There is a purity to Brad Bird’s directorial debut The Iron Giant, based on the British poet Ted Hughes’ children’s novel The Iron Man, that is inconceivable in the family film landscape of today.
Of course it was a quixotic outlier even in 1999 — a 1950s-set boy’s adventure rich in period and local detail, with no cuddly animal sidekicks, musical numbers or contemporary soundtrack. Studio execs wanted to give Hogarth a dog and mix some rap in the soundtrack, but Bird refused. A dog would have been redundant: The Iron Giant was already a boy-and-his-dog story, but with the Giant as the dog.
Disney’s Tarzan opened that same year, the last gasp of the exhausted 1990s Disney renaissance, but another animated film that year pointed forward to a coming decade of unparalleled brilliance: Toy Story 2 proved that Pixar was no one-hit wonder, setting the stage for Pixar’s future achievements — including Bird’s follow-up to The Iron Giant, The Incredibles.
Curiously, both Toy Story 2 and The Iron Giant are tied to the cultural and even technological world of the 1950s: the era of crooning cowboys, cheesy sci-fi, atom-bomb anxieties — and, oddly linking the two films, Sputnik, herald of the space age.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.