The Iron Giant
Directed by Brad Bird
In the small town of Rockwell, Maine in October 1957, a giant metal machine befriends a nine-year-old boy and ultimately finds its humanity by unselfishly saving people from their own fears and prejudices.
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★★★★★ review by Katie on Letterboxd
me? crying over a hunk of metal saying "superman"? no way
★★★★★ review by bmerry on Letterboxd
Watched it with my 6-year old. Movie ends. Total silence. He whispers, "That was awesome."
★★★★★ review by Adam Cook on Letterboxd
Although Brad Bird is most famous for his work with Pixar it is his feature debut that is still his crowning achievement as a director. The Iron Giant, very loosely based on the Ted Hughes novel of the same name, is perhaps the last great traditionally animated film by an American studio. Unsurprisingly it bombed on release due to poor marketing and an audience only interested in the new fangled Pixar-style brand of computer animated movies. Yet it was their loss as the fickle public missed out on one of the finest animated features of all time and a story with rare heart.
Hogarth, a young boy obsessed with comic books and science fiction films, lives with his single mother dreaming of adventure and a friend. One night he discovers both as he comes face to face with an extraterrestrial, well, iron giant. Set during the height of the Cold War, The Iron Giant, is dripping with the iconography of ‘50s Americana (diners, Superman comic books and tacky sci-fi movies) and the unhealthy paranoia of the ‘Red Menace’. It is a film full of brilliantly observed period details that provide the story with a far more complex subtext than most family animated movies.
However, the themes of Cold War paranoia are secondary to the film’s universal message of unconditional friendship and individualism vs conformity. Like Elliott in ET, Hogarth is a boy looking for a missing paternal connection, and like Spielberg’s classic film, he finds that friend/father-figure from the outer reaches of space. This relationship is the heart of the film and is as touching as it is amusing with bags of warmth and a complete lack of cynicism. The way both characters learn from each other is perfectly teased throughout the film, first as the Iron Giant discovers the small joys in life (diving into a lake, comics etc.) to the tear jerking finale as he makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the boy he has grown to love.
Yet whilst Hogarth and the Iron Giant are the undoubted stars of the film, the movie is full of brilliantly observed characters from the ambitious NSA agent, Kent Mansley, to the cool junkyard owner, Dean McCoppin, who keeps the boy’s secret. Each and every character serves the story, either helping or hindering Hogarth’s quest to keep his alien friend hidden from the authorities. The entire vocal cast are perfect which is all the more surprising when you consider the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Vin Diesel and Harry Connick, Jr. all provide their vocal talent to key roles. A heavily disguised Vin Diesel is particularly impressive as the titular Iron Giant, delivering more emotion as a metal machine than he has in any human role.
The film’s art direction is equally excellent with each character bursting with personality thanks to exaggerated facial features and brilliantly judged mannerisms. The character of the Iron Giant is computer generated which works surprisingly well with the flat traditional animation of the human characters helping to accentuate its otherworldly qualities. Yet it is his human qualities that make him one of cinema’s most charming creations. The subtlety in his eyes and childlike mannerisms help make him a surprisingly endearing character that you can’t help but invest in wholeheartedly. I defy anybody not to have a lump in their throat come the film’s emotional climax which rivals anything the great Pixar have created.
The Iron Giant is simply one of the greatest family films ever made.
★★★★½ review by Matt Singer on Letterboxd
Nothing but respect for MY iron man.
★★★★½ review by SilentDawn on Letterboxd
Emotion with a capital E. Brad Bird takes the concept of ET and transforms the consumerist setting of the 80s into a paranoiac painting of the 1950s. Every aspect revolves around the fuzzy, strange, and complex feelings radiating from the heart, and Fall shifts into Winter within 30 seconds because it's a flourishing aspect of the film's operatic humanism. The end feels like a sly way to contradict its inner themes without drawing criticism, and it's a shame because until then, The Iron Giant is extraordinary in its grandiose cold-war analysis and bittersweet connection.
Also, stop doing Superman movies. We have this one and it's all we need.
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