The sentiment behind Ted Hughess short story, The Iron
Man, is hardly new in cinematic terms. You need only look at
Frankenstein, King Kong and ET to see that. But as the
basis for a full-length childrens cartoon it feels as fresh as a daisy.
While a number of stock visual clichés are adhered to, it is the
combination of the films subject matter, dialogue and dramatis
personae that make it so immediate and winning.
Yet director Brad Bird (of
Simpsons and Family Dog fame) has chosen to move Hughess
story back in time to the paranoiac October of 1957 when the Russians
launched the first chunk of man-made metal into space. This manoeuvre serves
the story very well, particularly the mise en scène, as the
background detail builds an atmosphere of awe, distrust and fear as mankind
enters a new era the Space Age.
Like every normal kid (except
those that chat up cute, talkative animals), Hogarth Hughes is obsessed by the
opportunities offered by science fiction, the possibility of an alien take-over
or, at the very least, an attack from outer space. The original story, which
the late Poet Laureate had set in England, saw the innocent Titan of the title
emerge from the sea; here he is a visitor from another galaxy.
But the theme remains the same:
a formidable-looking giant is befriended by a fearless little boy. Here,
though, the 50-foot, metal-devouring robot appears almost in answer to the
Sputniks launch, being an extraterrestrial weapon programmed
to kill. But, if this sounds like a dilution of RoboCop, lets set
the record straight. The giant is an innocent, a machine that, through the
wonders of the imagination, has been bestowed with a soul. And it is through
the intrepid friendship of little Hogarth that the creature turns its lethal
potential to the greater good.
Its feel-good message apart,
The Iron Giant works so well because its not afraid to talk to
kids on their own terms. The dialogue is refreshingly free from the anodyne
naffness of Disney-speak and the characters, particularly a Beatnik voiced by
Harry Connick Jr, are both credible and down-to-earth. A modern classic, The
Iron Giant is one cartoon that will enthral children without making their