'Igor': Calling All Monsters, By Kurt Loder

This one's for you, kids.

The new animated feature "Igor" lacks the hipster twists and candy-coated sheen of such Pixar classics as "The Incredibles" — which is to say that non-kids may not find a lot to really love about it. This may be irrelevant, however. At the screening I attended, two 10-year-olds sitting nearby cackled and hooted through most of the movie, and actually danced in their seats as the lengthy end credits unrolled. I'm not sure what I can add to a review like that, but I'll try.

The picture is a tribute to the Universal monster movies of the 1930s and '40s. It's set in the sere and sunless kingdom of Malaria, whose only industry is Evil Inventions and only income the money it extorts from other nations with its offer not to unleash those inventions on the world. The inventions are cooked up by the king's 13 Evil Scientists, some of whom are more gifted than others. (One recent entry in the annual Evil Science Fair was an Evil Lasagna.)

Each of the Evil Scientists is attended by a hunchbacked lab assistant called an Igor, a member of a blighted tribe that's trained to respond with alacrity to such tremulous commands as "Pull the switch!" The Igor of our story (voiced by John Cusack) labors in the service of the bumbling Dr. Glickenstein (John Cleese). This Igor has creative aspirations of his own. He's already fabricated an immortal rabbit called Scamper (Steve Buscemi), who keeps trying and failing to kill himself, and a low-IQ brain-in-a-jar called, well, Brain (Sean Hayes). When Glickenstein snuffs himself in a typically idiotic lab accident, Igor, assisted by his two hench-creatures, embarks on a big-budget experiment of his own and manages to create — life!

(If I may digress into irrelevance for a moment, the first hunchbacked lackey in the Universal horror world, played by master sniveler Dwight Frye in the 1931 "Frankenstein," was actually named Fritz. The second such figure, again played by Frye, in the 1935 "Bride of Frankenstein," wasn't actually a hunchback; nor was the first known Igor (or "Ygor," as the name was spelled), who appeared out of nowhere in the 1939 "Son of Frankenstein," and was played by Bela Lugosi — who had turned down the monster role in the first "Frankenstein" film, to his bitter and lasting regret.)

Getting word of Igor's breakthrough invention, Dr. Schadenfreude (Eddie Izzard), the evilest of the kingdom's mad scientists, determines to steal it for his own entry in the upcoming Science Fair. Little does he know that what the monster Igor has fabricated — a medley of mismatched body parts called Eva (Molly Shannon) — is anything but evil. In fact, she's quite sweet. Oddly, she also has a built-in ambition to get into show business, and soon starts twittering about her need for headshots and a bigger trailer, and her desire to "adopt children from all over the world" and "become an environmentalist but still fly private." Eva's prospects in the cutthroat Science Fair, to be held in the royal Killiseum, seem unpromising.

The movie certainly has its own look — its palette has largely been drained down to dun colors, and its characters have a wooden-eyed, toy-like aspect. (Although it was written and directed by Americans — Chris McKenna and Anthony Leondis, respectively — it's a French production, as was the 2003 "Triplets of Belleville," a film that this one somewhat resembles.) From a grownup's perspective, the picture suffers from a humor deficit. The fact that the jar in which Brain resides is mislabeled "Brian" is not hilarious; nor is a strained butt-scratching gag involving an invisible talk-show host. And what's with all the Louis Prima music?

But the target audience for this movie isn't inclined toward such nitpicking quibbles; and as long as their parents come across with the ticket money, its success may rely only on them.

Don't miss Kurt Loder's reviews of "Hounddog" and "Ghost Town," also new in theaters this week.

Check out everything we've got on "Igor."

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