This is a story which has stuck with me since my school days. I remember reading the original Ted Hughes story over and over, and not just because the teachers asked us to, but because I was genuinely captivated by the magic of a giant metal man crashing to Earth and befriending a child. Truth be told, I was envious. In fact, I’m still envious to this day; I would LOVE to make friends with a huge robot and anyone who says they wouldn’t is a liar. Rare it is to find a film which so brilliantly adapts a classic story, but under Brad Bird’s direction, ‘The Iron Giant’ is now an animated classic too.
The premise is simple and I pretty much summed it up in the previous paragraph – giant robot crashes to Earth, meets a young boy named Hogarth (voiced by Eli Marienthal), learns the ways of the humans and gets up to a little bit of mischief along the way, all the while avoiding the dastardly Government agent Kent Mansley (voiced by Christopher McDonald) who is intent on outing and destroying the metal alien. But, the Iron Giant is not some menacing creature from outer-space, and only looks to eliminate threats when provoked. He’s much more concerned with making friends and being a hero.
This is a film which works on multiple levels, as all great animated works do. For starters, there’s the theme of heroism, which the Iron Giant embraces wholeheartedly in his admiration of Superman. It is ironic then, that the influences of ‘The Iron Giant’ on our modern day metal hero ‘Iron-Man’ are clear to see; not least with the jet-pack aided flying capabilities and built-in target identification system. Then there’s links to issues of gun control, public safety and Cold War paranoia. The community in the small town which is blessed with the Iron Giant’s presence is understandably afraid of the destructive capabilities of their resident UFO, fears which are exacerbated by Government conspiracies of Soviet satellites and missile launches. At the heart of these misconceptions though, sits the idea that prejudice based on appearance is more often than not misplaced, and that perhaps the true enemy lies within. Not much has changed since 1999 has it?
This is arguably Brad Bird at his best. Yes, ‘The Incredibles’ is, for lack of a better word, incredible, but this is a film with much more heart and depth to it. The characterisation is spot-on and the drive of the narrative is superb, not least when you consider the runtime of just under an hour and a half. To develop both character and story in such a short space of time, and instil such strong emotions in the viewer, is quite the task, but Bird knocks it out of the park here. In terms of aesthetics, the animation on show is rather beautiful, and I would like to bet that it would be quite impossible to recreate this film even now, seventeen years on, and create such a more atmospheric and beautiful looking film. The colour palette, the contrasts of light and dark and the money shots of landscapes, the sky and the sea are truly mesmerising. Just take a look at the image attached to this review and tell me that isn’t haunting and stunning at the same time.
Me and my brother decided to watch ‘The Iron Giant’ on a whim after finding the DVD just lying around, and what a treat it is to discover that a childhood favourite stands the test of time like this. There’s humour, a well-paced story, characters you’ll love and characters you’ll despise and at the end of it all, a powerful and poignant conclusion. Watch it with children, or watch it as a lonely adult, either way you’re having a good time when you pop this in the DVD player.
Director: Brad Bird
Starring: Eli Marienthal, Harry Connick Jr, Jennifer Aniston, Vin Diesel, Christopher McDonald