This review originally appeared on the now-defunct site FamilyWonder.com, which showcased children's entertainment for parents and caregivers.
Title: THE IRON GIANT
Year: Warner, 1999
Running Time: 1 hour 26 minutes
When a UFO lands in the small town of Rockwell, Maine, young Hogarth Hughes goes off in search of aliens. He discovers a giant metal man and saves its life. Hogarth hides the metal-eating robot in the junkyard, enlisting the help of a would-be artist sympathetic to misfits of all varieties. But damaged property arouses local suspicions, so a government agent arrives to investigate.
Hogarth teaches the Iron Giant about friendship and the evils of killing. But weapons trigger the robot's defensive programming. As the military descends on the small town, Hogarth must convince his robot friend that he has the power to choose whether to be a killing machine or a super-hero.
Best For Ages:
6-8: All the shooting will be too frightening for some children here, but many will enjoy the giant robot and his friendship with Hogarth.
9-12: Though the 1950s references may be lost on preteens, the story and animation are ideal for this age group.
13 & up: Themes of rebellion against authority will ring true to many teenagers. Adults may find the Cold War oversimplified, but the nostalgia appealing.
Educational Value: The movie adequately conveys American paranoia about the Soviets but vastly oversimplifies the issues behind the Cold War. Innovative thinking and artistic pursuits are encouraged.
Entertainment Value: Fine animation, highlighted by exceptionally expressive characters and beautiful backgrounds, adds lots of visual sock to this high-tech fable. A soundtrack of 1950s space-themed songs also enlivens the movie.
Violence: The robot turns into a killing machine to defend itself. An atomic bomb is launched to stop it.
Emotional Intensity: Hogarth witnesses the shooting of a deer and the dismemberment of his beloved robot.
Frightening Situations: A corrupt government agent threatens to torture Hogarth, suggesting he may be taken out of his mother's custody. The Iron Giant mutates into a weapon. Troops injure a child. A nuclear weapon appears to destroy the robot.
Questionable Behavior: Hogarth sneaks away from home in the middle of the night. He lies to his mother and feeds an adult a chocolate laxative. He also drinks coffee in one scene. This is all played with humor, but younger kids may need some explanation to understand Hogarth’s behavior.
Mature Themes: Death. Nuclear holocaust. The Cold War.
Much more than a kids' cartoon, THE IRON GIANT will entertain viewers of many different ages. Though Hogarth hides an alien from out space, the movie has more in common with Joe Dante's Cold War comedy MATINEE than it does with 'E.T.'
The movie sentimentalizes the Cold War era even as it pokes fun at Communist-bashing and pre-feminist sexual politics. Any viewer who has seen SUPERMAN will be able to anticipate the robot's development into a hero. Yet even with its heavy doses of nostalgia, the story is witty and ultimately endearing.
A beatnik junkyard owner and a single mom stop just short of becoming stereotypes. Yet the Iron Giant--whose voice is a cross between Darth Vader and Cookie Monster--is an original, displaying a range of emotions just by changing the light in his eyes. When hunters shoot a deer in a scene taken right out of the end of Bambi, viewers may find sharing in the robot's discovery of death heart-wrenching.
The character animation done to create Hogarth is equally impressive. This mischievous but good-hearted boy carries the picture as much as his gigantic buddy. Hogarth's funny, engaging expressiveness remind one of the brilliant comic strip CAVLIN AND HOBBES.
In the early era of the A-Bomb, it was arguable that mankind might have been better off in the innocent age of comic book heroes, but THE IRON GIANT insists that technology is valuable--it's only as dangerous as the people who use it. Though the movie hammers home the "guns kill" message several times, it fits in with the plot well enough that it doesn’t feel like preaching.
A family movie in the best sense, THE IRON GIANT can be enjoyed on different levels by kids and adults together. Older viewers may like another movie about the Sputnik era, OCTOBER SKY, the true story of a boy’s dream to build rockets.
Children's Television Reviews