THE IRON GIANT
Jennifer Aniston, Eli Marienthal, Harry Connick Jr., Vin Diesel, Christopher McDonald,
1999, 81 Minutes, Directed by: Brad Bird
Hogarth, a young boy who lives in the Maine
woods during the cold war, befriends a giant robot. As with E.T., the iron
giant is a misunderstood outsider who becomes a child's best friend, and
Hogarth does his best to hide the massive figure from his mom (voiced by
Jennifer Aniston) and the local scrap-yard beatnik (Harry Connick Jr.). Soon
the suspicions of neighbors and a government agent (Christopher McDonald)
spell trouble. —
"Charming" and "moving" are usually two adjectives tagged unto sentimental and schmaltzy dramas such as
What Dreams May Come and Fried Green Tomatoes by unimaginative film critics, and in turn attached to the promotional material of such films by even less imaginative publicists. However, in the case of The Iron Giant the two adjectives have never been more apt. It is truly charming and moving, without so much as a hint of overt sentimentality.
Instead, The Iron Giant is a simple story told simply. It is also an old story, but they are sometimes the best - especially if told as well as in this film. It is the old "a boy and his dog" tale, told in countless Disney movies and also told in science fiction terms by
E.T. - the Extra-Terrestrial. It is the early 1950s, the height of the Cold War as American anti-Communist paranoia reaches new heights with the Soviet Sputnik satellite orbiting the earth (no pun intended). Then there're also the countless alien invasion tales told in movies such as
The Thing from Another World, War of the Worlds and
Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Not exactly the ripe time for a huge hundred foot tall robot to show up - even if said metal creature is benevolent. A young boy saves the robot from certain death one night. They become friends, much like the ancient myth of Androcoles and the Lion (Androcoles pulled a thorn from the lion's paw, you know the rest), an even older tale.
"If your kids haven't seen it yet, then you're doing them a
disservice . . ."
Knowing that small town America wouldn't exactly react kindly to the presence of a gigantic alien robot in its midst, the boy tries to hide it. (If you have a tough time convincing your mum to let you keep the dog that followed you home, imagine how it would be like to let you keep an alien robot!) However, how to keep such an enormous creature hidden? Especially when there's a gung ho paranoid government agent prowling about, investigating reports of the robot's sightings?
The Iron Giant didn't do particularly well at the US box office upon its release. This is partly because its studio Warner Bros. (no, not Disney) didn't exactly do much to promote the film. All of which is rather strange since Warner desperately wants a slice of the highly lucrative animation cake, most of which goes to Disney. (The Iron Giant is its second recent attempt at cracking this market, the first being the substandard Quest for Camelot, which sank at the box office without a trace.)
Maybe Warners didn't know what they were sitting on because The Iron Giant is hands down the best animated movie I have seen this year. Forget about Disney's recent Tarzan or Mulan or the technically superb but dull Prince of Egypt, Iron Giant beats them all. Unlike these films, it features no cute furry animal sidekicks, nor any insipid songs to slow the action down.
It doesn't draw any undue attention to its animation (although it is quite good) because its mixture of traditional and computer generated animation never detracts from its strongest asset: the story. It is really funny and witty, sad and wise at the right moments. Unlike most of today's animated movies, Iron Giant doesn't condescend towards kids. Its central moral message is more intelligent than your standard moral platitudes offered in Saturday morning cartoons or other similar big screen offerings.
If you're into animated movies and haven't checked out The Iron Giant yet, then do so immediately. It is a welcome relief from the standard Disney cookie cutter output without opting for the extreme adult opposites of Japanese anime such as
If your kids haven't seen it yet, then you're doing them a disservice. The little ones in the audience I saw it with were completely transfixed by onscreen events. While some of the references (such as the Cold War setting) went straight above their little heads, they still had an obvious good time. The Iron Giant is a rare kiddies' movie - it is one you can actually watch with them. A rarity indeed. The Iron Giant, along with
The Matrix, is one of the year's most unexpected sci-fi pleasures to have come our way . . .
Top 100 Sci-Fi
of all time