Vaguely resembling a Tim Burton toon, minus the magic, “Igor” is a mirthless animated romp set in the world of mad scientists and the woefully misunderstood hunchbacks who assist them. With its belabored gags, misfired pop-culture references and garish visuals crammed together like so many disjointed body parts, this manic kidpic cranks up the annoy-o-meter early on and rarely lets up. An appealingly kooky premise and name vocal talent could lure some families into MGM’s B.O. lair, but, like a brain in a jar, this one belongs on the shelf.
The kingdom of Malaria is a land of permanent storm and shadow, populated by evil geniuses who are aided in their diabolical experiments by drooling, lumbering, uniformly misshapen servants known as Igors. The Igor who narrates “Igor,” however, is different from his accursed ilk — for one, he’s voiced by John Cusack, and thus has the rare gift of articulate speech, as well as a talent for invention that goes unnoticed by the cruel Dr. Glickenstein (John Cleese).
When his master perishes in a lab accident, Igor spies an opportunity to invent his own monster — a femme Frankenstein capable of destroying anything in her path — and compete in Malaria’s annual evil science fair. Much to his dismay, his creation, Eva (the joke was fresher in “Wall-E”), turns out to be a sweet, sensitive creature who’s mildly insecure about her enormous size and has dreams of one day becoming a famous actress. Cue weirdly incongruous quips (Eva keeps a “sense-memory journal”) and campy allusions to Norma Desmond and “Annie.”
Though it reps the bigscreen debut of helmer Tony Leondis, working from a first-produced screenplay by Chris McKenna, “Igor” feels of a piece with other overly chatty 3-D toons, as scene after scene is deflated by hyperactive bits of business and strenuously unfunny banter — the cumulative effect of which approximates that of a power drill to the noggin. Characters’ obnoxious patter seems unlikely to engage viewers, young or old, at any meaningful level.
While most of the performances fall in the same overbearing register, Steve Buscemi puts his cynical, shysterish tones to good use as a rabbit with a demented death wish; Jennifer Coolidge supplies welcome comic distraction with an unplaceable accent that should stir affectionate memories of “A Mighty Wind”; and Molly Shannon conveys flickers of feeling as the big, and big-hearted, Eva. Latter serves as the delivery mechanism for pic’s moppet-scaled messages about inner beauty, the importance of pursuing your passions and why being good is, y’know, better than being evil.
Burton’s “Corpse Bride” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” used dazzling stop-motion techniques to bring their horror-movie landscapes to life. By contrast, the gaudy, CG-rendered world of “Igor” (courtesy of Paris-based Sparx Animation Studios) looks underimagined and over-stylized, with inconsistent character designs and an excess of glaring red in the pic’s color palette. Igor has the ability to create life; too bad he can’t reanimate his movie.