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Igor

The voices of John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, and John Cleese star in an animated film written by Chris McKenna and directed by Anthony Leonidas.

<em>Igor</em> is somehow very familiar, and not just because it features the voice of John Cleese.

Beginning screenwriters spend inordinate amounts of time worrying whether they are original enough. They’ll ask about copyrighting ideas or how they might discover whether the project they are scribbling by midnight lamp might actually be an unconscious plagiarism, or worse-something Disney has already done. What I want to know is why Igor’s writers weren’t worried about these issues. Who protects Tim Burton from poaching not only obviously branded thematic territory (i.e. cartoon worlds inhabited by cute, icky monsters who want to invent new ways to scare), but also specific characters and their specific renderings? Most obviously, King Malbert, ruler of Igor’s fictional city of Malaria who looks like a Xerox of Burton’s Halloween Town mayor. And, speaking of Disney, it seems like the same ‘toon who played the Hunchback of Notre Dame appears here as Igor. Tell your aspiring screenwriter friends not to worry: Good writers borrow, but formerly great studios (like MGM) just steal.

That being said, there are funny moments in Igor, mostly furnished by Brian (a misspelling of “Brain”) and Scamper the unkillable Cat (who looks a lot like Bill the Cat from Berkeley Breathed’s comic strip Bloom County).

Igor concerns a mythical kingdom run by mad scientists who compete annually to provide the scariest wonders. Into this rat race mix is born an Igor, a hunchbacked lab assistant who knows how to think, though The Man keeps trying to keep these posture-challenged workers down. You can guess the rest.

Most of the laughs come from the voice talent, which includes John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, Eddie Izzard, and our own beloved John Cleese. The problem with a film like this is that it never seems deeply felt. The oddball virtues of Burton’s Nightmare derived from a palpable need to embrace creepiness and then laugh it off-like Jack Skellington’s dog who’s dead but still cute. Igor turns the whole sublimely ghoulish Promethean premise into a familiar Hollywood cliche about self-empowerment. The only real lesson for the kids, though, is there’s no idea so great or weird that a mediocre talent can’t shock it back to profitable life.

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