Movie Review: ‘The Iron Giant’
Cast: Eli Marienthal, Vin Diesel, Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr, Christopher McDonald, M Emmet Walsh
Plot: During the 1950s a fifty foot tall alien robot falls from space and lands near a small town in America. The robot is found by a young boy, Hogarth, finds the giant and learns that, due to a head injury on landing, the giant has no memory and needs to learn everything from scratch.
Review: When The Iron Giant was released back in 1999 is was a box office flop. The promotional campaign was very weak and it was quickly shuffled in and out of cinemas as Warner didn’t know what to do with it. In the face of this information it’s not surprising that so few people have seen it.
On the other hand it has a massive following among geeks. The average critic review on Rotten Tomatoes is 97%. It is so damn good that a character played by Vin Diesel may actually make you cry. It’s but Brad Bird, who was hired by Pixar off the strength of this feature and went on to direct The Incredibles. What I’m getting at here is that if you haven’t seen The Iron Giant then you need to find a copy and watch the damn thing right now.
Done that? Good. I know, right?
Although the movie is set in the 1950s it seems to be set in the realm of science fiction created in the 1950s. It’s certainly something of an ode to the classic science fiction of the time. Both this and the plot summary may seem a little but simplistic but you will be amazed at what a well written and realized this film is. The crux of the movie is the relationship between Hogarth and the giant. Hogarth stands out as one of the best written children in cinema history. He is very much a child without the usual precociousness or wide adult mentality that kids tend to have in movies, especially those aimed at kids. The fact that Hogarth acts in the way that a kid would act, and is responded to in the way an adult would respond to a kid, makes it very easy for the viewer to empathize with the guy (assuming you were, in fact, a child at some point).
The giant is the other main character, and is an exercise in joyous slapstick. For most of the movie the giant is learning about the world around him. Most of his scenes are just downright funny as he bumbles his way around a world too small for him, having only a child’s perspective to learn from. As much fun as his wacky, lake jumping scenes are, the more poignant scenes where he learns a hard lesson are simply brilliant. Most memorable is when he spies a deer that is then killed by a hunter – you’ll forget Bambi’s mother as Hogarth trying to explain what happened to the giant is simply heartbreaking. The principle conflict for the giant occurs when he begins to understand that he was originally sent to Earth as a weapon, when he wants to be Superman. This could not be handled better and you may actually tear up at the end.
Then there’s the rest of the cast. Harry Connick Jr is cooler than he ever has been and ever will be was beatnik Dean. Living in a junkyard, drinking the exotic espresso and producing weird art, this is one awesomely laid back guy. It seems like everyone knew someone like Dean growing up. That cool adult who for some reason tolerated your childish bullshit and treated you like a person. Jennifer Aniston also shines as the single mother of Hogarth, often forced to be away from home to earn their keep. She’s sympathetic and charming. Then there’s Christopher McDonald as Kent Mansley, a villain you will loathe like few others. Kent is the FBI agent who is hunting the giant and is a despicable sort, treating Hogarth like a sub-par human who outright manhandles him when he looses his temper.
Most of all these characters are well rounded and remarkably human. Even in the field of animation the characters are given lots of quirks and tics that help them seem realistic. Little gestures like Kent checking out Annie up and down when they first meet gives him a human reaction and yet another reason to feel creeped out by him.
Speaking of the animation – it is beautiful. One of the final offerings from the last great era for hand drawn animation it is slick, detailed, imaginative and has a unique, slightly cubist style. The giant in particular is especially will realized given that he doesn’t have any movable facial muscles. He can move his neck, jaw and eyelids yet somehow the deep rumbling voice is given a remarkable amount of personality to come from.
This is one of the best movies made for young audiences bar none. Although it was a marketing flop and box office failure that had a limited DVD release and (to date) no blu-ray there is a reason those who did see it fell in love with it. Along with the other animated features created by Brad Bird it is one of the pinnacles of it’s genre.
Score: TEN outta TEN
If you needed more convincing, here’s the lake scene. Yeah? YEAH?