The Iron Giant - 1999
The Iron Giant is the directorial debut of Brad Bird (04’s The Incredibles & 07’s Ratatouille) and the monosyllable voice acting debut of Vin Diesel as the titular Giant. Bird also served as a co-writer adapting the story from a novel named The Iron Man written by Ted Hughes. While it draws a lot of inspirations from the novel, an Iron Giant falling from the sky, the relationships and the ending are unique to the screenplay. The story centers around a young boy, Hogarth, from a single mother household, and his friend that happens to fall from the sky and is, well, an Iron Giant.
This movie, at face value, can be classified as an entertaining kid’s movie and a great call back to the hand-drawn days in Hollywood. But despite its 86-minute run time, Bird and his writing partner, Tim McCanlies, managed to pack in many philosophical and adult themes to keep its adult audience more than engaged. I’ll tackle the ones that really caught my eye really quickly and then wrap up with the filmmaking aspect of the movie.
They decide to talk about having a soul. The Giant experiences death for the first time, after he witnesses some hunters kill a deer in the forest. They lie in the junk yard and Hogarth is trying to help the Giant understand what happened, saying, “Things die. That’s part of life. It’s bad to kill, but it’s not bad to die.” After that, the Giant asks him will he also die one day and Hogarth says, “I don't know. You're made of metal, but you have feelings, and you think about things, and that means you have a soul. And souls don't die.” This information has been gained from his mother who told him that all good things have souls. While the concept of a soul tends to me a bit more complex and it’s usually associated with religion, they manage to tie it to our good side. Anything and anyone that goes out of their way to just be good can have a soul and will live forever through their good actions.
The biggest subject they tackled was identity and the way other people perceive you. The obvious connection being how everyone sees this huge robot and immediately assumes he has come to destroy us all. Hogarth enforces the idea when he helps the Giant understand “You are what you choose to be. You choose. Choose”, this words help the Giant snap out of his battle mode. There are defining moments in our life that what you choose to do and not do define the path your life will take. These moments define who you are. Even though everyone saw him as a weapon and he was programed to be a weapon, the Giant chooses to be a hero and save the town.
The Iron Giant also boast a beautiful look thanks to the mix of hand drawn animation and computer animation. The giant itself was 100% computer generated, but the designers gave him the hand drawn style so he would perfectly fit in with the tiny town they had created. There are many scenes in which they play with putting the giant in the shadows, having only his eyes in color, creating an iconic look. Just go to any Hot Topic (not a sponsor) and you will see what I mean. They also created the characters to resemble their voice actors, something I miss in animated movies.
Bird gave his characters clear cut motivations from the beginning and never betrays them for the sake of the story. This is something many movies tend to fail to do when they write themselves into a corner. For example; the very first scene of Hogarth is him bringing yet another stray animal to his mother in hopes of keeping him as a pet. We understand that this boy is seeking company as his mother is constantly working trying to provide for her son. This informs his actions as he meets the Giant. He helps him and befriends him as he sees himself in the Giant, both alone and in need of someone or something to call friend.
Overall, The Iron Giant is a great movie and not just a great “kids” movie. It gained a cult following in part thanks to the Cartoon Network as they played it constantly having many generations of kids growing up watching this great movie. Brad Bird went on to do many great films, but its impressive that this was his first outing. I saw humanity in a computer-generated iron giant that made me think of my actions and how I see others around me. That’s why I love movies.
The Iron Giant is currently streaming on Netflix. This is another defining moment, you choose.
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