September 6, 2021
The Iron Giant (1999)
Grade: 57/100

Director: Brad Bird
Stars: Eli Marienthal, Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr.

What it's about. An animated feature set in 1957, after the launch of the Soviet Union's Sputnik satellite. Rockwell is a small city in an otherwise rural part of America. Hogarth (voiced by Eli Marienthal) is an adventurous pre-teenaged boy, the only child of single mother Annie (vb Jennifer Aniston), who works as a waitress in a diner.

Because it's a movie, a giant robot (vb Vin Deisel) arrives from outer space at the outskirts of Rockwell. Hogarth finds and befriends the robot, and steers him to a junkyard owned by Dean (vb Harry Connick Jr.), a beatnik artist who lives alone.

Because it's a movie, Dean puts up with this giant robot eating all the metal in his junkyard. Meanwhile, the Feds have been alerted that something potentially sinister is afoot. They send overly ambitious agent Kent Mansley (vb Christopher McDonald) to investigate. He suspects Hogarth, and moves in with Annie as a border, who apparently has had difficulty renting the spare bedroom despite being a beautiful and unattached young mother.

Loosely based on the 1968 novel by Ted Hughes. Pete Townshend of The Two adapted the story into a stage musical with a companion soundtrack album. Townshend likely imagined a film version reminiscent of Tommy (1975), but by the time animator Brad Bird was named as director, the concept had evolved into a family cartoon. Townshend is credited as sole executive producer.

How others will see it. The Iron Giant was a box office disappointment, but it drew surprising critical acclaim. It won the BAFTA Children's Award for Best Feature Film, and was a standout at the Annie Awards. The movie apparently did well in its video release, given its 180K votes at, and its unusually high user rating of 8.0 out of 10. There is a slight drop in the user ratings from those under age 18 (8.2) to those over age 30 (7.9).

The user reviews are mostly highly positive: "The Best Animated Feature Ever!", "Stunning and magical", "exquisite", "outstanding". Viewers are also pleased that there are no musical numbers, often endemic to cartoons. There are negative reviews that comment on how predictable or PC the film is, but they are few and far between.

How I felt about it. The Iron Giant is essentially the fantasy of a prepubescent boy. You are friendless, and your single mother has to work as a waitress much of the time. Wouldn't it be great if a giant robot arrived in a space ship to your small town, and it became your secret friend, yours and yours alone?

It would be even more cool if the robot was indestructible, and could shoot lazers and fire weapons and blow things up, such as tanks and battleships! It could defeat the U.S. Army! And it can talk!

But it's not enough simply to give our wishful boy everything he could want from a robot. The filmmakers know that Mom has to pleased as well, since, after all, someone needs to drive Junior to the theater and buy the ticket.

So, nobody gets hurt, no matter how many objects get destroyed. Everyone gets to live happily ever after. Mom even gets a hip new boyfriend, Dean, something that anyone who had seen a movie before knows was likely to happen from the moment of his first appearance.

Since the film is from the boy's perspective, there's no examination of why a sentient robot would come to planet Earth, or whether fear and paranoia are justified if it is capable of single-handedly destroying all life. The irony is lost in that guns are bad, yet awesome when they blow things up.

The story is much like Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), which had a boy with a single mother who acquires an all-powerful robot that he can control.

While it's all pro forma, at least the animation is high quality, and there are many amusing moments. We like the movies within the movie (the scientist attacked by a loose brain, the duck-and-cover propaganda film), and it has to be said that Hogarth's mom is a hottie.