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Iron Giant, The

Entry updated 22 April 2021. Tagged: Film.

Animated film (1999). Warner Bros presents a Brad Bird film. Directed by Brad Bird. Written by Tim McCanlies, from a story by Brad Bird based on The Iron Man (1968; vt The Iron Giant 1968), a prose work by the poet (and British Poet Laureate for fourteen years) Ted Hughes. 87 minutes. Colour.

In 1957, a huge man of iron crashes from space near the small American town of Rockwell, Maine. While searching for metal to consume, it accidentally electrocutes itself at a power station but is saved by nine-year-old Hogarth Hughes and the pair become friends. As Hogarth tries to explain to the Giant about Earth customs, government agent Kent Mansley investigates the rumours of the creature's existence. The Giant is revealed to be a Weapon, but Hogarth teaches it about compassion and the Giant rejects the role it was seemingly designed for. Government forces attack the Giant, fearing it is part of a communist plot. At Hogarth's urging, the Giant refrains from retaliation, and the military cease the assault. The increasingly unhinged Mansley orders a nuclear strike on Rockwell, but the Giant seemingly sacrifices itself by detonating the missile in space. Unbeknownst to the humans, the Giant survives and starts rebuilding itself far from civilization.

The Iron Giant is perhaps uncomfortably close to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) in its story of the relationship between a boy and his Christ-like alien friend. But whereas E.T. was relatively helpless, the Iron Giant is virtually invulnerable, making for a very different climax. The Iron Giant further differentiates itself from other Children's SF with its appealing period setting. The movie offers clever Satire of both 1950s Cold War anxieties and the Monster Movies so popular at the time; director Brad Bird went on to show a similar understanding of the Superhero genre with The Incredibles (2004).

The Iron Giant was an undeserved commercial failure, perhaps because of its traditional hand-drawn animation rather than more cutting-edge computerized graphics. While the original children's book was heavily revised to fit a more formulaic Hollywood template, it remains an utterly charming film, striking an adept balance between humour, pathos and wonder. [JN]


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