Halloween is fast approaching, and I thought I should put up at least one half-way “seasonal” recommendation.
I had never heard of Igor before finding the DVD in a shop by coincidence. It was not released in cinemas in my country, and generally went pretty under-the-radar, globally. And I guess I know why: it is unmarketable.
Igor is an animated film which has a lot in common with ordinary children’s animation. The visual style is conservative, the underlying story is simple and conventional, the hero is likeable, and the ending is predictable. But: this film is not suitable for children. Apart from the fact that premise and plot require the film to constantly invert good and evil (which I believe most children could handle), and apart from the fact that most of the references the humour is grounded in are inaccessible for children, the film also features an immortal character who tells us that life is meaningless and keeps committing suicide (on screen) in multiple gruesome ways. There is also a lot of (bloodless) gore, with hands and feet being cut off. And then there is our hero, Igor, who is living under the constant threat that his master might “recycle” him if he screws up. In fact, we can see that the mouth of one of Igor’s predecessors has been mounted to the wall as a bottle opener….
The premise is simple: the Kingdom of Malaria used to be a happy agricultural country, but since a never-ending thunderstorm has started to cloud the skies many years ago, the sun is never shining anymore in Malaria, and so the people were facing poverty. To rescue his nation, the King of Malaria decided that the economy should be switched to “evil inventions”, and his people would live off the proceeds of blackmailing other countries into paying Malaria for not using these inventions. So the most respected people in Malaria are mad, evil scientists; while the “Igors”, who are all named “Igor”, are serving as these scientists’ personal assistants and are assigned menial tasks. One of the Igors, however, our hero, is intelligent and could be an inventor in his own right, but no one let’s him.
As you can see, this film is a satire of traditional “mad inventor” or “Frankenstein” films of the 1950s, with lots of references to all kinds of films. But Malaria is not only a land of evil inventions, but there is also a lot of make-believe, a lot of grandstanding, and a lot of lying and back-stabbing. So when the film later morphs into a satire of Hollywood and Broadway, it does so rather seamlessly.
I believe that – generally speaking – animated films fall into two camps. The large group of mainstream films that are aimed at children (even if studios usually make sure parents can enjoy them, too); and the very small group of arthouse and international fare aimed at a small section of adult audiences, like Studio Gibli films, Kubo and the Two Strings, or Anomalisa. Igor occupies a sort of No-Man’s-Land. Everything about this film tells you that it was produced for children, and my guess is that when the studio realised that significant parts of the subject matter and the humour are either unappealing or unsuitable for children they had no idea how to market this, and to whom. So they kept the marketing low-key, and this film came and went without making any impact, attracting unkind reviews from critics along the way.
Personally, I really liked this film. It features great characters, nice visual gags and lots of funny lines. And I like satires that reference filmmaking and acting. The ending is a bit predictable and flat, but I believe that the overall humour in this film makes this a fun film worth watching, provided the premise appeals to you. Just lock away your children before you watch this.