Also recommended this month
From the January 2000
Film Review

Film Review Hotline

5 Stars
Distinctive 50s styling in The Iron Giant
Clang of the Titan
VOICES: Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr, Vin Diesel, James Gammon, Cloris Leachman, Christopher McDonald, John Mahoney, Eli Marienthal
SCREENPLAY: Tim McCanlies, from the book by Ted Hughes
CERTIFICATE: U DISTRIBUTOR and Picture copyright: Warner Bros
RUNNING TIME: 1hr 27mins
OPENING DATE (UK): December 17

The sentiment behind Ted Hughes’s 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 children’s cartoon it feels as fresh as a daisy. While a number of stock visual clichés are adhered to, it is the combination of the film’s 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 Hughes’s 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 Sputnik’s launch, being an extraterrestrial ‘weapon’ programmed to kill. But, if this sounds like a dilution of RoboCop, let’s 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 it’s 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 parents gag.

James Cameron-Wilson

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Reviews © Visual Imagination Ltd 1999. Not for reproduction.
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