A masterpiece of science fiction and animation, Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant is an iconic piece of cinema that will stay with you for the rest of your days. A complete reinterpretation of the novel by Ted Hughes, this film tells the story of a boy discovering a giant alien robot during a time of Cold War paranoia and American fascination with science fiction. An incredibly talented vocal cast and animation creating truly iconic imagery, The Iron Giant serves as a reminder to everyone that you are who you choose to be no matter what.
The backdrop to this film is genius, a small town in Maine finds itself as the landing site for an identified alien object. It’s the 1950’s: Dwight Eisenhower is President, America is terrified of the bomb and nervous of the Russians. Tales of spacemen and monsters on comic books and television, the film’s animation captures the spirit of the 1950’s perfectly. It adds so much to the story and themes of the film, a giant metal man appears on the cusp of the space race for America as Sputnik orbits the Earth so when government agent Kent Mansley discovers the possibility of the Giant he immediately assumes its a Soviet threat or worse.
Fortunately it is not Kent Mansley who discovers the Giant, that honour is bestowed Hogarth Hughes. An imaginative young boy who doesn’t seem to fit in finds a strong friendship with the Iron Giant. Hogarth loves adventures, movies, comic books – he loves anything thats different so when he finds himself with a giant metal robot he is absolutely giddy. Hogarth and Giant’s relationship is great one to watch unfold, Hogarth teaches the Giant about life, we learn that the Giant is a weapon but Hogarth is the reason why he doesn’t succumb to his destructive programming.
The film has great moments of comedy and strong drama, Hogarth and Giant have interactions that blend through both. They may be having fun in the junkyard at one moment but danger strikes the next. It works like most science fiction where the befriended creature will bring trouble no matter what. The drama of the film is done so well and gives the Giant true moments of pathos. An artificial being coming to terms with his own existence and purpose in the world and defying that purpose to be something greater entirely.
I’ve pretty sure I’m on record saying this but The Iron Giant is the greatest Superman movie ever made. A story of an being with immense power who lands on earth and is taught the values of society and makes the conscious choice to become its greatest champion. The Iron Giant himself resembles the hero in a way: he’s bumbling and innocent but contains immense power that terrifies a nation if not controlled. Hogarth uses Superman comics as a way to teach the Giant about being a hero and the ideals of the character shape into the Giants character development. The film is about being your truest self, that you alone choose who you shall be. Hogarth and Giant help each other come to those realisations and there isn’t a dry eye in the theatre when the Giant simply states who he has decided to be. Anyone who ever questions Vin Diesel’s acting abilities should watch the Giant’s final scene and tell me he can’t act, cause I will fight you.
I’ve seen this film time and time again and the magic never fades away, the animation for the Giant always enchants you. Vocal performances from Harry Connick Jr. as Dean and Christopher McDonald as Kent Mansley still bring the smiles and laughs. Like the titular character, The Iron Giant will never lose its spectacle and wonder, its message so powerful and execution a complete masterstroke from all involved.