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To bring their characters to life on the big screen, movie animators have been known to devote endless hours observing the idiosyncrasies of their subjects. For the underwater epic "Finding Nemo," Pixar's artists painstakingly analyzed video of fish swimming. And Disney's cartoonists traveled to the wilds of Africa to study animal movement up close for "The Lion King."

Watching "Igor," the story of a lab lackey with ambitions far beyond his station, you can't help wondering if the team at Sparx Animation Studios camped out in a university research lab. How else could they have so accurately captured the minute details of the beleaguered graduate student? The invariably mussed hair. The skin that never sees sunlight. The permanent hunch.

The Igors in "Igor" toil away thanklessly in the laboratories of evil mad scientists in Malaria, a cloudy Tim Burton-esque world where the evilest scientist is also the most lauded. The Igors' lot in life is to be beaten, electrically shocked, and humiliated while slaving away to help their masters win the annual Evil Science Fair—which is sort of like an American Chemical Society national meeting with more monsters and fewer poster sessions.

But one Igor (voiced by Cusack) has bigger plans. Not content with his modest "Yes Master's" degree, he dreams of becoming an evil mad scientist and garnering all the fame, fortune, and female attention that comes with the title. Igor finally gets his chance when his master, Dr. Glickenstein, falls victim to his own invention just one week shy of the Evil Science Fair. But as every scientist—evil or otherwise—knows, no experiment ever goes precisely as planned. When Igor's invention, a massive monster named Eva (Shannon), decides she'd rather be an actress than an annihilator, Igor has to abandon the scientific method for method acting if he wants to win.

Screenwriter Chris McKenna envisioned "Igor" as a riff of sorts on classic horror films in which an evil mad scientist unleashes a terror on the world. Although it's unlikely he intended to, McKenna has created a hilarious satire of the scientific enterprise. Egomaniacal evil scientists lock themselves away in basement laboratories, plotting how to best beat their scientific rivals. The most famous scientist, Dr. Schadenfreude (Izzard), has built his reputation by stealing his colleagues' inventions.

Then, of course, there's Igor. Graduate students, postdocs, technicians: Hollywood has finally given you a hero. He's been beaten down by the scientific establishment; he can't quite get his science to work properly; and he's hounded by two troublesome labmates (an immortal yet suicidal rabbit and a dimwitted brain in a jar—earlier inventions, really, but they are eerily similar to junior graduate students). Despite it all, Igor perseveres in his scientific quest, proving that even the little guys can bring about big breakthroughs as long as they've got persistence and drive. Who'd have thought a cartoon about monsters would be prove to be such a good reminder of what it takes to succeed in science?