Like the monster at its heart, the new CGI film Igor feels like a patchwork creature pulled together from a variety of sources. The character design, palette, and sensibility come from Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride. The protagonist looks like from Disney's Hunchback Of Notre Dame, down to the football-shaped head, unruly thatch of hair, bulgy eyes, and protruding ears. The cheery-creepy-crackpot tone is reminiscent of Invader Zim. The plot recalls Ratatouille. The two wacky, mismatched stupid-and-smart sidekicks come from practically every animated movie since The Lion King. Even the central conceit, in which "Igor" is more a job description and oppressed social underclass than a proper name, is familiar from Terry Pratchett's popular Discworld books.
But in spite of all the familiarity, Igor finds its borrowed feet readily, with an appealing mix of macabre, reference-heavy horror-movie trappings and good-natured positivism. Like Remy in Ratatouille, Igor (voiced by John Cusack) is a prodigy with a calling: He just wants to create wonderful things, but society and tradition have conspired to shut him out. The primary source of income for his beleaguered, evil-heavy kingdom, Malaria, is blackmailing the world with monstrosities produced by fiercely competitive mad scientists. Igor, like all hunchbacks, is relegated to fetching-and-carrying duties, and is expected to pull switches and lisp "Yeth, mathter" to his madman boss (John Cleese) on cue. On his own, in defiance of all the rules, Igor becomes the first scientist to create life, in the form of a stitched-together monster called Eva (Molly Shannon), who unfortunately doesn't turn out as evil and scary as he'd like. Nonetheless, dishonest mad scientist Dr. Schadenfreude (Eddie Izzard) tries to steal Eva and the credit.
Igor can be startlingly morbid, particularly when dealing with Igor's sidekick Scamper (Steve Buscemi), an immortal, reanimated roadkill rabbit whose running-joke attempts at suicide feel like homages to Looney Tunes Bugs-vs.-Daffy violence. But like Burton's work, it's harmless grotesquerie, appealingly manic and cute as well as sick. And while the animation doesn't take advantage of three-dimensional space as creatively as this year's WALL-E or Kung-Fu Panda, it rivals them for detail and fluidity. While the stitches holding together the plot are clearly visible, Igor breathes some enjoyable life into its stolen grab-bag of gimmicks.