Monday, 25 June 2018

Review #1,355: 'The Iron Giant' (1999)

The roaring success of Disney's The Lion King (no pun intended) in 1994 inspired something of an animation boom, during which various production studios attempted to cash in on the trend to varying degrees of success. Warner Bros. Feature Animation had a moderate hit with Space Jam, but underperformed with the likes of Cats Don't Dance and Quest for Camelot. They had one bona fide hit with The Iron Giant, a truly wonderful little feature adapted from Ted Hughes' 1968 novel The Iron Man. It didn't leave much of a dent at the box-office, but found a loyal audience on home video. In the 19 years since its release, The Iron Giant is fondly remembered as one of best animated features of the 1990s, and saw director Brad Bird poached by a little up-and-coming studio called Pixar.

In the fictional town of Rockwell, Maine in 1957, the residents are busy gazing up at the sky in fear of the Soviet Union's satellite Sputnik spying on them, and school children are shown Duck and Cover style educational films to prepare for a nuclear attack. In the surrounding forest, a huge object crashes down to Earth, alarming local fisherman Earl (M. Emmet Walsh). 9 year-old Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) spends his nights watching cheesy sci-fi movies and dreaming of owning his own pet. His mother Annie (Jennifer Aniston) thinks they cause too much mess, a point that seems to be proven when young Hogarth accidentally releases a squirrel into the local diner. With his mother working late one night, Hogarth wanders into the woods and comes across the object Earl insists he saw: a giant alien robot (voiced by Vin Diesel) that enjoys munching everything from train tracks to the local power station.

This kind of allegorical coming-of-age tale has been done before (think E.T. but with an adorable weapon of mass destruction), but rarely with such charm and genuine emotion. It's influence can be felt in everything from the recent Pete's Dragon remake and A Monster Calls, and it's no surprise that the film continues to attract new fans. The Iron Giant questions what would happen if a gun could feel. The titular giant occasionally turns aggressive in the face of possible danger, as the alien's true purpose becomes increasingly and unnervingly clear. But with no memory of his mission, it's down to Hogarth to teach metal hulk kindness, and the youngster does so in a way that only an innocent could. A moment in the woods sees the unlikely friends come across the corpse of a deer. At first, the giant cannot comprehend death as he can regenerate, but Hogarth manages to teach him about the finality of death. It's incredibly powerful, and it's message is even more relevant today than it was almost 20 years ago. We all have choices in life, and sometimes simple human kindness and empathy can be infinitely more powerful than brute force.

Directed by: Brad Bird
Voices: Eli Marienthal, Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., Christopher McDonald, Vin Diesel, M. Emmet Walsh, John Mahoney
Country: USA

Rating: *****

Tom Gillespie

The Iron Giant (1999) on IMDb

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