The Iron Giant (1999)

The Iron Giant

Rated: PG – for fantasy action and mild language

Length: 86 minutes

Age: 6+              Commonsense media sez: 6 +

Scary Factor: plenty!… fishing boat goes down in storm (fisherman survives); the robot gets zapped at power station in a loud scene; scared boy runs away from robot; stressful scene in which robot is hit by a train; government agent menaces boy and threatens to take him away from his mom; boys fall from building but robot saves them; big ending has lots of action as army attacks robot and he returns fire; a nuclear missile is launched, heading directly for the town

Intense Scenes: robot learns about death when he sees a stag shot dead by hunters; during battle it briefly appears as if Hogarth is dead but he is soon pronounced unconscious; the moment when townspeople realize they are all going to die when the missile lands is quiet but intense; plus final climax in which robot saves the town is very, very sad and moving (but hang on for the ending!)

Language: “oh my god!”, a few “hell”s, and “you just blew millions of government dollars out of your butt!!” – these warranted the PG?

Bad Behavior: villain smokes a pipe, a boy drinks a little too much espresso and goes a little haywire in a funny scene

Interests: science fiction, robots, action, history (Cold War era)

Next: book The Iron Man by Ted Hughes, other movies written/directed by Brad Bird: The Incredibles, Ratatouille

A mysterious giant iron man crashes to earth near Maine in 1959. He wanders the woods eating whatever metal he comes across as the spooked locals whisper about invaders from space. A boy named Hogarth saves him from electrocution when he tries to eat a power station, and they become friends. Aided by a beatnik artist who lives in a scrap metal yard, Hogarth struggles to keep the robot hidden and out of the hands of government agent Mansley. Mansley prowls about brow-beating everyone and trying to gather enough evidence to call in the army to destroy the iron giant. At first the robot manages to stay out of sight at the scrap metal yard, until one day the sight of a toy gun triggers a forgotten defensive reflex and he nearly incinerates Hogarth with a laser. The robot is distraught to think that he may be just a big gun, which Hogarth has taught him is bad. He wants to be a hero instead, and struggles against deploying his weaponry, but this is hard to do when the army discovers him and launches an attack. His reflexes kick in, and the robot transforms into an enormous weapon of destruction. The battle quickly escalates to the nuclear level, but in the end the robot is able to overcome and shut down his own weaponry, choosing instead to save the town and be a selfless hero… “Superman!”

What looks to be a simple robot-from-space adventure movie is all that, but also a profoundly intelligent meditation on paranoia, choosing who you will be in life, overcoming the evil impulses within, and achieving redemption.

This book is inspired by the Ted Hughes novel, but bears little resemblance to it plotwise, apart from the robot’s arrival, his diet of scrap metal, and his friendship with a small boy. That said, Brad Bird has written/directed a wonderful story with so many layers of meaning you will ponder it for days afterward. And it’s gorgeously animated as well. The incredible size and weight of the robot are effectively driven home through sound fx and animation. The jokes and comedic timing are precise and perfect. The scene in which the robot mimics Hogarth and cannonballs into the swimming hole is fabulous. The wonderful characters are perfectly cast (Harry Connick Jr. as the beatnik in particular). There is heart-stopping suspense and action, and incredibly moving scenes that still make me cry even after many viewings.

* NOTE: Climax is very sad, but if your child is distraught, just urge them to keep watching, as there is a happy surprise at the very, very end.

This movie will appeal to many different ages. Youngsters will love the friendship between the boy and the robot. Slightly older kids will love the mayhem as the giant eats cars and barbed wire, and battles the army. More sensitive kids will enjoy how the robot learns words and concepts like death and souls, and tries to decide who he is, weapon or hero. Teens will pick up on the themes of being yourself, of choosing who you will be and not minding what others think of you. They’ll like the hipster Dean, and the conspiracy theories/aliens aspect. And finally, adults will understand the historical elements: the talk of sputnik and the Red Menace, the Cold War paranoia, the many period details. The old ‘Duck and Cover’ film is being shown in Hogarth’s class as his classmates chatter excitedly about blowing up the alien robot.  And when the bomb is launched and Mansley wants to duck and cover the General calmly admits that nothing can save you from atomic warfare. All of these details could trigger a discussion about the arms race and Cold War hysteria. (A perfect next movie for teens would be the black comedy Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Not for little kids, though!)

For an action film, we don’t see many people getting hurt. In the opening storm the fisherman who falls overboard is very quickly washed up on a rock. The engineer in the train wreck walks away with a concussion. Even in the final battle there are a lot of soldiers to be seen diving out of tanks right before the robot blows them up. The robot is the one who always gets the worst of it, but demonstrates early on an ability to self-repair, which comes in handy later…

In conclusion… The robot is scary at first, but once he makes friends with the boy he’s one of the good guys. There’s a lot of action, and the ending is rather emotionally intense, but the messages are profound and moving. (Sad ending is mitigated by last, last image!)

Highly recommended! See this movie!

(This title on amazon.)

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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