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NYCC 2008: "Igor" Panel - Lessons in Evil Science

IGN.com’s movies and DVD chief Eric Moore was on-hand to moderate the panel for the Weinstein Company’s upcoming CGI animated comedy Igor, which stars John Cusack as a hunchbacked mad scientist’s assistant in the country of Malaria who aspires to become an inventor on his own and win the annual Mad Science Fair. He does so with the help of his friends/inventions Brain (voiced by Sean Hayes) and the resurrected rabbit Scamper (Steve Buscemi), raising a giant Frankenstein’s monster (Molly Shannon), who unfortunately would rather be an actress rather than further the cause of Evil Science. In attendance were the film’s director Anthony Leondis (Lilo & Stitch 2) and writer Chris McKenna (American Dad).

Igor Panel
(l to r) Tony Leondis, Chris McKenna, and moderator Eric Moore

After the world debut of the Igor trailer, McKenna started the panel by saying the idea for the script came from wanting to do something with Universal’s classic movie monsters. He referred to one character as “an Igor,” and then began wondering if everyone had an Igor, and pretty much grew the ideas from there. Being born with a hunchback in Malaria guarantees that you’ll get shipped off to Igor School to learn how to pull switches, and once you graduate from with a “Yes Master” degree, you get to work for the worst bosses in the world. It’s kind of like real life that way for most of us, except without quite so many hunchbacks.

Leondis said that the Weinsteins loved the concept right away, and that they went with the Weinsteins over the other interested studios because they felt that going with the Weinsteins meant they could do a slightly darker and more subversive movie. As an example, McKenna mentioned that Scamper is something like Bugs Bunny in reverse, since he’s a resurrected rabbit who doesn’t want to be back. He “hates every second of it” and spends most of the movie trying (and failing) to kill himself. Leondis noted that a character repeatedly trying to do that isn’t something that would fly in a Disney or DreamWorks movie, and McKenna said that kids can still laugh at it even though it’s rather dark in the same way that they laugh at the Coyote in his persistent failures to catch the Road Runner.

Striking a balance between the young and adult audiences was something that was very important to McKenna. He said that he tried to make the movie accessible to everyone, but hoped that there would be a layer of wit and fun that would appeal to adults as well. It’s intended to have the same kind of sensibilities of the classic Warner Brothers shorts, without playing down to the audience or dumbing down the content for kids. As he and Leondis described it, it’s intended to be a “family” film rather than a “kid’s” film.

Tony Leondis and Chris McKennaDespite a background in traditional hand-drawn animation, Leondis said that he liked working in CGI for Igor for a few different reasons. The ability to move the camera in CGI animation appealed to him, especially since it made it easier to mimic the kind of camera work that was used in the classic monster movies. With that said, though, Leondis said that he felt that there was a lot of crossover between 2-D and 3-D animation techniques, and that virtually the entire animation staff of the movie (mostly former employees of Disney’s Paris animation studio) were trained in 2-D techniques. He added that the decision to use French animators was to contribute to making the film look different from American CGI movies. He also added that he was a big fan of the Rankin-Bass stop-motion animated shows, and that the characters were partially designed to mimic the Rankin-Bass puppets in their shapes and the ways they moved.

In discussing the cast and the supporting characters, it’s clear that McKenna and Leondis had a blast working on the movie. They complimented the casting director, saying that they’d say, “We want this person for this role,” and then find that they actually got that person. In addition to the main players, the movie stars Eddie Izzard as lead villain Dr. Schadenfreude, Jennifer Coolidge (a.k.a. “Stiffler’s Mom”) as Schadenfreude’s girlfriend Jaclyn, and John Cleese as Igor’s master Dr. Glickenstein. In response to an audience question, Leondis said that John Cusack was “unbelievably nice” in addition to being perfect for the role, and that actors like Hayes, Coolidge, and Izzard riffed and improvised dialogue perpetually. Surprisingly, Molly Shannon opted to play it straight.

A quick question about the inevitable video game tie-in revealed that the movie will be adapted for that medium, and at the very least will be available on the Nintento Wii and Nintendo DS.

Igor looks like it might be a fun comedy, although even at this early stage, it does look like it’s running the risk of losing focus by being far too overloaded and overstuffed, similar to Disney’s Meet the Robinsons. That movie also had a surfeit of good ideas and wonderful celebrity voice casting, but never fully gelled into a coherent whole. However, there is undeniable talent in the cast and crew and the trailer seemed to draw laughs from the audience at all the right places. It’s still way too early to tell how well Igor will be received, but if it does take off, it might herald the entry of the Weinstein Company into the feature animated film game in a big way. If nothing else, the pair closed out the panel by admitting that they hope they can revisit the world of Igor and are already bouncting around ideas for a sequel.

Igor will premiere on September 19, 2008. You can visit the BeAnIgor.com website now to enter the “Be an Igor” contest and possibly get a cameo role in the movie.

(Return to Toon Zone’s New York Comic Con 2008 Complete Coverage)

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