The Iron Giant bridges the gap between adult and child
The Iron Giant
Animation has for decades been seen as a lesser form of film compared to live-action. While some have received praise, they are still commonly labeled as movies for children only. The 1999 science fiction film The Iron Giant is an animated feature film that bridges the gap between adolescent and adult viewers.
The directorial debut of Brad Bird, who would later receive critical acclaim for The Incredibles and Ratatouille, tells the story of a young boy who attempts to hide his giant robot friend from a government agent trying to destroy it.
At the very basic levels, this story seems to be unoriginal — boy finds creature, boy befriends creature, creature is threatened, and creature leaves and boy becomes sad. As most people have spotted this story is basically E.T. The Extraterrestrial. What makes this story more then a simple E.T. knock off is the moral it tells and the characters that present it.
Nine-year-old Hogarth Hughes lives in Rockwell, Maine (Stephen King fans rejoice) with his widowed mother Annie during the height of the red scare and communist paranoia of the Cold War. One day, while watching horror movies long past his bedtime, Hogarth sees a ball of fire fall from the sky. Being a brave but stupid boy (admit it — we all would have done this) Hogarth heads out into the woods armed with a cork gun and an army helmet to find the object, which turns out to be a giant robot that proceeds to devour a power station and railroad tracks. Hogarth takes the robot home and teaches him about heroes and villains, primarily through the use of old Superman comics.
Eventually the American government sends an agent who quickly focuses on Hogarth in his investigation and Hogarth seeks the help of a junkyard artist named Dean to hide the robot from the government and eventually the army.
The voice actors do an amazing job of bringing diverse, yet always believable personalities to each of their characters. Eli Marienthal creates the image of a little boy forced to grow up and fight against the paranoia the adults of his world show. Henry Connick Jr. plays a lazy beatnik who just wants to be left alone but slowly comes to see Hogarth as almost a son. Christopher McDonald perfects the crazy, almost manic drive to rout out communists regardless of the collateral damage that dominated America in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. Finally Vin Diesel voices the Iron Giant, a perfect role for a man with such a gravelly voice, yet he still gets deep human emotion through such few words.
What allows these characters to be so believable is the connections between them. The best example of this is between Dean and Hogarth. At first Dean can’t stand Hogarth and the mere idea of hiding a giant robot scares the crap out of him. However as the movie rolls on he slowly starts to care about the kid and goes to ever increasing lengths to help him. This kind of relationship feels like a true father son connection between the characters despite no blood relation. This is one of Brad Bird’s greatest strengths in that he depicts families perfectly in all his films.
The part that makes this movie so personal is the moral behind the story. Throughout the film the characters show the dark side of guns. This idea that guns can be used for an ugly purpose from killing a deer, to even murder, is shown alongside very anti-war messages shown in the society around Hogarth.
However unlike the majority of anti-war/anti-gun films, books or commercials this movie never demonizes the soldier. Instead in the climax the general is the one who sees reasons and stands down while the crazy civilian causes everything to go wrong.
This is a movie that, though it received great critical acclaim, did not receive financial acclaim. Nor do I believe, nearly enough popular acclaim. If you like a movie with fun bits action and good jokes combined with a very adult and very thought provoking moral I would highly recommend this movie. If you’re a person looking for a movie that just lets you shut of your brain for 90 minutes avoid it. Even if you don’t want to think, this movie will make you.
– Cooper Thompson