director Brad Bird
Director Brad Bird’s first feature film is, like his other three features, The Incredibles (2004), Ratatouille (2007), and Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011), terrific. Unlike any of the other films, it’s primarily a traditional cel animated featured, just as richly designed and rendered as his later Pixar films. Certainly, a great movie in traditional animation, a dying breed, and quite arguably a true classic, seen here 14 years on.
When it came out, a nephew of mine was quite rapt by it, and I’d seen numerous bits and pieces to the point that I’d really felt I’d seen all but the whole thing, knowing that I never did in fact ever see the whole thing. But some time back, I found a cheap copy on DVD and bought it for the kids, though we never got around to watching it together.
Adapted from British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes short novel The Iron Man, Bird places the action back even further in time, the 1950’s, amid the Cold War, the Space Race, xenophobia and obsession with outer space. An object falls from space off the coast of a small Maine village. The object is a giant robot, slightly damaged in its fall. The robot needs to eat metal and goes on a destructive rampage until he meets a young boy, Hogarth, who befriends him and teaches him to speak. Government agents seek out this unknown fallen object, aiming to destroy what they don’t know because it could have come from the Russians or some other malevolent side, right?
The robot finds that when faced with weaponry (even a toy laser gun) that he reacts with devastating lethal effect in a litany of high-powered, extreme technological devastation. The robot, who has taken on sentiment and cognition, wonders if he is himself just a giant weapon, sent on some forgotten mission to destroy. When the G-men mobilize and attack, it brings about a terrible response and it’s only in the final showdown that the robot’s true self is revealed.
Bird handles character and narrative like the deft pro that he has proved himself to be. It’s quite a traditional story and classic narrative style, but accomplished with rare skill and emotion that truly effects the narrative arc. What’s more remarkable is that this film is perhaps less well known than it should be. And that I can only really say that I’ve finally seen it all the way through.
Those in the know have long held The Iron Giant as one of the greatanimated feature films of recent years. Now the kids and I can be counted among that lot. Clara in particular, who had not seen the film before, was very effected by it. And Felix, who had seen it before at some time, found himself equally deeply engaged.
As much as Twilight Zone: the Movie (1983) was a swing and a miss, The Iron Giant was grand slam.