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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 Greg King
3½ stars out of 4

The spirit of ET runs through this charming story of an unlikely friendship between a young boy and a giant mechanical robot from space. The Iron Giant is based on a story originally written by Britain's Poet laureate, the late Ted Hughes, after the death of his wife Sylvia Plath. The story was then turned into a rock opera by Who guitarist Pete Townshend, which explains his involvement as one of the producers of this marvellous and enormously enjoyable animated tale.

The film is set in 1957, and is suffused with the Cold War paranoia, suspicions of Russian supremacy in space, and fear of both nuclear war and invasion from another planet. The action of the story takes place in the picturesque sea side town of Rockwell, which immediately brings to mind both the famous illustrations for the New Yorker magazine as well as the town of Roswell, famous for its UFO landing.

Ten year old Hogarth Hughes (voiced by Eli Marienthal) has been raised with a healthy imagination, fuelled by a diet of horror movies and fantasy comics, and has a penchant for adopting stray pets. One night while home alone he ventures outdoors to investigate the sudden interference with his tv reception. Suspecting an alien invasion, he cautiously follows a trail of debris into the forest. He finds the eponymous robot trapped by electrical cables, and rescues him. Thus begins an unusual friendship between an impressionable young boy and a friendly, but misunderstood, alien creature who has no memory of its origins.

When a suspicious and sinister government agent (voiced by Christopher McDonald, currently seen in tv series Family Law, etc) comes to investigate reports of strange nocturnal sightings in the area, Hogarth conspires with local junkyard owner and aspiring artist Dean McCoppin (Harry Connick jr) to hide the robot. But when man's basic instinct and its natural urge to destroy that which he does not understand takes over, the scene is set for a climactic showdown between the friendly robot and the army bent on saving the world, at any cost.

Although the animation is not quite in the same league as recent state of the art features like Toy Story and its ilk, The Iron Giant is still very good, and a lot of care has been taken in creating the look of the film. Unlike some Disney animated features, which espouse old fashioned family values, The Iron Giant is surprisingly modern in some of its attitudes - e.g. Hogarth's mother (voiced by Friends star Jennifer Aniston) is single and works as a waitress in a road side diner.

Director Brad Bird, a veteran of animated series The Simpsons and King Of the Hill, explores some important themes and issues here, and the film is full of positive values. Bird even manages to include a strong anti-guns message, as well as lampooning some of the nuclear warning messages prevalent during the height of the Cold War.

Even the characters have more depth than one normally encounters in a cartoon, and the story is surprisingly moving and touching. This is largely due to the wonderful script from Tim McCandlies, who gave us the underrated Dancer, Texas a couple of years ago. Bird has assembled a strong vocal cast, including John Mahoney, Cloris Leachman, and Vin Diesel (from Saving Private Ryan), who provides the voice of the iron giant.

As with films like A Bugs Life, Toy Story and Babe, animated films are not just purely aimed at children anymore. They are not patronising to adult audiences. Instead, the best children's films have a strong story, wonderful characters and explore important ideas and themes that have crossover appeal to broader audiences. Along with the wonderful Stuart Little, The Iron Giant provides superb entertainment for audiences of all ages during the holiday season!

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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