Ryan and Watson could probably tell you that The Iron Giant was something of a box office flop when it first came out.
Who cares? It’s still a damn good movie.
The Iron Giant was the feature film debut of director Brad Bird. Bird had been working in animation for a while, particularly on The Simpsons, and would afterwards go on to Pixar and create fun, zippy works like The Incredibles and Ratatouille and even branching out to live actions with a Mission Impossible film and Tomorrowland. The Iron Giant shows signs of a great talent, and it clearly didn’t go to waste in the years to come.
Based on a story by English poet Ted Hughes, The Iron Giant is the story of a boy and his robot pal. Granted, the robot comes from outer space, is somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 feet tall, eats metal, and has a lot of weapons stored inside himself. The giant was a product of pure, early CGI and he often blends rather seamlessly in with the more traditional animation. As for the boy, Hogarth Hughes is your standard friendless lad for a movie like this. His widowed mother works as a waitress at the local diner, and he loves cheesy sci-fi movies and collecting strays.
The giant is a creature of pure delight. Though scary initially in his size, he’s not really dangerous once Hogarth teaches him a few things about killing being wrong. There’s actually a somewhat mature lesson in here: it’s not right to kill, but it’s normal to die. The pair bond over Superman comics, swimming, and random play. The only other person in on the secret is a beatnik artist named Dean.
That’s actually a bonus for the film. It’s set in the 50s, with a soundtrack and overall style reflective of that era. Hogarth has to dodge a government agent who sees the giant as nothing but a threat, and the only problem is the giant does have incredibly potent offensive capabilities that he can use in self-defense. And when the weapons come out, the giant can be outright scary.
But he’s also a very emotive, sympathetic figure. Taking to heart the idea from Hogarth that he can be what he wants to be, he will do something guaranteed to tug the heart strings and the tear ducts of many (hi, Jenny). Factor in a remarkably tender voice from Vin Diesel, and you have some fine work. Diesel, in particular, could be going for a dry run voicing a character with a limited vocabulary, a big heart, and regenerative abilities.
Look, this is just a great movie for geeks, animation buffs, and kids of all ages. Nine out of ten explanations on why “duck and cover” doesn’t work.