The Iron Giant (1999)
The Iron Giant (1999)

Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 26 min.

Release Date: August 6th, 1999 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Brad Bird Actors: Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., Vin Diesel, Cloris Leachman, John Mahoney, M. Emmet Walsh




he threat of nuclear disaster will, perhaps, always be relevant – and brash decisions and uninformed superiors heading paranoid governments always make genuine (if not completely accurate) villains. “The Iron Giant” fuses Cold War paranoia with a science-fiction/horror B-movie template to create an entertaining, action-filled, and clearly disclosed parable. The animation is only slightly less appealing than Disney’s traditional works, while the computer animated titular automaton has a certain charm and inventiveness that separates it from the hordes of comparable Earth-conquering robot movies (though few others are geared toward younger crowds).

It is early 1957 in Rockwell, Maine, when an unidentified flying object crashes just off the coast. Little Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) is one of the first people to see the alien visitor – an enormous armored robot that has an appetite for metal. Although it is obviously deadly, he kindheartedly saves it when it accidentally entangles itself in live power lines. The iron giant is sentient and inexplicably intelligent, immediately recognizing the generous act of the boy. It learns at an incredible rate and takes on the role of a friendly pet to the excited Hogarth.

Expectedly, no one believes the child’s wild stories of a towering android, until he is forced to hide “him” away in the neighboring McCoppin Scrap yard, giving the metal monstrosity plenty of food. Dean McCoppin (Harry Connick Jr.) is skeptical, but willingly befriends Hughes and the giant – but the two are only able to keep it a secret for a short time. Nosey, secretive government agency man Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald) ruthlessly hunts for the alien entity’s hiding spot, wanting both the recognition for uncovering it and the right to destroy it.

“The Iron Giant” sticks to convention when paralleling classic low-budget science-fiction films (including the killer brain movie Hogarth watches late at night): an innocent youngster is the first to discover the creature and it’s impossible to convince others of the find; the Russians and their foreign satellites are the go-to suspects; fear leads to rushed actions and misunderstandings; and the government must act before they have time to properly analyze the situation. These send-ups only enhance the deviations in the plot, including the mechanoid’s symbiotic construction (each piece of the golem can act on its own, independent of the whole), its incredible intelligence, and its discernible conscience. At one point, it ponders the death of a deer – questioning mortality, the possession of a soul, and self-sacrifice for a greater good.

The hulking metal man functions similarly to GORT from “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” but with feelings. It becomes so nearly human that it’s easier to connect with than many of the real people. The voice acting by popular stars (including Jennifer Aniston, Vin Diesel, and Cloris Leachman), the classical-inspired music by Michael Kamen, and the dated animation (at a time when 3D was on the rise) all take a back seat to the honest and appealing story, which led to unexpected critical success (a huge plus for Warner Bros., which had a poor animation track record). It’s a thought-provoking and thrilling project, marking Brad Bird’s feature directorial debut and heralding his eventual helming of Pixar’s “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille.”

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10