An oft-forgotten animated classic: ‘The Iron Giant’

The Iron Giant (1999)

Directed by Brad Bird

Marking the directorial debut for Brad Bird (“The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille”), “The Iron Giant” hints at something bold and inventive, like a Pixar film, but without the budget or the technology required to bring the ambitious dream to life. Still, those glimpses of Pixar-esque CGI helped make “The Iron Giant” a critical and audience favorite when it released. By why doesn’t anyone ever seem to talk about it today (especially considering our recently renewed fascination with possible White House ties to Russia)?

Cold War-fueled paranoia leads to frenzy when a newspaper reports on a mysterious metal object that crashed a ship during a violent storm. So when Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) finds the giant (Vin Diesel) and discovers that he’s friendly, he’s smart enough to know the panicked public won’t see him that way or even give him time to explain. When government agent Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald) finds a clue to the giant’s existence, he leads a team to hunt and destroy it. So while hiding it from his mother (Jennifer Aniston), Hogarth works with an understanding artist named Dean (Harry Conick, Jr.) to try to save the Iron Giant.

“The Iron Giant” is a classic story of a misunderstood monster, a sympathetic child, and a cold, frightened public. Think “Pete’s Dragon” or “The BFG.” You may not be shocked by anything, but you can still appreciate a fresh take on an old trope when the animation is worthwhile, the voice cast is convincing, and the Cold War context adds intrigue. Still, “The Iron Giant” may not be standing the test of time—maybe that’s why it’s not mentioned alongside the animated greats of the 90s. A Harry Connick-voiced beatnik named Dean is not a character you’d probably see today. “The Iron Giant” is less a time capsule of the Cold War era than a time capsule of what non-Disney/Pixar animated movies were like in the 1990s. Deserving of at least some recognition all these years later, “The Iron Giant” might not be Pixar, but its roots are grounded in the early years of one of Pixar’s finest directors. That alone might convince you to revisit it.


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