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The Iron Giant

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Iron Giant

Starring: Eli Marienthal, Jennifer Aniston
Director: Brad Bird
Rated: PG
RunTime: 86 Minutes
Release Date: August 1999
Genres: Animation, Kids, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

If your kids are not into heavy metal, there's no better way to introduce them to the genre than by taking them to "The Iron Giant." With a month remaining to the summer, I'll wager this will iron out as the summer's best family film, "Tarzan" notwithstanding. There are benefits for adults as well. 1) The usual mature stuff is thrown into this well-written, non-preachy morality tale; 2) the adult paraphernalia will soar over the head of the small fry but will glide by so quickly they won't notice that they've missed a thing; 3) the picture at eighty minutes in length does not overtax its invitation; 4) best of all, there's no Broadway soundtrack or icky songs. The strangest business about this movie, a circumstance that doesn't bode well for human actors in this age of digitalized everything, is that when bad things happen to the title character, you may actually feel like shedding a tear. That's how well-developed the big metal monster is, while at the same time the human, er, animated people are three-dimensional. With voices like Jennifer Aniston's as the concerned mom, Eli Marienthal's as the principal kid Hogarth Hughes, Vin Diesel's as the Giant and Christopher McDonald's as the (of course) villainous government agent, Warner Bros. has on its hands a package that is well-written, appropriately soundtracked, though with animation that falls way short of the "Tarzan" density--but with a genuine story to tell, who cares?

Brad Bird, who directs the picture which was co-written by Tim McCanlies from a Ted Hughes book, keeps the action situated in 1957 for good reason. The 50's was the duck- and-cover decade, a time that schoolchildren were convinced they could not be touched by nuclear weapons as long as they had a school desk to crouch under. With the U.S. government seeing a Communist conspiracy under every rock and with the possibility that the Iron Giant could be a Red- created Trojan horse, the Pentagon could not be expected to restrain itself form using the ultimate weapon on a seemingly indestructible force. Or as one agent says, if it's not made in the U.S., "we'll blow it to kingdom come." The story takes place in the picturesque town of Rockwell, Maine, home of 10-year-old Hogarth Hughes (voice of Eli Marienthal) and his mother Annie (voice of Jennifer Aniston). From the beginning we are privy to the boy's interest in pets. He's had a raccoon that caused mayhem and his mom will therefore not allow him to adopt the squirrel he has smuggled into his mother's coffee shop. One night, Hogarth goes into the woods to check out a noise. Confronting the 100-foot giant that some local seamen had reported seeing, he is at first afraid, but when he cuts the power to an large electric generator that the giant was in the process of eating--thereby saving the big guy from the shock of his life--the two become friends. Hogarth and a beatnik artist neighbor whose work consists of selling scrap iron and turning some of the product into sculptures are ultimately pitted against the forces of government agent Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald) and the U.S. army--who are determined to cut the behemoth down.

Throughout the tale, we become convinced that its writers are politically anti-violence, whether the savagery consists of attempts at destroying the friendly Frankenstein monster or of shooting the local deer for pure sport. The Iron Giant himself can represent any human beings who are treated in our society with less than toleration. Interestingly enough, Hogarth teaches the townspeople to call the Giant HIM and not IT--perhaps the key moral point that the picture makes-- since we human beings have the tendency to depersonalize anyone we hate to make ourselves appear less culpable when attacking.

Comic touches abound throughout, both the visual imagery (the way Hogarth's eyeballs frequently rotate when he is thinking deeply or reacting to stimuli) or verbal (as the beatnik Dean McCoppen, voiced by Harry Connick Jr., whines that he can easily sell his scrap iron "but when I turn it into art, I can't give it away").

The film's greatest success lay in audience reaction. At the sneak preview screening I attended, which was populated by a massive colony of small fry, there was not a peep in the audience--a situation which is all too rate with the constituency of a mature adult film.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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