Movie Project #17: The Iron Giant [1999]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

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 [1999]

The Iron Giant [1999] 
Director: Brad Bird
Writers: Tim McCanlies (screenplay), Brad Bird (screen story), Ted Hughes (book)
Country: USA
Genre: Animation/Action/Adventure
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).

The Iron Giant [1999]

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.

The Iron Giant [1999]

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.


17 thoughts on “Movie Project #17: The Iron Giant [1999]

  1. notesfromrumbleycottage says:

    I think you need to get over your disdain for Pixar because Pixar is not Disney. Their stories are always better and more realistic than anything Disney has done since “Beauty and the Beast.” Pixar was Steve Jobs’ baby during one of the time periods he was kicked out of Apple and he pushed those guys to create something really special.While I realize that the head of Pixar is now the head of Disney Animation, this move can only bring a higher quality of story and plot to Disney films.

    Remember “The Incredibles?” That was a Pixar project directed by Brad Bird. That movie is simply not a great animated movie, it is a great movie. Period. As far as I am concerned Brad Bird is the real deal and I will watch his movies to see where he takes it time and time again.

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      Pixar films are hit or miss for me. There are a few I really like, namely the Toy Story trilogy and Wall-E, but most of the rest didn’t leave a significant impression on me (i.e. Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc, Up, Brave). I know I am in the huge minority on that, especially with Up which it seems everyone loves, but everyone has different tastes, you know? Generally speaking, I think I just prefer the more mature themes found in Studio Ghibli films, not to mention their gorgeous hand-drawn animation style.

      Admittedly, I haven’t seen all of The Incredibles, but considering my love of The Iron Giant, I will make it a point to check it out sometime soon.

      • notesfromrumbleycottage says:

        Having spent time as a movie reviewer and being a Mom forced to watch animation of the last 15 year, I agree that Studio Ghibli is the best. But is part of that because they are exploring Japanese folktales that Americans are not familiar with and, therefore, we find new and exciting. I love Pixar for their storylines. They are all, essentially, buddy movies. But I like where they go and that not all of these people are black-and-white good or bad people.

        • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

          That’s a great point about Studio Ghibli. I think it definitely helps that it tackles subjects we are not familiar with. That could be why I’m so jaded with most American animated films — many are just rehashes of the same basic storyline (moreso Disney than Pixar).

  2. The Heretic says:

    I did like this movie quite a bit, as well as the book that it was based on when I was a kid. Interesting to note; Pete Townsend (from The Who) co-produced this film, as well as made a rock opera based off of the book 11 years before Iron Giant was made.

  3. Tom says:

    I couldn’t agree more man. The Iron Giant is among my top five favorite animated films. It’s simply amazing, and really hard to believe it being a box office flop. . . but there you go, mainstream audiences and their tastes and everything . lol. I do like certain Disney/Pixar films but yeah, I avoid the majority because they all seem to be the same lessons trotted out. Not bad films, necessarily, but generally and virtually indistinguishable from one another

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      “Not bad films, necessarily, but generally and virtually indistinguishable from one another”

      ^ THIS. I don’t inherently dislike any of the recent Disney/Pixar films, but so many of them just seem to follow the same predictable formula. I know I’m not their targeted demographic, but sometimes it seems a little more effort would go a long way.

      Glad to hear you are a big fan of The Iron Giant as well. It’s definitely high up on my list of animated films now.

  4. Jaina says:

    Iron Giant is a big favourite of mine. I grew up reading the book by Ted Hughes and the film did the book great justice. Glad to hear you enjoyed this one so much! Especially considering you;re not a massive fan of animated films.

    Have you checked out some of Studio Ghibli’s earlier films?

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      I have seen a few of Studio Ghibli’s 80s films — Grave of the Fireflies, My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service, all of which I love (especially the first two). I still need to see Castle in the Sky, however.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s