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Film Review: The Iron Giant

Updated on September 15, 2016

Background

In 1999, Brad Bird released The Iron Giant, based on the 1968 novel The Iron Man by Ted Hughes. Starring Eli Marienthal, Christopher McDonald, Harry Connick, Jr., Jennifer Aniston, Vin Diesel, John Mahoney, M. Emmet Walsh, James Gammon, Cloris Leachman, Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, the film grossed $31.3 million at the box office. Nominated for multiple awards, including the Annie Awards for Outstanding Individual Achievement for Character Animation (Jim Van der Keyl and Dean Wellins), Outstanding Individual Achievement for Effects Animation (Michel Gagne), Outstanding Individual Achievement for Production Design in an Animated Feature Production (Mark Whiting), and Outstanding Individual Achievement for Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production (Wellins and Kevin O’Brien), the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel award for Best Sound Editing – Music – Animation, the Golden Satellite Award for Motion Picture, Animated or Mixed Media, and the Young Artist Award for Best Family Feature Film – Animated, the film won numerous other awards, such as the BAFTA Children’s Award for Best Feature Film, the Annie Awards for Outstanding Individual Achievement for Character Animation (Steve Markowski), Outstanding Individual Achievement for Effects Animation (Allen Foster), Outstanding Individual Achievement for Music in an Animated Feature Production, Outstanding Individual Achievement for Production Design in an Animated Feature Production (Alan Bodner), Outstanding Individual Achievement for Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production (Mark Andrews), and Outstanding Individual Achievement for Directing in an Animated Feature Production, the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award for Best Animated Film, the Genesis Award for Feature Film – Animated, the Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing – Animated Feature, and the Young Artist Award for Best Performance in a Voice-Over (TV or Feature Film) – Young Actor.

Synopsis

After a giant robot falls to earth and lands in 1950s Maine, a boy named Hogarth befriends and tries to hide him from the public due to the surrounding Cold War paranoia. However, the government is investigating strange occurrences in the area and a persistent agent named Kent Mansley is sure that Hogarth is hiding something.

Review

One of the better non-Disney animated films, The Iron Giant is actually a great film all around. Though employing a simplistic plot, where a giant falls to Earth from space and befriends a small boy, it manages to continually make it engaging and interesting. Where there are many films that don’t quite know what they want to be and struggle to figure it out during the course of the story, this film had it figured out within the first few minutes and practically ran with it in every which way possible. The characters all have believable motivations and it feels like they all have actual lives within this Cold War world that get interrupted by a metal giant from space.

There’s also the messages which the film works to bring about, the biggest of which is that a person chooses who they are as well as the dangers that occur when the paranoia seen in Cold War United States reaches its peak. Both of these are demonstrated very well by Kent Mansley. Early on in the film, it’s shown that he hates being in Rockwell because of how small a town it is and continually insults it as well as Hogarth’s name, all showing that he’s chosen to be the type of guy who has no interest in small town America or its inhabitants and only wants to be where the big things happen. However, as his suspicions that the giant exists are proven correct, he’s seen as choosing to be the type of person who will harass Hogarth until he gets what he wants, but this harassment also proves that he’s chosen to be paranoid. That’s seen when Hogarth is making the “Landslide Sunday” and Kent rants that everyone in Washington is afraid because everyone wants what America has and he doesn’t know who built the giant but believes assuming the worst is best because America didn’t build it. His paranoia reaches its zenith when commanding a submarine to launch a nuclear missile on Rockwell because the giant is there and attempting to escape when he realizes he’s where it’ll hit, further showing that he’s chosen to be a coward that only cares about himself.

Contrast this with the Giant, who takes Hogarth’s call to be who he chooses to be to the fullest and not only refuses to be a gun, but also chooses to be a protector. When the military is shooting at him, he takes all the hits, but protects Hogarth. Further, when it looks like the boy has died, the Giant goes into full combat mode and starts destroying everything that attacked him, only standing down when Hogarth reminds him to choose who he wants to be. There’s also his reaction to when the nuclear missile is launched and the Giant learns that the town is going to be destroyed. Knowing that it may be the last time he sees Hogarth, the Giant makes the ultimate choice of what he wants to be and imagines himself as Superman as he flies into the path of the missile.

5 stars for The Iron Giant

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