42 Favorites: #10

As I mentioned in my last post, The Iron Giant is one of my favorite things.

It was released a week before the 1999 San Diego Comic-Con was held; I didn't get to see it in advance of heading out to the show, but Scott McCloud raved about it — a huge recommendation for sure — and I thankfully got to see it in the theater after returning home. Unfortunately, I was one of the relatively few who did, as Warner Bros. rather infamously failed to properly market this beautiful, poignant tale for young and old.

That was my first viewing. My most recent was a couple of months ago, after I got ahold of the 2004 special-edition DVD with an eye towards sharing it with my sister's kids. I'd forgot just how poignant the film's tale of a boy and his misunderstood giant alien robot was — even knowing how it ended, I misted up.

Written and directed by Brad Bird in adaptation of Ted Hughes' 1968 prose novel The Iron Man, Giant has an interesting pedigree.

Hughes, the husband of American poet Sylvia Plath, was himself British poet laureate from 1984 until his death in 1998 during the film's production. The Iron Man — subtitled A Children's Story in Five Nights, and released in North America as The Iron Giant due to the extant Marvel superhero — had been turned into a rock opera for the stage by Pete Townsend in 1989. Bird's previous credits included directing the "Do the Bartman" video for Fox's The Simpsons and creating the short-lived CBS series Family Dog, spun out of a segment on the anthology Amazing Stories. Giant was his first theatrical directing gig, both suffering and benefiting from lack of attention at Warner Bros.' faltering feature-animation division; its budget was too small (which admittedly does show on-screen at times, if you compare this to Disney releases from the same era) but the creative crew was largely left alone by the suits. Bird later went on to direct The Incredibles and then Ratatouille for Pixar, making his live-action feature debut with last year's Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

If you've ever tried to shorthand or high-concept something that you love, you know how hollow a gesture it can be. To attempt to impart some of The Iron Giant's plot and feel, however, I'll call it a grounded, retro cartoon mashup of 1950s sci-fi and Steven Spielberg's E.T. — if E.T. was a massive metal man who sounds like Cookie Monster — set against a rural New England backdrop that includes gorgeous autumn foliage recalling for me Todd Haynes' lush Far from Heaven.

The giant himself is voiced by Vin Diesel, then largely unknown, while the boy who discovers and befriends him in small-town Maine, Hogarth Hughes, is voiced by Eli Marienthal. Jennifer Aniston voices Hogarth's mother, character actor Christopher MacDonald is the single-minded federal agent on the giant's case, and Harry Connick Jr. voices the loner beatnik artist who befriends Hogarth, becoming privy to the secret of the giant's existence early on and letting the big guy crash at the junkyard he runs. Anyone who's had a big, galumphing dog (or, as in my admittedly much rarer case, a cat who's oddly like a big, galumphing dog) will recognize their beloved pet in the giant — although the giant has hidden depths both emotional and physical.

Ultimately I decided to wait at least one more year before showing The Iron Giant to my sister's kids after rewatching it this past summer, not wanting the youngest of the kids to be too scared at certain points, too sad at others, nor too bored when things quiet down between the scenes of frantic excitement. For anyone, oh, 8 years old on up, any child who's mature enough to let a story unfold and anyone who's ever been a child, I recommend The Iron Giant wholeheartedly.

Poster and stills from The Iron Giant © 1999, DVD art © 2004, Warner Bros. Entertainment.

The Iron Giant is available from Amazon on DVD and to rent or buy via Amazon Instant Video. Blam's Blog will receive a commission on most purchases made through those links.

42 Favorites: #1-3 | #4 | #5 | #6 | #7-9 | #10 | #11

10 Best/Favorite Films of All Time at Forces of Geek (where
The Iron Giant made my own list, along with Airplane!, The Big Sleep,
and a couple more 42 Favorites entries as yet unpublished here)

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