Earlier this year I launched a series of guest posts where readers could talk about why they love their favourite movies. Now we have a new entry into the series. This one comes from Kieran Dean over at The Chronic Chronicler, who’s here to talk about Warner Bros’ animation The Iron Giant (1999).
The Iron Giant:
You Are Who You Choose To Be
By Kieran Dean
of The Chronic Chronicler
A love affair with motion picture is not something that comes from watching a bus load of films. It helps but it certainly doesn’t make you a film lover.
Some people find that a certain character has to be in a film so it can grab their attention, others need it to be a certain genre otherwise they will be found watching with glazed eyes only twenty minutes in.
Others need the latest CGI to keep their brains engaged and anything other than the most high-tech developments that modern cinema can deliver. Anything less than that is simply a let-down. For others, it is the simplicity of the art style that can pull them into a world where every frame is painstakingly hand drawn, many fingers busily etching away for hundreds of hours to provide us with something that only lasts around two.
None of these are bad reasons to become a film lover and for most I assume, and hope, there is not one sole reason why they do. But, in all certainty, there is a particular hook that makes us watch certain films and not others. For me at least, it is an interesting story and The Iron Giant has an entire scrapyard worth of it. And now to the obligatory overview!
With the Cold War rumbling on, the USSR initiates the space race, and a new era, by launching Sputnik in October 1957. At this uncertain time Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) overhears a fisherman’s tale of a giant metal monster which destroyed his ship during the night. Curious to find out about it, Hogarth sets off into the woods to discover the metal man and soon stumbles into something that is much larger than he can possibly imagine.
“You could be forgiven for thinking it was completely hand drawn”
It is hard to believe that The Iron Giant, a critically-acclaimed and beloved family animated film, came from Warner Bros. The company had a less than noteworthy history of making animated feature films, The Iron Giant having the monstrous films Space Jam (yes, let’s admit it was bad and move on) and Quest For Camelot as its predecessors. Yet it was because of this that The Iron Giant had a hope of being made.
It was precisely because of this track record that Warner Bros. would back away from involving themselves too deeply with the production of The Iron Giant, allowing director Brad Bird and screenwriter Tim McCanlies more creative freedom with the film, although with about a third of a Disney or DreamWorks budget and half the production time.
That freedom really shows in the film as, where Quest For Camelot had been a Disney knock-off with about as much thought put into it as a man twiddling his thumbs, The Iron Giant was its own unique machine, no pun intended… Ok maybe just a little.
The traditional animation contrasts to the Giant’s computer animation so slightly that you could be forgiven for thinking it was completely hand drawn. Its style is more simplistic than Disney and DreamWorks as, where Disney and DreamWorks try to make their films as visually sumptuous as possible to show off as much talent as possible, The Iron Giant eschews these for a toned down look that is still appealing, but centres our attention more on the characters and their story, rather than being overawed with the scenery.
Also, unlike Warner Bros.’ previous films which relied heavily on known film talents, The Iron Giant went in search of TV talent and, for lesser roles, names that were no longer as big as they used to be. Aside from Jennifer Aniston as Hogarth’s mother Annie and Vin Diesel as the eponymous Giant, the names of the other actors mean little or nothing to me, and I suspect many of you. Example: ever heard of Harry Connick, Jr? Didn’t think so.
But that is not a bad thing, by any stretch of the imagination. The fact that, for the most part, a face cannot be put to the characters makes them stronger as a whole. We become invested in them rather than someone’s voice acting abilities. We forget that there is a person, animating crew and scriptwriters behind all of this and, even if we rationally know all of this, believe that this person is real.
Whether or not this was intended makes little difference as, as I have said before, it is the story that really makes The Iron Giant a classic. The story, at its heart, is one of humanity and self-choice. I know that sounds like a very pretentious statement but I whole-heartedly mean it.
The humanity comes in delightful forms, like the Giant learning from Hogarth’s comics. Hogarth doesn’t see the Giant as a thing of death like his comic shows Atomo: The Metal Menace to be, but rather likens him to Superman.
It’s brilliantly subtle. Atomo and the Giant represent the social other to American norms, like Communism or even, it could be argued, African-Americans who were viewed as second class at the time (1957). Yet Hogarth himself doesn’t even make that comparison. He sees the Giant for what he truly is, a gentle being. In a time when people feared a nuclear apocalypse, with a Duck and Cover video scene in school exemplifying this, The Iron Giant shows us that paranoid fear of the eternal “other” is not helpful to us as a people. It divides us and we need to be brought together rather than be split apart.
“Brilliantly subtle with a beautiful anti-gun stance”
The Iron Giant also has a beautiful anti-gun stance which, at one point, harks back to Disney’s Bambi by showing a deer killed by two hunters. Hogarth says to the Giant “Guns kill” and later tells him that all things die, but souls go on forever.
It delivers a double punch feeling, showing how humans are both destructive and creative in equal measure. That while we can and do horrible things to one another, we all have that quality to be better than we think we are and that quality is reflected by the Giant himself.
But it is not solely proselytising, The Iron Giant knows when to inject a bit of humour into the mix. For instance, the mishaps the Giant has early on and Hogarth’s interactions with beatnik Dean (Harry Connick, Jr – 10 non-fundable points if you knew who he was earlier) and Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald). The film allows for a lot of leeway between the emotional and thoughtful scenes with light scenes of brilliant comedy that, even after multiple viewings leave you with a faint tear of humour in your eye.
A film with few faults is hard to come by but The Iron Giant certainly can be categorised as such. It tells us to be accepting of different people, not to fight and to strive to be the best we can be, messages that still endure today fifteen years after its release. Yet, above all else, it allows us to choose who we will become. And that is why I love movies.
Thank you to Kieran for sharing this article with us. You can check out the blog Chronic Chronicler here where Kieran is just starting out on a new series for November: No-English Moviember. As part of this Kieran will be reviewing a movie not in the English language every Monday during November. Check out the launch post here.
Images: ©1999 Warner Bros. & ©2010 Warner Bros. Ent.