|Iron Giant, The|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 23 November 1999|
‘The Iron Giant’ is an unusual animated film in several respects. The script by director Brad Bird and Tim McCanlies, based on Ted Hughes book ‘The Iron Man,’ would be right at home in a live-action feature, with a tone and sensibility somewhere between ‘E.T.’ and ‘Mighty Joe Young.’ The dialogue is consistently, startlingly witty and the character animation is fluid and lively. However, while the movie was clearly made with "the whole family" (and all that the phrase implies) in mind, the finale and a few earlier events may be a wee bit dark for the very young.
In 1957, a strange object tumbles through space, striking the Earth and disgorging a towering being made of metal. When the iron giant (voice of Vin Diesel) lumbers into the woods of the coastal U.S.A., he is found by lonely small-town boy Hogarth Hughes (voice of Eli Marienthal). Initially terrified, Hogarth winds up rescuing the giant when the metal man becomes entangled in power lines. The two strike up a friendship, with Hogarth teaching the stranger a few basic words and phrases and the giant inadvertently creating the sorts of problems that can arise for a kid who doesn’t want his already worried mom (voice of Jennifer Aniston) to know exactly what he’s up to. The duo find an ally in hipster junk dealer Dean (voice of Harry Connick, Jr.), who lets the giant hide in his scrap metal yard. However, when pesky, paranoid government agent Kent Mansley (voice of Christopher McDonald) turns up on the scene, there may be no saving anyone from the military at its panicky worst.
It’s hard to overstate the charm of the characters as conceived by Bird. Hogarth and Dean are particularly appealing, with a lot of the niceties we appreciate in live-action performances. The giant, of course, is endearing and becomes a progressively more moving figure as the story proceeds and he is faced with moral choices that will be discernible to kids without appearing over-emphatic to adults. Bird and Co. also have a lot of fun with ‘50s culture, including black-and-white horror movies that Hogarth watches on TV (we’d pay good money to see the rest of the hilarious-looking brain monster flick we glimpse at one point) and insanely unrealistic "duck and cover" nuclear safety shorts shown in the public schools.
However, the ‘50s era has its drawbacks as a backdrop. A more sophisticated world might not create an environment that allows Bird to make his points so clearly. Still, the overall look of ‘The Iron Giant,’ while rendered with great skill and care, is ever so slightly campy and drab. The clean lines of the giant as shown on the poster art suggest - incorrectly - that the film itself will be visually spare. Although this is not the case, the implication may have been one factor that kept audiences away while ‘The Iron Giant’ was in theatres.
‘The Iron Giant’ DVD comes with a "making-of" documentary that has some intriguing footage of the animation in its in-between forms, as well as the usual upbeat comments from the cast. The music video "Cha-Hua-Hua" by Eddie Platt consists of a ‘50s-esque instrumental accompanied by a montage of clips from the film. DVD-ROM contents seem to consist primarily of links to web sites for the film.
A note to parents: As a chronological grown-up, this reviewer finds ‘The Iron Giant’ beautifully constructed, intelligent, entertaining and good-hearted. Unless my memory is faulty, however, when I was, say, six years old, I would have been enraged by the ending. While not all children have the same sensibilities, it would be well to keep this in mind - if your offspring and/or other young acquaintances walked away from ‘Pocahontas’ feeling betrayed, they may not be happy here, either.