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Movie Review: The Iron Giant

By Andrew Bello

Lasers and alien technology. The threat of mass destruction, invasion and nuclear war. The concepts of sacrifice, rage, true friendship and love. Vin Diesel. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

If you weren’t thinking The Iron Giant by the time you saw Vin Diesel, then shame on you!

SPOILER: If you haven’t seen this, I’m about to spoil it. Turn back now and go watch it!

What’s not to love? This animated masterpiece manages to not only capture, but own all of the above concepts in a mere 86 minutes. There are plenty of live action movies which are twice as long that clumsily fumble their way through maybe half of the themes of this movie. Not the case here; director Brad Bird is a master of his craft. But The Iron Giant was released back in 1999; Brad should share his talent and keep contributing…is what I would say if he hadn’t already played major roles in quaint little projects like The Critic, The Simpsons, Ratatouille, The Incredibles, Up…and let’s not forget Batteries Not Included!!!

I saw this movie again recently for the first time in a few years, and it struck a few chords in me and it struck them hard. Honestly my only gripe is the main character’s name, “Hogarth.” Every single other aspect of this movie I swallowed whole and begged for more.

Even broken down to their simplest terms, the themes of the movie radiate power and emotion.

A crash landing and first encounter.
The initial bond between automaton and child.
Growing friendship and beatnik acceptance.
Military paranoia, investigation.
Evolution, discovery and self realization. What is death? What is it to have a soul?
The reveal of the threat.
The pursuit and the conflict.
Uncontrollable rage and the power of choice.

If that doesn’t look like the outline of a timeless showpiece to you, you might need to read more timeless showpieces. Unfortunately it’s easy to write The Iron Giant off because it’s animated; it falls too quickly into the “kids movie” trap. Don’t be fooled!

The innocence of the Giant and Hogarth in the beginning of the movie is quickly encroached upon by the shadow of a threat…and that threat is society. Many movies feature death; how many ask what happens afterwards, and explain it from the perspective of a child? Can you name the last movie you’ve seen where an entire town is condemned to die and they accept it without trying to escape? How often is the hero mistaken for the villain, hunted and hounded, thinks he has nothing to lose and then…wait for it…actually fights back?

Upon believing that Hogarth is dead, the Giant is overcome by emotion and releases his own safeguards. When I re-watched that scene, I’ve come the closest to crying at a movie since…well probably since two decades ago. Safeties off, it suddenly gets real. The Giant transforms himself into an unstoppable alien war machine complete with red eyes, ray guys, lasers and a central energy cannon. He then proceeds to absolutely and mercilessly pulverize his aggressors, the U.S. Military.


The Giant’s breakdown is a double grievance for us because we understand how hard the Giant has been trying to control itself, and how devastating it must be for it to believe that Hogarth is dead. Was it that last missile hitting the Giant’s back as he grieved that turned his safeguards off, or was it the realization that he had nothing to lose (or live for) without his friend? Watching the Giant throw it all away and begin his rampage, I looked down at my hands. They were fists.

But as we all know Hogarth was alive, and manages to talk the Giant down before he destroys an entire battleship with a single shot of destructive energy. At this point it’s already too late, however, as the warhead has already been launched and is in orbit…en route for the Giant, with an entire town’s worth of collateral damage. The Giant says goodbye and sacrifices himself, making a beeline straight for the warhead and detonating it in the upper atmosphere before it can kill the entire town. The Giant chooses.

Those last 10 minutes alone crammed more emotional into me than some entire movies do. The detonation explodes the Giant, the town honors him with a statue, Hogarth’s mom gets with the beatnik and life moves on. It’s sad but we accept it. But wait…? Brad’s not done yet, and he rewards us.
And I love it.

All images © 1999 Warner Bros. Feature Animation.
Go Bunny is not affiliated with The Iron Giant or Brad Bird in any way, although we’d like to be.
2 Comments Post a comment
  1. You know, the images that you chose for this piece are startlingly beautiful. I had to do a double take, because I thought that some of the lights in the scenes containing lasers were flashing up at me.

    April 5, 2012
  2. Ah! Thank you!! The Iron Giant wouldn’t laser you. He is NOT a gun!

    April 5, 2012

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