Ted Hughes’ children’s book, The Iron Giant, has been adapted before (most notably as a rock album by Peter Townsend), but never as a movie. However, the universal story and themes, combined with its sci-fi subject matter, makes the Iron Giant seem like a perfect candidate for a film. Director Brad Bird (responsible for the little seen animated series, Family Dog) must have thought so as well. He adapted the book, and has created a wonderful animated film that can be enjoyed on several levels, by both children and adults.
Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marenthal) is an all-American boy in the ’50s, starry-eyed and hungry for adventure. When he hears tales of Martian invaders from a wild-eyed man at the local diner, his imagination begins to run wild. One night, after hearing noises, Hogarth decides to set off into the woods, hunting for the Martians. He’s not prepared for what he does find: a giant robot.
Several hundred feet tall and with a bump on the noggin, the giant robot (voiced by Vin Diesel) has no idea where it is from, or why it is here. However, it is kind natured, and, after a few initial (and accidental) scares, quickly befriends Hogarth.
Unsure how his mom (Jennifer Aniston) would react, Hogarth is wary to tell her about his discover. He has even less of an idea where to find enough metal to feed his hungry new pet. If that weren’t enough trouble, soon a government investigator, Chip Mansley (Christopher MacDonald), is asking questions around town, and stirring up trouble.
There are a few shortcuts here and there in the animation of The Iron Giant, and the film never approaches the level of detail we have come to expect from the latest animated films from Disney or Dreamworks. However, the characters are well conceptualized, and a few computer-aided shots are quite breathtaking.
But once the story gets rolling, the animation flaws quickly recede to the background. The mood of The Iron Giant is very reminiscent of that of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, with the awe and wonder of discovering a magical new friend from outer space. The film hits all of the requisite emotions, without ever feeling manipulative or overdone. Above all, it is highly entertaining, with a storyline simple enough for children, yet with enough complexities that adults can enjoy as well.
While not exactly a philosophy course for tykes, The Iron Giant does raise some interesting issues that rarely appear in children’s films. Is there such a thing as fate or destiny? What is the nature of a soul? What defines a person, who he is or what he does? What is the proper role of government in the lives of individuals? Many of these themes are subtle, but are present throughout the film.
The Iron Giant is a treat of a film. Particularly if you have children, but even if you don’t, this is a film worth seeing.