The Iron Giant
Directed by Brad Bird
Review by Matt Heffernan
It hasn't been a good summer for kiddie films since Tarzan. That superlative Disney entry gave me false hopes which would soon be let down by Muppets From Space and Inspector Gadget. In addition, many parents were taking their kids to see the South Park movie, which was strictly adult fare. Thankfully, Warner Bros. made the wise decision to make an animated feature from Ted Hughes' book, The Iron Giant. It makes for a delightful combination of E.T. and The Amazing Colossal Man.
In fact, this film takes place in the same year as that Bert I. Gordon "classic" was released, 1957. Just like in October Sky, the town of Rockwell, Maine is caught up in the news about the Russian launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite. Young Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) learns at school about the threat of Communism, and how to "Duck and Cover" in case of nuclear attack. He is a very curious boy, always bringing home critters, against the wishes of his mother (Jennifer Aniston). This time, instead of a squirrel or raccoon, he finds a 100-foot robot (Vin Diesel) who apparently needs to eat metal for fuel. When the robot landed on earth, he ate a boat, a few cars, and, eventually, Hogarth's television antenna.
When the TV goes out, he follows the giant's footprints to a power substation, which he starts to eat. When he starts to get electrocuted, Hogarth saves him by shutting off the power (with a very handy, unlocked switch, but I'll forgive it). They form an instant bond, but Hogarth realizes that somebody like this giant would not be accepted by the adults, so he hides him. The one beatnik in town, Dean McCoppin (Harry Connick, Jr., of course), owns a scrapyard that serves as a big smorgasbord for the giant. Dean is introduced to the giant, and doesn't protest too long about his commodity being eaten. As Hogarth predicted, few other adults would be as understanding. The government sends Agent Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald) to investigate the robot sightings and eaten vehicles. Mansley discovers Hogarth's secret, and goes about trying to destory the giant, whom he believes to be a Soviet threat.
This film really works on many levels. First of all, it's a wonderful fantasy for children who need a special friend to protect them from the big, scary world. Hogarth's mother is single, and he needs a friend and father figure, much like Elliot in E.T.. It also works as a Cold War satire. It's certainly nothing compared to Dr. Strangelove or MASH, but it keeps the adults amused in the midst of the conventional sentimentality in the film.
The animation, while not up to the sophistication of Tarzan, is done very well. One scene has Hogarth exploring the woods, with his flashlight sweeping around the trees and ground. This scene creates a spooky atmosphere while displaying a great animation technique. The giant himself is quite a sight to behold. He moves with tremendous grace for such an obviously heavy machine, which makes the concept more fascinating, if not exactly believable.
The PG rating, as described above, is just barely earned. It is perfectly appropriate for children that are old enough to go to the movies at all. If your kid is under four, keep the child at home to watch a "Teletubbies" video or something. It's just impolite to bring such a young child to the theater, because they don't have the attention span to sit through a feature film. All right, enough Miss Manners for today.
For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
The Iron Giant (1999)
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings
Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan