Iron Giant, TheReviewed By Scott Weinberg
Posted 04/04/00 14:13:53
While rival studios fight out to share a piece of the Disney pie, we are now offered several new animated features a year. Most of these are weak retreads of old classics (Anastasia) or just plain awful (The Quest for Camelot). So when The Iron Giant was released amidst a landslide of critical acclaim, it seemed it would be a huge success. At the box office, it just didn't do anything. It's a real shame too, because it's easily the best non-Disney cartoon in years.The year is 1957. A giant metal robot plummets to earth, into the ocean off the New England coast. He's quickly discovered by Hogarth, a smart and rather excitable child. He of course has to hide his discovery from his Mom and also the nosey Government Agent Kent Mansley. He eventually introduces his gigantic new friend to Dean, the local beatnik artist, who helps to hide the conspicuous creature. Of course everything culminates when the army shows up to "deal with" the monster, and it's up to Hogarth and Dean to save the day.
While it may sound like a complete retread of E.T., The Iron Giant easily stands on its own. It's based on the popular novel by Ted Hughes, and it's a great example of a family movie that sends a message in a subtle, entertaining and sure-handed fashion. We slowly learn that the giant is also capable of massive destruction, although he quickly learns from Hogarth the sad truths about death.
The motivations of the U.S. government regarding foreign "invaders" are brilliantly parodied throughout the movie. The patriotic Kent explains that our government is there to protect, while all he's really interested in is destroying anything alien. The 1957 setting allows subtle but effective references to the Red Scare, and the threat of the Russian satellite Sputnik. The real irony is that the misunderstood giant will only attack when it sees guns or other weapons. It's a subtle touch, suggesting that perhaps the first aggressor will usually get the brunt of the attack.
While references to Russian satellites and cold war politics may make this movie seem somewhat political, it's instead presented in sly and subtle ways. (Especially clever is the "Duck and Cover" film the students watch at school.) Make no mistake: The Iron Giant is a fun movie. The characters are given more depth than usual in animated fare, and there are several funny scenes. (Dean's technique for hiding the giant, for example.)
The voice performances are uniformly strong, with Jennifer Aniston adding some nice touches as Hogarth's flustered mom. Harry Connick Jr. is sly and likable as Dean, and Christopher MacDonald (of Happy Gilmore fame) is just hysterical as the paranoid Kent Mansley. There are numerous other recognizable voices, including John Mahoney, Cloris Leachman, M. Emmet Walsh and James Gammon. A special mention goes to Vin Diesel, who supplies the voice of the giant. He shows a small sense of humanity in a completely alien voice.
The standout aspect of The Iron Giant has to be the animation itself. Director Brad Bird (of TV's Family Dog) presents specific detail, dynamic perspectives, and brilliant coloring in this movie. The deep shades of purples and greens, combined with severe angles and realistic-looking characters, are as impressive as any Disney movie. It's apparent that a lot of heart and attention to detail went into this project.The Iron Giant was criminally underappreciated when it was released, although I predict it will satisfy infinitely more on video. It's a simple, smart and extremely entertaining movie; one that is perfect viewing for any age.
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