“A ‘Giant’ Heart”
by Scott Mantz
“The Iron Giant”
Voices by Jennifer Aniston, Eli Marienthal, Harry Connick Jr.
Directed by Brad Bird
For the past 10 years, there’s no question who’s had a stranglehold on the animated film market. “The Little Mermaid” began a resurgence for Disney that has produced some of the most beloved animated movies in modern times, peaking in 1993 with “The Lion King”. Oh, there have been a few contenders, such as Dreamwork’s “The Price of Egypt” and 20th Century Fox’s “Anastasia”, but Disney always came out on top. Well, eat you heart out Michael Eisner! This year’s animation crown goes not to the “Mouse House”, but to the “Hare’s Lair” (that’s Bugs Bunny’s home, folks!). Warner Bros’ “The Iron Giant” is not only the best animated film of the year, but it has my vote for the year’s best film period. Heartwarming and hilarious, this “Giant” is a gem!
While “Giant” is obviously for kids, it has tremendous adult appeal as well. Set in 1957 in the fictional town of Rockwell, Maine, the locals could easily have jumped right off of a Norman Rockwell painting. It was an innocent time. People left their doors unlocked, and they let complete strangers in their homes to use the phone. It was also the atomic age. The cold war was off and running, and Sputnik was flying overhead. Kids in school would watch corny propaganda films about what to do in case of a nuclear blast. The paranoid US military had itchy trigger-fingers and was looking for a reason to use them. Director Brad Bird successfully balances both extremes without sacrificing the film’s kid appeal.
At the heart of the film is Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal), a wide-eyed comic book-reading dreamer. While left alone one night by his hard-working mother (Jennifer Aniston), he finds a giant robot of unknown origin feasting on the local power station (hey, the big guy’s gotta eat!). He gets entangled in the wires and is in danger of being short-circuited when Hogarth shuts the power down, saving his life. Indebted to the boy, they form a strong bond. With the help of a local beatnik (Harry Connick, Jr.), Hogarth teaches the Robot the facts of life. When an agent from the National Security Agency (Christopher MacDonald) starts snooping around town, Hogarth struggles to keep his newfound friend a secret.
Originally written in 1968 by Ted Hughes, “Giant’s” animated adaptation has elements of many modern films. The initial bond between Hogarth and the Robot resembles that of Elliot and “E.T.”. He teaches the Robot, who has the mind of a child, about life and death in the same approach John Conner took with “Terminator 2”. With all the time spent these days about doing the right thing, Hogarth makes it all sound so simple. Whether it’s “guns are bad” or “you are who you choose to be”, we could all learn something from this young boy.
What if a gun had a soul and it didn’t want to be a gun anymore? That’s the question asked here by Hughes. Ultimately, this is a story about the power of love and friendship. Love sees no shape, size, or color, even if it’s from outer space. Hogarth has a heart of gold and passes his wisdom and compassion to the outsider with the iron heart.