One of the pinnacles of non-Disney American animation, Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant is a nostalgic fantasy in the spirit of E.T. about a young boy (Eli Marienthal) growing up in a fatherless house, whose unusual friendship with a being from outer space — here a giant robot (Vin Diesel) with a penchant for eating metal — has to be hidden from his mom (Jennifer Aniston) and the federal government.
Eschewing song-and-dance numbers and cute animal sidekicks, the film’s appeal comes from its winsome characters, its resonant story, and its evocative sense of time and place — in this case New England in the days of Sputnik and "duck and cover" drills.
Remarkably, despite an action-packed finale, Iron Giant manages an anti-violence message that’s more than mere lip service. Yet young Hogarth’s moralizing is overly glib, not only in attributing a soul to his mechanical friend (which could be excused in a fantasy) but also in applying his "Killing is wrong" lesson to deer hunting (which can’t).
Still, the film’s strengths overshadow these weaknesses, and Iron Giant goes beyond the non-redemptive Christological resonances of E.T. (note: spoilers ahead) as the misunderstood, persecuted title character willingly sacrifices himself to save others, then is miraculously reborn.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.