The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.
The Iron Giant 
Director: Brad Bird
Writers: Tim McCanlies (screenplay), Brad Bird (screen story), Ted Hughes (book)
Starring: Eli Marienthal, Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Aniston
Running Time: 87 minutes
I have a bit of a conflicted relationship with animated films. I have quite enjoyed nearly every Studio Ghibli release I have seen, but I could do without most of the modern Disney and/or Pixar films. I added The Iron Giant to my project this year to add a bit more variety, though I have to admit I went into my viewing with a bit of trepidation.
It turns out I needn’t worry at all. Not only is The Iron Giant one of the highlights of my project so far, it’s also one of the better animated films I have seen in some time.
Set in rural Maine during the height of the Cold War (1957, to be precise), the film focuses on a young boy named Hogarth (voiced by Eli Marienthal). He lives at home with his single mom, Annie (voiced by Jennifer Aniston), and spends his days reading comic books and watching old sci-fi and horror flicks on TV. He has an exuberant imagination, and he often brings home small animals such as squirrels to be pets (much to his mother’s chagrin).
Hogarth’s life changes when he uncovers a massive path of destruction in the nearby woods. He traces the source to a giant robot who has become entangled in the power cables of an electrical substation. Hogarth manages to find a way to shut off the power — conveniently in the form of an on/off switch at the side of the building — and in the process gets himself a mechanical new friend.
There’s one problem: the government has arrived in town.
Specifically, U.S. agent Kent Mansley (voiced by Christopher McDonald), from the Bureau of Unexplained Phenomena, is sent to investigate the destroyed substation. He soon realizes that there is, in fact, an Iron Giant in the area, and he makes it his goal to dismantle the robot, citing possible Communism as his main reason.
Hogarth, with the help of a friendly neighborhood beatnik named Dean McCoppin (voiced by Harry Connick, Jr.), tries to hide the Giant from the increasingly-paranoid government. Not an easy feat, considering the Giant is taller than most trees.
Fear and paranoia are underlying themes throughout the entire film. While many of the town’s citizens are afraid of this mysterious new robot, most are already living in fright due to the Red Scare of the ’50s. The presence of a delusional government agent only exacerbates their concerns.
Yet at the film’s core is a positive message. Hogarth, though he plays with toy guns and dreams of being an American soldier, knows that violence is not the answer. Hogarth understands the Giant and knows that he means no harm, but Mansley is so trigger happy that he is ready to drop a nuke on the entire town without hesitation. The film has a strong anti-war and anti-guns message, but it never hits the point of being overly preachy.
The Iron Giant was a box office flop in 1999, earning just $31 million of its $50-70 million budget, though it has fared better since hitting the home video market. It is perhaps the last great American hand-drawn animated film, and it is one that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. There are no musical interludes, no talking animals, no princes or princesses. This is just a great film with a strong story, and it is far more thought-provoking than most of its Disney rivals.