Like it often seems in monster movies, the land of Malaria only has two real professions: mad scientist or lowly lab assistant. Obviously, one career is far more revered. In fact, in this land of evil laboratories, all mad geniuses' helpers are called by the same name: Igor.

But one of those Igors (John Cusack) longs to be something greater. Sure, he's got a hunchback and his Yes Master's Degree, but he's also got dreams of being his own master and becoming an evil scientist. When his cruel master abruptly dies before the annual Evil Science Fair, Igor gets his shot.

John Cusack provides the voice of Igor

John Cusack provides the voice of Igor

While this is a seemingly fun and clever turn on classic monster movie conventions, Igor doesn't go far beyond being only a promising premise. There are several problems that keep the cartoon from working for kids or adults. In fact, a small girl sitting behind me helped me identify the three major issues with Igor through three telling in-movie comments to her mom:

1. "I don't like this."

That's what the girl behind me said during an early scary scene when Igor unveils his idea for the science fair: an evil Frankenstein-like monster. I don't blame her for being scared. For a cartoon aimed at kids, the movie is entirely too dark.

Igor is clearly influenced by Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas (it goes so far as mimicking the film's stop-animation look with computer animation), The Corpse Bride and Young Frankenstein. But those weren't kid films. Igor is—and it goes way too far for a movie aimed at younger kids.

Jennifer Coolidge voices Jaclyn

Jennifer Coolidge voices Jaclyn

The film is full of creepy things, scary situations, shockingly violent moments and character deaths (see the lengthy Family Corner below). Igor has a sidekick named Scamper—a road-kill rabbit that Igor made immortal with some invention. The problem is that Scamper doesn't want to be immortal so he continually stages grisly suicides that are played for laughs. In addition, Igors routinely get "recycled" or chopped up and used for their body parts. And when Igor's creation, a large awkward female, turns out not to be evil, he tries to "teach her to kill" by brainwashing her to be an axe murderer.

2. "What's a 'woman problem?'"

So the girl asked her mom when Scamper comments that this is the one thing he won't help Igor's Franken-female deal with. This isn't the only adult subject matter in the movie. Like many children's films, there are a lot of jokes that kids won't get. But the difference here is that much of this out-of-place adult humor (some sexual) won't just go over kids' heads but possibly confuse them. They will pick up more than the filmmakers may think.

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The cartoon's adult content and darkness is confusing because Igor is certainly made for kids. For instance, it hits on the typical children's film lessons like being yourself and achieving your dreams. Indeed, this kiddie plot—lessened by convoluted plotting, a slow middle, and animation that often looks like a bad computer game—won't hold adults' attention. It's too adult for kids and too kiddie (and drab) for adults.

3. "Why does Igor want to be evil?"

This intriguing question from the young girl made me realize how confusing Igor may be to concrete-thinking young children.

Steve Buscemi voices Scamper

Steve Buscemi voices Scamper

Igor's homeland of Malaria used to be sunny, beautiful and profitable for farmers. But then, dark clouds blotted out the sun. The crops died and the town's mayor convinced his citizens that their only means of survival was to now do evil. And so, Malaria's only industry became the invention of horrible devices (monsters, robots, giant killer teddy bears) used to ransom the world.

Malaria's cultural standard is to be evil, murderous, and cruel. Igor, who of course really isn't these things, has been tricked by the world around him to think that's how one should live. It's all he knows. It's actually an intriguing setup to explore the idea of not conforming to what the world says is "normal." It's especially relevant for Christian kids who live in a culture that will tell them that what is cool and "normal" is far different than their beliefs. Like Igor, church-going kids live in a world that's been tricked to think that evil is OK. Questions from kids about why Igor would want to be evil could lead to good conversations.

Still, until a pretty solid ending where Igor sees the world's true colors, the way this theme is handled will confuse younger kids. Like the girl behind me, many will find it difficult to parse out the complicated idea of an "anti-hero."

What works better is the use of Igor's monster Eva. Because her "evil bone" fails to work, she has no interest in being evil. She's also strong enough to not conform. "I'd rather be a good nobody than an evil somebody," she says. However, when an evil character harshly berates her until she finally lashes back with evil, it's up to Igor to teach Eva that "everyone has an evil bone, but it's your choice to use it or not."

That's well said. In fact, in the last 15 minutes or so, Igor does have some real thematic plusses. It comes together well. It's too bad these positives are overshadowed by out-of-place elements, mediocre story writing, and confusion about its intended audience. By the time kids are old enough for some of the film's content, I'm not so sure they'll care about the lackluster Igor.

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Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. What do you think it means to be evil? Why would Igor think that's a good thing?
  2. What does it mean to you when Igor says, "Everyone has an evil bone, but it's your choice to use it or not." Do you have the ability to be evil? How can you know what is good or bad so you can make the choice?
  3. Would you rather be a good nobody or an evil somebody? Why?
  4. How do you think Igor was changed in this movie? What kind of inventions will he make now?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Igor is rated PG for some thematic elements, scary images, action and mild language. Parents should think very carefully about taking young children. The thematic elements include a lot of conversation about desiring to be evil and killing. There is a good amount of violence, several characters die, and one immortal character repeatedly tries to commit suicide. In fact, this character also gets a hand chopped of with scissors and gnaws his own feet off. There are at least two instances of using the Lord's name in vain and one use of a four-letter swear word. An invisible character wears no pants and constantly talks about how great it is to not wear pants—and scratches his rear for laughs. While it may go over the heads of small kids, there is adult humor including sexual material, horror references, a demeaning song about fat women, and a comment about a woman's period. Also, young kids might be very disturbed by two scenes where the only truly good character is berated for being ugly and large until she snaps, turns evil and lashes out violently.

What other Christian critics are saying:

Our Rating
1½ Stars - Weak
Average Rating
(not rated yet)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
Not Rated (for some thematic elements, scary images, action and mild language)
Directed By
Tony Leondis
Run Time
1 hour 27 minutes
John Cusack, Molly Shannon, Steve Buscemi
Theatre Release
September 19, 2008 by MGM
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