The Iron Giant (1999) – Brad Bird

 

The Sci-Fi Chronicles now brings me Brad Bird’s now classic animated tale of a young boy, Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) who meets a robot (Vin Diesel) from outer space, and the government agent, Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald) who is trying to capture them.

Set in the late 50s, the film gives adult viewers an immediate point of reference with the depiction of Sputnik orbiting the planet, before the Giant arrives from some far distant location. Mansley is a product of his time, fearful of anything different, unknown, and not American.

Hogarth, initially is a bit of an outsider, who loves his comic books, and his adventures, and is constantly seeking a pet of some sort, much to his widowed mother’s, Annie (Jennifer Anniston)) exasperation.

The first part of the film, as the boy seeks out the Giant is reminiscent of E.T., but the cast of characters and the way the film is told, it quickly proves that it can stand on its own.

With Giant in tow, Hogarth seeks the help of local beatnik, artist, and scrap dealer, Dean (Harry Connick Jr.) to keep the robot out of the way, and unseen by Mansley, who has taken up a room in the Hughes household.

Things unravel quickly as Mansley discovers Giant and brings in the army to dispatch him. But is Giant as friendly as he seems?

At its heart the film has a great message, you’re who you want to be, and you don’t necessarily have to be what they think you are. After all this time, this one is still a wonderful story, and features some great voice performances, not just from the leads, but from the rest of the cast as well, which includes James Gammon, John Mahoney and M. Emmet Walsh.

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I love the fact that it is set in the 50s, with the cold war, and the fear of nuclear war in full swing, with the perceived (and false) safety blanket of duck and cover promoted by the government, and paranoia and fear about anything that is Other.

A paranoia that is, apparently, still with many of us.

The character design, and the animation is beautiful and fluid, with just a touch of the retro look to it, bringing the era to life in a ever so slightly stylized way, but all of it is in service to the story. Something Bird has continued to do in his filmmaking.

Much like the Elliot in E.T., Hogarth embodies youth, idealism, acceptance, and the ability to not judge someone by their appearance, something more of us should strive for, and by setting it in the 50s it gives that whole concept a bit of nostalgia to it.

Hogarth is an endearing character, but Giant, by film’s end, proves that, like his young friend, he is more than he is meant to be, and is what he wants to be, leading to a beautiful sacrifice.

As an adult, I am both charmed and troubled by the film’s ending. No spoilers of course, despite the fact the film is 17 years old. It leads you to wonder what happens now, and will it be good if it does.

This remains a great science fiction film, and just as important, a great family film.

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