Warner Brothers Animation is probably best known for its television shows like Looney Tunes and Animaniacs, but like many studios they have also tried their hand at feature films, though they seem to be one of the lesser known names in that medium. In recent years they have produced hits like The Lego Movie and Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, but I want to take a look at their earliest original film- 1999’s The Iron Giant.
This film is based on Ted Hughes 1968 novel The Iron Man, but the name was changed to avoid being confused for a certain Marvel superhero. We follow Hogarth Hughes, a young boy who has befriended a giant metal man from space, as he hides him from his town and the government. The Iron Giant takes place in late 1957, during one of Americas most paranoid eras- the cold war- which is portrayed brilliantly. The main antagonist Kent Mansley, as he continuously reminds us, works for the United States government and is petrified of a metal giant which, they suspect, is from another country. Initially, the government refuses to believe him, and when they finally glimpse The Giant their first response is to shoot it. The military isn’t played off as a team of heroes, but rather as people who attack before asking questions. As a result, The Iron Giant ends up being one of the most accurate depictions of the military I’ve ever seen.
On the opposite side of this is The Iron Giant himself. It is revealed that he was built purely for destruction, and this becomes the crux of our film. Will he be what he was designed to be, or is he better than that? It’s an emotionally charged theme- asking you to decide who you want to be, in the face of other peoples’ opinions on who you should be. It leads to a very tense scene of Hogarth staring down this murderous weapon and declaring “guns kill. You are not a gun.” I see the message that the film is going for, and I support it but I wholeheartedly disagree with this specific line. Firstly, he isn’t a gun, he’s a machine with guns. Secondly guns don’t kill, people kill. Guns are just a means to an end. Of course guns make it easier to kill, but they are still just a tool for a task that would occur regardless. Props to the team for at least trying, which is more than I can say for the US government. Further props for creating a character who I genuinely care about despite him having very few lines.
What makes The Iron Giant unique is its usage of both 2-D hand-drawn animation and CGI. The Giant himself is fully CG and is the first major character in cinema to be CG, making this a movie milestone. At the time, hand-drawn animation was on its way out while CGI was becoming the norm which is why Brad Bird chose to do the film this way. He did it because he missed that style of animation, and I admit that I do too, but it’s worth noting that each method has their advantages. The techniques blend seamlessly, with hand-drawn lines giving a sense of constant movement while the CGI gives a perfect metallic texture. The chemistry between the characters, as well as the characters themselves, are wonderful. Hogarth and his mother Annie have a great connection, with Annie being the single hard-working mother who clearly adores her son. As previously mentioned, Kent Mansley (who works for the government) is perfectly paranoid, but he can be terrifying when he needs to be. The scene of him interrogating Hogarth is genuinely one of the most tense scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Then there’s lovable beatnik Dean whose sarcasm was the base for my own sense of humour. Whether its closing the front door when Hogarth suggests keeping The Giant or calmly agreeing when he’s told that he’s sitting in the middle of the road, Dean always has the ideal reaction.
It is very clear how much love and passion went into making this film. “Be who you want to be” is such a wonderful message, especially in a children’s film. I say its a children’s film because of its age rating but, make no mistake, animation is just as much for adults. Brad Bird would go on to direct The Incredibles and Mission Impossible:Ghost Protocol but, in my opinion, this film isn’t acknowledged nearly enough. The Iron Giant isn’t just one of his greatest films, but one of cinemas finest moments. A pure film with a lot of heart and a fantastic message, I can’t recommend this one enough.
Until Next Time…