Iron Giant, The (1999)
Director: Brad Bird
Cast: Eli Marienthal, Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Aniston
Plot: A boy makes friends with an innocent alien giant robot that a paranoid government agent wants to destroy.
Genre: Animation / Action / Adventure
Runtime: Won 1 BAFTA - Best Feature Film (Children's Award)
Rating: PG for fantasy action and mild language.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“You are who you choose to be.”
In 1999, Toy Story 2 came out. Everyone flocked to see it. That same year Brad Bird made his first animated feature, The Iron Giant. Few went to see it; some didn't know it existed. As much a marketing failure by Warner Brothers as it was a release date issue, The Iron Giant did not have the deserved exposure befitting its quality.
Released in most parts of the world after Toy Story 2 screened in theaters just weeks earlier, Bird's film was drowned in the chorus of praise and adulation for the new Pixar movie. Now with the benefit of home video, The Iron Giant has gotten more exposure, and despite still being under-seen as compared to other animated features of that period, it has managed to achieve a cult-like status over the years.
Ironically, Bird would go on to work at Pixar, delivering two Oscar-winning triumphs in The Incredibles (2004), about an unconventional superhero family, and Ratatouille (2007), about a rat with a flair for the culinary. In my opinion, The Iron Giant easily holds up against the might of those two films, and I regard it as one of the most accomplished animated movies to come out in the 1990s.
It is a story about a boy who inexplicably encounters a big metal giant robot from outer space. They strike up a friendship, but their bond is tested when a conniving government agent gets onto their tail, seeking to convince the U.S army to destroy the robot.
All these are set to the context of the fear of invasion, not so much an alien invasion because obviously the government only cares about being invaded by another country. There is a not-so-subtle reference to the fears of the Cold War, and America’s damaging gun culture.
Very much a cross between E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Big Hero 6 (2014), The Iron Giant is made in the style of traditional hand-drawn animation, a stark contrast to the sleek, polished CG animation that characterized Toy Story 2.
It provides the thrills of old-school entertainment, and while it may run on predictable ground, its treatment and focus on emotions are special. At the same time, the film is a cautionary tale on the consequences of mistrust. And the possibilities of friendship and understanding. This is a must-watch for everyone.
Verdict: A brilliant gem of an animated feature that needs more exposure, by the formidable visual storyteller Brad Bird.
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