Directed by Brad Bird (Directorial Debut)
July 31, 1999 (Mann’s Chinese Theater) / August 6, 1999 (United States)
- Hogarth Hughes-Eli Marienthal
- Annie Hughes-Jennifer Aniston
- Dean McCoppin-Harry Connick Jr.
- The Iron Giant-Vin Diesel
- Foreman Marv Loach / Floyd Toubeaux-James Gammon
- Mrs. Karen Tensedge-Cloris Leachman
- Kent Mansley-Christopher McDonald
- General Shannon Rogard-John Mahoney
- Earl Stutz (first to see The Iron Giant)-M. Emmet Walsh
A young boy befriends and defends a giant robot from the US military and a paranoid government agent.
The Iron Giant is a fantastic family friendly animated feature that is criminally underrated and should receive more appreciation than it does. While you can take a surface look and see a science fiction film with a cool robot, you can also see a story about being who you want to be and not what you think you should be or others tell you to be. The Iron Giant is a weapon of destruction from an unknown place. But he does not want to hurt or kill. He does not wish to be a gun but rather he wants to be Superman.
There are also themes of maturity in this film. The unusually named Hogarth (first time I think I ever heard this name), voiced by Eli Marienthal, learns genuine responsibility and caring for others as well as the need to say goodbye.
The story also contains elements of Cold War paranoia. Agent Mansley is certainly driven by his fear of the other. In a real world context the other was the fear of communists during that era. I guess the Giant could be seen as standing in for that. There are also visual allusions to the ludicrous duck and cover films that individuals of a certain age may recall.
We have a pretty good voice cast here. Jennifer Aniston plays Hogarth’s mother Annie.Harry Connick Jr., who had a solid film career at the time, shows up as local beatnik Dean McCoppin. Vin Diesel with very little tweaking voices the titular Iron Giant. Our film’s villain Agent Mansley is played by professional film jerk Christopher McDonald. John Mahoney and M. Emmet Walsh voice General Shannon Rogard and Earl Stutz respectively. But a favorite if only because it was an excuse for Bird to meet his heroes is the use of Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas to voice two individuals in a scene that occurs early in the film.
Who are these two people you may ask? They are animators and more importantly members of Disney’s Nine Old Men who created some of Disney’s most famous films. Bird cited them as an inspiration for his career. I like that he got his heroes to voice some characters.
The animation is fantastic. They do a very good job of crafting an animated 1950s environment. Better yet they make the titular character look as if it had stepped right out of a comic book from the era. If you get a chance to look at any of them, even just the covers, you can see the design elements common from that era placed into the character. Overall this movie looks amazing and that is doubly impressive since the film was produced on less time and about a third of what would have been the usual budget on a film like this.
The characters and situations here are a little more complex than what you would find in the more successful Disney films, yet it is still a family friendly movie. The Iron Giant does not talk down to the audience nor does it gloss over anything or water down themes to make it easier for the audience to digest. They treat the audience as capable of thinking.
Unlike many animated features there are no bouncy musical interludes and no cutesy supporting characters. It is not Disney-fied. While lighter it is not dumbed down. They keep it serious without getting downbeat.
It is clear Warner Bros. handled the marketing of this badly. They did none of the usual tie ins or advertising and when test audiences let them know what they had they could not or would not alter plans to take advantage. No cereal or fast-food merch and only one teaser poster that eventually became the film poster. It was as if they expected it all to happen on its own.
The Iron Giant is a great animated feature was fumble by Warner Bros. It deserves more love and attention than it has. If you can find this I highly recommend it. Watch it!