“The Iron Giant”

Even against the warmer, rounder tones of traditional animation, Brad Bird's computer-
generated metal man practically breathes.

Topics: Movies,

“The Iron Giant”
Directed by Brad Bird
Featuring the voices of Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., Vin Diesel
Warner Home Video; widescreen (2.35:1) and full-screen (1.33:1)
Extras: Making-of featurette, music video, trailers

In the vintage clothing world, youthful hipsters have long stopped seeking out drapey ’50s gabardine shirts, instead favoring ’70s patterned monstrosities with collars to equal an eagle’s wingspan. That’s just one reason that Brad Bird’s deft and charming animated and computer-generated feature, “The Iron Giant,” is an idea whose time has come — if it’s nostalgic for the ’50s, that nostalgia is refreshingly twice removed.

In this tale set in Maine in the ’50s amid Cold War paranoia (based on a story by Ted Hughes), Bird and his team blend impressive late 20th century technology with the wonder of old-fashioned, early 20th century animation. The result is a modern-feeling little fable that also has a sense of history, although Bird’s Atomic Age details — like the hyperkinetically animated duck-and-cover spots that the movie’s youthful hero sees at his school — keep it from being cloyingly sentimental.

In “The Iron Giant” a boy named Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) discovers a massive metal man (Vin Diesel) who has landed mysteriously in his small town. After Hogarth saves the giant from electrocuting himself by chomping on power lines, the two become fast friends. The giant (who, in spite of being huge and made of metal, has an inherently gentle soul) and a local beatnik junk artist (Harry Connick) become a kind of extended family for Hogarth, whose mother (Jennifer Aniston) loves him dearly but has to work overtime at the local diner night after night to support herself and her son. Hogarth and his friends face one very big enemy: a government flunky (Christopher McDonald) who doesn’t like the idea of a strange iron being tromping the soil of the good ol’ U.S. of A. and who’s intent on bringing down the giant — using nuclear weapons if he has to. The movie’s overt maxim, “It’s OK to be different,” also harbors a subtler historical message: “In the ’50s, it was even harder to be different.” “The Iron Giant” is delightful because it’s both gentle and brainy; it doesn’t deny that certain things about life in the ’50s may have been idyllic, but it’s not “Happy Days,” either.



The half-hour featurette on the making of “The Iron Giant,” narrated by Diesel, is probably more engaging for kids than it is for adults. Even so, as you listen to Bird and the animators, computer specialists and producers who helped put the picture together, it’s clear this was a labor of both love and careful thought. The whole idea of having just one computer-generated character (the giant) among traditionally animated ones is perfectly suited to the story, and Bird makes it work beautifully. Two-dimensional animation ends up imparting a rounder, warmer feel than computer-generated movement does — and yet the soft gray giant, who speaks in a gravelly monotone and looks out through eyes the size of airport windows, wins us over very quickly. As producer Alison Abbate explains, the central challenge was “about using technology to make a character that you had to love.” This iron giant isn’t a hero you want to cuddle; instead, his image crawls in deep, and stays there.

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Api Étoile

    Like little stars.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Calville Blanc

    World's best pie apple. Essential for Tarte Tatin. Has five prominent ribs.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Chenango Strawberry

    So pretty. So early. So ephemeral. Tastes like strawberry candy (slightly).

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Chestnut Crab

    My personal fave. Ultra-crisp. Graham cracker flavor. Should be famous. Isn't.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    D'Arcy Spice

    High flavored with notes of blood orange and allspice. Very rare.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Esopus Spitzenberg

    Jefferson's favorite. The best all-purpose American apple.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Granite Beauty

    New Hampshire's native son has a grizzled appearance and a strangely addictive curry flavor. Very, very rare.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Hewes Crab

    Makes the best hard cider in America. Soon to be famous.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Hidden Rose

    Freak seedling found in an Oregon field in the '60s has pink flesh and a fragrant strawberry snap. Makes a killer rose cider.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Knobbed Russet

    Freak city.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Newtown Pippin

    Ben Franklin's favorite. Queen Victoria's favorite. Only apple native to NYC.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Pitmaston Pineapple

    Really does taste like pineapple.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>