene with Schadenfreude being evil, then your classic training montage. Thankfully, no ‘Eye of the Tiger’. Then Eva calls in the guys, which causes Scamper to say, ‘If she’s having “woman problems”, she’s all yours.” Oh, Buscemi, I love you.
Eva gives all the guys gifts which makes them all misty-eyed and Igor begins to have second thoughts about being evil. Why? Because when Shrek met Donkey and fell for Princess Fiona he began to have second thoughts about being a loner. Wow, Shrek really is the template for all animated movies nowadays. Used to be Little Mermaid, now it’s motherfucking Shrek. Igor gives Eva a pseudo-necklace and she says, ‘I’m all thumbs’ and Igor notes that she literally is all thumbs. Except none of her fingers actually look like thumbs except her actual thumbs so the joke doesn’t work.
Igor goes off to think about all this, and then we get the return of Heidi, who teleports Igor over to Schadenfreude’s castle. How? A magic greeting card. Thing is, that was actually foreshadowed; when Eva was having her brainwash, Scamper mentioned those types of cards. Still makes it seem kind of out there. Couldn’t Schaden simply have a teleportation device he stole or something? Anyway, Eva also talks with Heidi and Heidi HURTS EVA’S FEEEEELINGS by calling her ugly.
Schadenfreude does the whole “villain tries to get hero to join him” schtick, only Igor is given spa treatment all the while. This would be amusing if Schaden was actually threatening or funny at all, and he isn’t. A good villain temptation scene has the villain actually be, you know, tempting. I wouldn’t care if Malbert got overthrown, but Schaden isn’t too charismatic either.
Igor escapes and Heidi comes back to Schaden,where we learn that, duh duh, Heidi and Jaclyn are one and the same! Jaclyn’s been taking pills to make her transform. Jaclyn = Jekyll, Heidi = Hyde, get it? Um, wouldn’t this be more of a twist if we weren’t told from the start that Heidi was working for Schaden? If we didn’t have her say ‘Schadenfreude’s gonna kill me?’ If we thought Heidi was a nice girl up until this point it would be…well, shocking would be too strong a word, wouldn’t it?
When Igor gets back to the castle, the bizarre love story he has with Eva continues. After she mopes about being uuugly, she gets dressed and falls down the stairs onto Igor and talks about ‘falling for her director’. Uuugh. Then Heidi comes over and forces Igor to kiss her, so Schadenfreude can come over and convince Eva that Igor doesn’t love her. Oh, my, a misunderstanding now? A wacky misunderstanding, even? This is a kids’ CG film, you say?
Eva believes Schadenfreude and goes off with him, while Heidi reveals herself to be Jacyln and says to Igor, ‘You’re a monster, and as you know, monsters only exist to be used.’ Oh, because Eva was a monster, and Igor used her, wah wah. Guess you’re learning a….dare I say it…lesson, Igor! Igor goes back into the castle and ends up apprehended by Malbert and his guards, for Malbert has found out about Glickenstein’s death. So Igor gets chucked down into the Igor Recycling Plant as the Evil Science Fair begins elsewhere. Oh, but thankfully, Brain and Scamper were watching; the Gods of Comic Relief have smiled upon you this day, Igor.
What begins next is pretty much a lesser version of that one scene from Chicken Run, where Brain gives a speech – ‘Blah blah blah you need to save Eva’ – and Igor abandons his annoying “woe is me” attitude for an annoying “I can do it” attitude. And yay, we have another dark joke that works- Scamper gnaws his own feet off to escape the machine and turns it off. Yay, Scamper! Screw making a movie based on the Despicable Me minions, give fucking Scamper his own movie. Maybe even a movie about him, Randall Boggs and Wayne the werewolf teaming up to solve a mystery or something.
Then they escape via a deus ex machine disguised as a joke, a secret passage where there shouldn’t be one. Screenwriting 101: ‘if you can’t thinkof a good way to get the heroes out of a pickle, just pull something out of your ass, and no-one will question it if the characters point out how stupid it is.’ Igor and friends then somehow end up on the tower with the lasers shooting at the sky…oh, and where the evil science fair is held is called “The Killiseum”. Man, the jokes here are ghoulishly bad! I had a hunch this wasn’t going to be good!
Igor then thinks about the evil purple lasers a bit and goes to the top of the tower where he sees bright sunshine and the lasers bringing down clouds. It’s pretty obvious what’s going on from the moment you see it, but Igor announces loudly to himself, ‘The King’s beacon is actually a weather ray! King Malbert is making the storm clouds!’ Um, thank you, we can see that. Kids are smarter than you give them credit for…oh wait, this was made for braindead kids who live on a diet of paint chips, forgot.
So Schadenfreude gets Eva to hit him and thus he activates her…sigh…evil bone and now she’s a raging monster. Was there any point to that evil bone; she was already doubting Igor so there’s a reason for Igor to try and talk sense into her, and it probably would have been funnier if she fought the evil inventions while believing it was all a play. So the evil inventions enter the coliseum (fuck that stupid pun), and it’s pretty much the same animation that played at the beginning during an ad for the Evil Science Fair. Same inventions and everything. I guess one of the winning inventions was a Delorean.
So…oh they do have her singing Annie while she finishes off all the other inventions, though it doesn’t really work if this is supposed to show her personality’s been changed by the evil bone. Schaden kicks Malbert off the throne, and Scamper stops the weather machine…like Hotel, it’s like they knew Buscemi was the best character, so they gave him the best scenes.
Now it’s time for the big fat uplifting happy ending. Igor gives the whole ‘I’m sorry I lied’ speech and the sun comes out so Eva is good again, King Malbert goes out Wicked Witch of the East style and thanks to Igor’s mighty weapon The Cliché, Malaria is good again. We also have the blind orphans sing ‘I Can See Clearly Now’. Oh, very adorable.
So what’s the verdict on Igor? Well, once again, it’s a little better than Hotel Transylvania; it actually tries to make its own characters rather than screw up specific monsters from literature and film, and it actually tries to have a creepy, uncomfortable feel to it as opposed to the bubblegum-and-popcorn feel Hotel had. Though its dark feel and gallows humour made all the boring kiddie movie clichés, and the clumsy way they were incorporated, stand out more. It couldn’t really decide what it wanted to be, whether to be ironically heartwarming or genuinely heartwarming, grisly or adorable. Eva had potential as a character, but that was squandered with the whole “actress” crap, and in the end, none of the characters except Scamper and maybe Glickenstein were likeable. I mean ‘I’d rather be a good nobody than an evil somebody’? Blegh. The corniness in this movie isn’t even the funny kind of corny like in Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein, ‘I will have my revenge, FRANKENSTEIN!’
Yeah, come to think of it, if this is the type of entertainment Frankenstein’s monster is going to spawn, maybe the villagers were right to chase him.