Warner Bros Animation really doesn’t seem to do very well on the feature film front(though they seem to be remedying it as of this writing). Despite being a major contender in the shorts department with classic tv shows to their name(Animaniacs, Batman the Animated Series), there hasn’t really been that definitive animated film. Sure, Happy Feet has been a success, but likely won’t last much beyond the penguin mania. But that’s not to say the movies they’ve released have been bad..or at least there’s one worth talking about, hence our title. Directed by Brad Bird(yes, the director who would go on to direct the Incredibles), it’s considered one of the best animated films of all time with poor timing. When I watched the Iron Giant in my earlier of years, I obviously didn’t really contemplate its status as one of the most underrated films of all time. And to be honest, seeing it again it does have its flaws and it can have a rather heavy handed message. Nevertheless, it’s a film which I find thrives more on the emotion of its relationships rather than a story structure.
Pretty typical regular boy meets imaginary/animal/otherworldly friend who fulfills a lost void in the protagonist’s life. In this case, our young protagonist Hogarth is hinted to have been ostracized in school so he frequently seeks new pets only for it to cause disaster for his mother. Oh, and the film is set in the Cold War Era…perfect time for a giant metallic alien to land on earth. Hogarth of course befriends the giant and teaches it the main message: “you can be what you choose to be”. Our obligatory villain in this piece is Kent Mansley, a government agent sent to to investigate the aforementioned alien.
But here comes one of my nitpicks; if the giant can really be what it chooses to be, then wouldn’t all attempts at instructing him be against the message? Okay, maybe that’s misconstruing things a bit, but the film makes it clear what side we WANT the giant to be(Is “Superman” clear enough?).
Ironically enough, since it’s practically the core of the film, I don’t think the film developed Hogarth and the Giant’s relationship enough. It mostly stays in the realm of young mentor and mentally immature robot. As stated before, Hogarth and the Giant mainly are there to hammer in the lesson of what the Giant ought to be, not what he was designed to be. The rest is more just padding out the various activities involved in the relationship: finding scrap to be consumed by the giant, teaching the giant brief lessons about life. I would have liked it a bit more if we learned more about the giant, more about some of the major lessons rather than the same constant message. But then again, it isn’t a a bad message.
Positives? Well, I actually do like the parts where Hogarth has fun with the giant, and it’s only made better with the addition of other characters. Dean(whose sort of a quasi-father figure to Hogarth) is a beatnik artist definitely adds a bit of humor with his portrayal, serving as something a straight man to the antics of the main duo. The giant’s animation fits in very well, serving as a jarring alien presence that isn’t necessarily hostile. While I find the addition of “villains” rather tacked on, it nevertheless gives the intense sense of paranoia felt during the Cold War, that the perceived enemy could come from nearly anywhere.
As Warner Animation continues to find ways to compensate for its lackluster performance compared to competitors, Iron Giant still stands as a testament to the kind of quality Warner Bros animators can still produce. It still has its kinks to work out but perhaps it can serve as an example of remembrance in order to proceed with its new direction.