The horror and family genres make an uneasy combo. Very few movies have successfully married the two; you’d have to go all the way back to Mad Monster Party? (1969) for a halfway decent one. The trouble is that the middle ground between the two is very narrow, and the results are either too scary or too harmless. The new computer-animated feature Igor tries to have it both ways by cramming vicious black humor into the rigid confines of a kiddie-friendly “be yourself” formula. The pair somehow manages to uneasily co-exist; some of the nasty jokes may seem shocking with young ones around, but they’ll keep adults awake through the utterly, painfully familiar three-act snooze-fest in which yet another character finds his place in the world by learning to accept himself.
The story is set in a perpetually cloudy kingdom that supports its citizens by blackmailing the world with the deadly winning creation at the annual “evil science fair.” Cusack provides the voice of the hunchbacked title character, a mad scientist’s assistant who dreams of inventing. When his master (Cleese) meets with an accident, Igor gets his chance: he comes up with Eva (Shannon), a supposedly evil monster who accidentally turns out good. Buscemi steals the picture as a cynical, suicidal—but immortal—rabbit named Scamper. Scamper looks wiry and bedraggled, and Buscemi’s acid line-readings provide the movie’s best and darkest laughs. He’s the perfect antidote to the all-too-predictable story arc.
Director Leondis gets by with passable animation saved by imagination. The characters have little facial detail, but their radical designs (such as Eva’s grotesquely mismatched arms) help. And while the fast-paced action sequences are fairly clunky, the gothic backgrounds improve them. But the movie’s weirdest victory is coaxing expert performances out of a roster of potentially annoying actors: Shannon, Jay Leno, Arsenio Hall, Eddie Izzard, Sean Hayes, Jennifer Coolidge. Their line-readings mesh perfectly with talented vets like Cusack and Buscemi. So, while Igor wrestles with the good and bad sides of his conscience, the movie also wrestles between good and bad—and that battle is often more interesting.